Following the discovery of $54 million in surplus state parks funds, California Gov. Jerry Brown pledged Aug. 3 to work with the California State Legislature to direct millions of dollars in state funds to keep parks open, fix serious park maintenance problems and match donor contributions.
“Much remains to be done to keep our parks open,” Brown said in a statement. “The disclosure that the parks department had millions in additional revenues is mixed — it’s better to have more money than less, but it’s totally unacceptable for parks personnel to squirrel away public funds. I extend my deepest appreciation for the donors who have come to the aid of our parks in this time of need. I ask for their patience as we take all necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.”
According to a news release, Brown called for the $20 million from the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF) to be used to:
• Make critically needed maintenance fixes to keep parks from closing — for example, fixing water and waste treatment facilities that, if left as-is, will cause park closures.
• Establish a matching fund for contributions, so that donors know every dollar they give will go further.
The State Parks and Recreation Fund is one-time funding that can only be used for one-time costs. The governor is also seeking a $10 million appropriation from Proposition 84 funds for immediate maintenance projects.
“We are grateful for our generous, committed donors. I can’t thank them enough,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird. “The good news is we will have more to spend on parks this year. The bad news is the problem is much bigger than that. State parks will still have over $1 billion in deferred maintenance and ongoing costs.”
To ensure more sound and accountable financial reporting, the Department of Finance is requiring all departments to follow new procedures to reconcile and confirm balances between the Controller’s Office and the governor’s budget. In addition to implementing these new procedures, the Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Evaluations is conducting a thorough audit of all parks fiscal actions.
Investigations into the parks funds are ongoing. On July 20, the California Natural Resources Agency announced that the parks department had not reported $20 million in the State Parks and Recreation Fund, and $34 million in the Off-Highway Vehicle Fund, to the Department of Finance. The attorney general launched an investigation at the request of Brown, who ordered a full parks department audit by the Department of Finance. The governor also accepted the resignation of then-Parks Director Ruth Coleman, appointed a new acting interim director and directed the dismissal of three senior parks employees.
Of the $54 million total, $20 million is eligible for appropriation by the Legislature for management, protection, planning and acquisition.