A two-year moratorium on California State Park closures was signed Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The moratorium was part of two pieces of legislation, Assembly Bills 1478 and 1589, enacted by Brown in response to the recently-discovered funds that were stashed away by State Parks officials.
Palomar Mountain State Park south of Temecula and Murrieta was among parks slated for closure by the California Department of Parks & Recreation.
Under AB 1478, there will be a two-year moratorium on future state park closures, as well as matching funds for park donors and local operating agreements.
Locally, this may benefit Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, which entered into a donor agreement to keep the park afloat. The nonprofit group has garnered donations from San Diego Gas & Electric and others.
Also under AB 1478, funding will be put toward audits and investigations of the management crisis at California State Parks.
AB 1589, authored by state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, requires the state Department of Parks & Recreation to develop a prioritized action plan for generating revenues and collecting unpaid user fees at state parks, and calls for accurate and transparent accounting of all state park funds.
The new law also allows taxpayers to redirect portions of their tax refunds to the California State Parks Protection Fund in exchange for an annual state park day-use access pass.
Huffman said he has worked with state leaders on legislation to restore public trust since the news of the state parks scandal broke earlier summer. At the time, Huffman said it was "troubling and frustrating" to hear that California State Parks officials secretly withheld $54 million in state funds.
The Sacramento Bee first reported that State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her deputy was fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on the surplus money for as long as 12 years. State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, costing the state more than $271,000, the Bee reported.
“These two new laws will help implement these changes that will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious ‘reset’ to an agency that desperately needs it,” Huffman said in a news release.
California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein said she was pleased with Brown's pen strokes Tuesday.
“AB 1589 gives the state important tools for a future that is increasingly emphasizing the need for more self-generated revenue in our parks,” Goldstein said. “While we do not believe that our state park system, a true public good, will ever be able to sustain itself without a core of dedicated, public funding, we do wholeheartedly agree that the movement toward more revenue generation should be done with a roadmap."
Huffman said there is a lot more work to do to restore public trust and confidence, ensuring that the park funds go to support parks at risk of closure.
"To bolster the generosity of the donors and nonprofits who have stepped up in a big way is an essential first step,” he said.