Initiative Proposed to Fix Calif. Parks System

May 2, 2014 by · Comments Off on Initiative Proposed to Fix Calif. Parks System 

Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial from the San Francisco Gate outlining a new initiative from Parks Forward to resurrect the state’s trouble state park system.

Parks Forward – a blue-ribbon commission studying the troubled California State Parks system – is proposing a surprisingly bold vision for the future of parks in California: a brand-new privately and publicly funded organization to do what the state parks agency cannot do.

The Parks Forward commission evidently recognizes that the parks agency will have its hands full with the daunting internal reforms necessary to get its own house in order for years to come. And it will never have the capacity to take on the innovations necessary to bring California parks into the 21st century. The solution: create a new, more nimble, nonprofit parks support organization to work with the state parks agency, other local and regional parks agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and community groups to do what needs to be done.

It’s a simple, elegant and seemingly obvious solution that will, no doubt, require lengthy discussion and negotiation.

The commission is refreshingly frank in its assessment of the challenges ahead. “First, California’s parks system is debilitated by an outdated organizational structure, underinvestment in technology and business tools, and a culture that has not rewarded excellence, innovation and leadership. Second, only broad-based, fundamental change will transform the system into one that will transform parks and the parks experience to once again lead the nation and the world in meeting the needs of citizens and visitors for decades to come.”

The commission’s recommendations for internal reforms include upgrading the department’s information and technology infrastructure; budgeting, planning and accounting systems; and fee collections.

For the full story click here.


California Parks Offering New Annual Pass

January 3, 2014 by · Comments Off on California Parks Offering New Annual Pass 

The California State Parks Department launched a new annual park pass program recently to commemorate its 150th anniversary.

The program includes several options, including the 150th Commemorative, Surf Explorer, Off-Highway Vehicle, Historian Passport and California Park Experience passes, a State Parks spokesman said.

Passes are valid for one year from the date of purchase and now are available for shipping, the spokesman said.

At $150, the Commemorative Pass provides day-use admission to most parks except high-use Southern California beaches and off-highway vehicle parks.

It also is not valid for camping, oversize vehicle, extra vehicle and other supplemental fees, the spokesman said.

However, the Commemorative Pass includes the Historian Passport, which is also available separately for $50, that will admit a family of four to museums and historical sites like missions, Gold Rush and Native American locations and the Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

The $195 Surf Explorer pass provides access to some of the best surf breaks in Southern California as well as vehicle day-use in much of the rest of the state, the spokesman said.

Priced at $75, the California Park Experience day-use pass provides access to more than 70 Bay Area and Northern California parks as well as some inland Central and Southern California parks.

The Off-Highway Vehicle Pass is available for $50, unchanged from last year.




New Vision Sought for California State Parks

October 14, 2013 by · Comments Off on New Vision Sought for California State Parks 

California’s state parks are mostly identified with long walks in the redwoods, camping under the stars and beachcombing.

But as the state’s population evolves — in color, age and recreational tastes — so too must its parks, say those developing a new vision for the 280-park system that draws 70 million visitors a year.

U-T San Diego reported that the Parks Forward Commission will be in San Diego Monday (Oct. 14) as part of a statewide swing to gather information and the public’s advice before drafting recommendations on how the state can polish what some say is its tarnished crown jewel.

A draft report suggesting answers to that question is due out in April with a final set of recommendations scheduled to be delivered to governor and lawmakers by September.

More immediately, the commission is looking at ways to reverse tumbling revenues and restore public trust in the wake of revelations of financial mismanagement.

More long-term, commissioners hope to offer proposals to make parks more inviting and more accessible, particularly in addressing the interests of the growing number of Latinos and younger people married to their apps, GPS and Google.

“There is a tremendous opportunity through the Parks Forward (Commission) to better connect with Latinos. The values are already there, and shared,” said Marisa Quiroz of the San Diego Foundation, one of the listed speakers. “I am excited for what these public conversations will bring and see positive things on the horizon for increasing access to the outdoors and connecting more people to nature.”

To read the entire article click here.

Parks Forward Convenes First Public Hearing

September 19, 2013 by · Comments Off on Parks Forward Convenes First Public Hearing 

First public hearing held

An independent commission with the task of examining the future of California’s troubled park system held its first public hearing on Wednesday (Sept. 18) in Sacramento.

The commission, called Parks Forward, was created by the Legislature in the wake of an accounting scandal at the Department of Parks and Recreation last year, the Los Angeles Times reported. In addition, the department has struggled to maintain its network of 280 parks covering 1.7 million acres.

