Two state senators unveiled a plan Tuesday to spare 50 state parks from closure this summer, in part by tapping into state accounts that fund road maintenance, septic system repairs and off-highway vehicle activities.
The proposal by Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, represents the latest attempt by lawmakers avert the unprecedented closure of dozens of state parks July 1 as a cost-savings measure.
"The state has never closed a state park. Not even in the Great Depression," Evans said. "We have handled this challenge before in a way that was positive for the state parks."
The state initially announced plans to shut 70 of California's 278 parks to achieve $11 million in annual savings sought by Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers.
Evans and Simitian outlined a proposal Tuesday that would shift about $40 million from other state accounts to help cover parks' costs.
That includes using up to $10 million of funds collected from vehicle registration fees for park road and trail maintenance and other uses. The state's motor vehicle fund currently has reserves of about $500 million, Simitian said.
He said it was "serendipity" to discover that some of that money could be used by state parks so long as it is spent on the purposes for which it was intended.
"We connected the dots essentially to make the proposal work," he said.
The proposal also would allow state parks to access $10 million annually in long-term loans to fix water and septic system problems that Evans and Simitian said were partly the reason that 20 of the parks made the closure list.
In addition, the two lawmakers recommend that state parks improve entry fee collection efforts and find other funding sources.
The state is negotiating with non-profits, local governments and private concessionaires to keep many of the 70 parks open past the July deadline. The two senators said Tuesday that those agreements would not be affected by the course of action they are pursuing.
"What I'm hearing is that folks are delighted to know they are not going to have to manage this burden entirely on their shoulders," Simitian said.
The proposal was scheduled to be heard today<NO1>Wednesday<NO> by the the Senate Budget Subcommittee No.2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation, which Simitian chairs.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, also has introduced legislation that seeks to keep state parks afloat, in large part by asking California residents to pay more to use them.
Key features of AB 1589, known as the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, include allowing drivers to purchase environmental license plates with the fees going to parks, and allowing park users to buy annual park passes at a discounted rate through state income tax forms.
The bill passed the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation Monday with bipartisan support, Huffman said.
"I think we are on a very promising track," Huffman said Tuesday. "I'm pleased to see creative ideas moving forward in the Senate, too."
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.