Seventy state parks across California, including the governor's mansion and at least 14 sites within an hour of San Francisco, will close starting in September, state parks officials announced Friday.
Redwood forests, beaches, coastal woodlands and some of the state's most important cultural and historic sites will be closed, and as many as 220 jobs will be eliminated as a result of the state budget cuts recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Among the popular Bay Area sites that will be closed to the public are China Camp and Samuel P. Taylor state parks, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area and Jack London State Historic Park.
"This is a pretty devastating list," said Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the California State Parks Foundation. "It represents 25 percent of the park system and, for the Bay Area, it's a big hit."
The closures are necessary to cover the two-year, $22 million cut in the state parks budget that Brown and the Legislature agreed to in March. Those cuts were made to help shrink the state's then-$26 billion deficit to its current $15.6 billion. Brown hopes to place a tax measure on the ballot to help plug the deficit, but Republicans, staunchly opposed to tax increases or extensions, have blocked the Democratic governor from implementing his plan.
Without new revenue, "we will have to make even deeper cuts," said John Laird, secretary of the California Resources Agency.
As it is, the parks are facing the largest cut in their history.
Bad starting point
The state park system was already in terrible shape before the March budget cuts. About $75 million has been cut out of the parks budget over the past decade. Deficits forced partial closure of 60 parks and deep service reductions in 90 others over the past two years.
Of the 278 parks in the state, 150 have already been affected by budget cuts, including reductions in the number of rangers, lifeguards and janitors. Restrooms, campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots have been shuttered.
Park staffing is currently at 1979 levels, but the park system has 500,000 more acres and 10 million more visitors a year than it had back then, park officials said. The latest cut would mean the park general fund has been reduced 44 percent since 2006.
"Closing state parks is not a task that gives anyone joy, but we are experiencing turbulent times that necessitate deep - almost unthinkable - cuts to public services," Brown said in a statement.
California, which created its state park system in 1864, has more parks than any other state. They cover 1.5 million acres, including 280 miles of coastline and 625 miles of lake and riverfront. Only Alaska has more land, 3.2 million acres, devoted to state parks.
The parks on the closure list were evaluated based on their historic significance, number of visitors, revenue generated and the ability to physically close them, according to park officials. Park infrastructure, land use restrictions and partnerships with nonprofits, concessions or local governments were also considered in compiling the list, officials said.
Not a single Southern California beach will be closed, but 40 percent of the state historic parks, including the old governor's mansion in Sacramento, will be, Goldstein said. Nine parks with significant stands of redwoods will also be off-limits, including Samuel P. Taylor, Portola Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park and Hendy Woods State Park.
State officials have admitted the best they can do to close state parks is to put up roadblocks and signs. People have continued to use the partially closed parks and will probably continue using the trails and grounds even with full closures.
The big difficulty, everyone agrees, will be keeping transients, thugs, hunters and other trespassers out of the closed parks, never mind the people who end up passing through on a trail that started somewhere else.
Park officials said rangers and maintenance workers will periodically patrol the shuttered parks and they are hoping volunteers will also step up.