Officials said they would seek new ways to bring revenue and visitors to parks while maintaining their natural beauty.

“There is nothing more Californian than our parks,” said commission co-chair Lance Conn. “We hold these treasurers in trust for future generations.”

The commission’s report is due late next year, and it will be up to lawmakers and the governor to decide whether to implement any recommendations. Former state Sen. Christine Kehoe, the second co-chair, hinted at the challenge of making sure the report isn’t shelved.

“We need to persuade, maybe even sell, our good ideas,” she said.

The lack of updated technology at the parks department was one of the first challenges highlighted during Wednesday’s meeting. For example, employees still use paper time cards and lack adequate software to map out budgets.

“We’ve been given a job to do, but we haven’t been given the tools to do it,” said Jeremy McReynolds, vice president of the California State Park Peace Office Management Assn.

More Problems Detected in Calif. Parks Audit

September 11, 2013 by · Comments Off on More Problems Detected in Calif. Parks Audit 

A view of a blanket of clouds from Mount Tamalpais State Park in Northern California. A report has found that the state parks department lacks a system to track spending at individual parks. Photo courtesy of California State Parks and the Los Angeles Times

The California parks department, which was rocked by an accounting scandal last year, has not completely corrected its practices, according to a new audit.

The department still lacks a system to track spending at individual parks, said the report, released Tuesday. And its budgets are calculated too slowly for officials to adequately plan park operations, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The audit also found that more employees than previously believed were inappropriately reimbursed for unused vacation time. Roughly $42,000 was paid to several employees in 2010 and 2011, the report said. That’s on top of $271,000 already discovered in an internal review.

The payments did not follow state guidelines for when such reimbursements can be made, or they were made without the necessary approvals.

Click here to read the entire story




Calif.’s ‘Parks Forward’ Begins Idea Gathering

September 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Calif.’s ‘Parks Forward’ Begins Idea Gathering 

California’s state parks have an international reputation and widely acknowledged value as a spiritual and financial asset, but park budgets have been cut so much by Sacramento politicians, including successive governors, that a quarter nearly went extinct in 2012.

But during the next year, the state is convening a kind of constitutional convention for how the state’s beloved parks should be run going forward, taking a tip-to-toe look at everything from revenues to drawing a more diverse group of parkgoers, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

On Monday (Sept. 9), the first of 10 statewide workshops to solicit new ideas from the public came to Santa Cruz, and state officials got earfuls.

“The idea is not to create a plan that goes in a binder and goes on a shelf,” said Melissa Johnson, deputy executive director of the Parks Forward Initiative. “The idea is to come up with a plan that will actually be implemented.”

While the pros and cons of off-leash dogs threatened to hijack the meeting — no fewer than 10 spoke about what had been a local debate — a group of state officials heard a range of ideas from about 100 people, a crowd that skewed white and elderly. The four-hour plus meeting was at Louden Nelson Community Center.

People spoke about installing more user-friendly facilities, from increased picnic sites and fire rings to more bike trails, possibly in partnership with bike manufacturers. One person suggested student specials to increase youth participation, while another decried the state of bocce courts in Monterey State Historic Park.

A man suggested saving money with fewer large trucks for parks workers, drawing applause when he suggested wardens ride motorcycles. One woman complained that it cost $50 to park a horse trailer at a park, raising an issue — rising fees — that came up over and over following years during which the state has increasingly relied on users instead of the general fund to pay for California’s 278 parks.

Click here to read the entire story.

Click here to learn more about the state commission charged with studying the system.

Current Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds

August 27, 2013 by · Comments Off on Current Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds 


From the Sacramento Bee:

Lawmakers have sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill designed to deter a repeat of the financial scandal that rocked the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Richard Roth of Riverside requires that state department heads swear under penalty of perjury that they are sending accurate budget information to the state Department of Finance. Violations could bring prison terms of up to four years.

SB801 is in response to the discovery last summer of $54 million hidden in two parks department special funds.

Part of the problem was that parks officials did not provide proper financial data to state budget officials. The parks director and others lost their jobs.

Senators agreed to Assembly amendments on a 37-0 vote Monday (Aug. 26), sending the bill to the governor.


From the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan:

The Yankton County Commission shined a spotlight on Larson’s Landing campground this week, and now the campground’s residents will have a lot more sunshine to contend with while staying there.

