Bill devotes $20 million in hidden funds to state parks

SACRAMENTO — California would use $20 million found hidden in a state Department of Parks and Recreation special fund to keep all parks open under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate.

AB1478 also imposes a two-year moratorium on any parks closures. Senators passed the bill, 25-12, in response to a scandal in the parks department and sent it back to the Assembly for a final vote.

Auditors found nearly $54 million hidden in two special funds, even as 70 parks were threatened with closure in July because of budget cuts. Most parks ultimately stayed open with the help of local governments and community organizations that contributed before the money was discovered.

The bill creates a dollar-for-dollar matching fund to encourage communities to continue helping local parks.

"We will then in effect be rewarding good behavior" by local partners, said budget committee chairman Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who carried the bill in the Senate. "We want to get the word out that we want you to continue to support your local park."

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