At issue during the meeting was whether a patio shade, consisting of four poles and a roof and the personal property of the camper, is a structure according to the definition of the county zoning ordinance. If so, a building permit is needed to construct them in the Moderate Density Rural Residential District (R-2) where Larson’s Landing is located.

The commission decided it is a structure and ordered removal of the patio shades at Larson’s Landing.




Voyeur at Center of California State Parks Flap

August 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Voyeur at Center of California State Parks Flap 

The California Department of Parks and Recreation is coming under fire, again, this time for one of its employees secretly recording people in public restrooms and hotel rooms.

The culprit secretly recorded dozens of men, women and children in the restrooms at the Oceano Campground on Pismo State Beach, CBS News, Sacramento, reported.

This crime took place more than a year ago.

Jesse Nungaray pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges. The three remaining charges, including a felony, were dropped. That means he doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.

He spent only 60 days behind bars.

Twenty-five victims have been confirmed.

CBS13 learned Nungaray was part of a parks construction crew traveling the state to modify restrooms.

When he stayed at the Shore Cliff Lodge in Pismo Beach, a maid cleaning his room noticed an outlet wasn’t working. The maid called maintenance and maintenance found a camera from this particular room pointed into the next room, bed-level.

The hotel manager evicted Nungaray and notified his immediate supervisor, but Nungaray wasn’t arrested. He was allowed to keep working in state parks for weeks. That’s when parks upper management got a letter, obtained by CBS13. A hotel executive detailed the disturbing discovery in Nungaray’s room.

State Parks Internal Affairs and police investigated and Nungaray was arrested and placed on administrative leave.

Click here to read the entire story.

Editorial: Calif. Needs a Park System Overhaul

August 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise.

Reports of scandal and mismanagement last year made clear the need to overhaul California’s state parks system. A new state advisory panel on parks can provide useful input. But more advice matters little if the people with the real authority do not make basic changes. Legislators need to ensure that the state parks system is properly managed and financially sustainable over the long-term.

The state this month unveiled a 12-member volunteer panel, known as Parks Forward, tasked with crafting a blueprint for the park system’s future. The chairs of the privately financed commission will be former state Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego and Bay Area businessman and conservationist Lance Conn. The group plans to present its recommendations to the Legislature in the fall of 2014.

But legislators already have strong advice from the state’s legislative analyst and the watchdog Little Hoover Commission. Another high-profile outside review will achieve nothing if legislators fail to act on the advice. The governor replaced the agency’s manager last year, but ensuring a fiscally sustainable, well-managed park system requires more than just a change at the top.

California already knows the state Parks and Recreation Department needs a better operating model. Gov. Jerry Brown last year proposed closing 70 of the state’s 280 parks, in order to save $22 million — though no one could adequately explain why trimming $22 million out of an operating budget of nearly $500 million should cause shuttering a quarter of the state’s parks. Then state officials announced in July 2012 they had discovered a $54 million surplus in the parks department. A state auditor’s report in February said the parks agency lacked a clear picture of how much each park cost to operate, and made the decision to close parks without any real idea of how much money that step might save. The auditor also found that the department had been reporting incorrect budget totals as far back as 1999, for reasons that no one could explain.

Lax fiscal oversight is an unacceptable approach — and is particularly galling in a state with chronically unstable finances. State parks need to be more creative and financially adept to help the system thrive. Legislators, for example, should give parks the flexibility to pursue creative ways of generating income beyond merely raising fees. The parks agency should ease the department’s fiscal strain by transferring some parks of mainly local interest to local control, and expanding the use of partnerships with nonprofit groups and private companies in running parks. And the system should bring in managers with business and fiscal expertise, instead of mainly relying on park rangers with peace officer training to oversee operations. The Legislature also needs to find ways to tackle a $1.3 billion backlog in park maintenance projects.

Californians value their state parks, which include some of the most scenic landscapes in the state. But preserving those amenities for future generations to enjoy requires a more effective approach than haphazard oversight, sloppy accounting and outdated attitudes.


Co-Chair to Lead Calif. State Parks Commission

August 6, 2013 by · Comments Off on Co-Chair to Lead Calif. State Parks Commission 

Christine Kehoe

Former State Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego has been tapped to help chart a new direction for California’s troubled state parks system.

The 12-member Parks Forward Commission she will co-lead has a daunting task: Develop a plan designed to restore credibility, provide a firm financial footing, and make $1.3 billion worth of overdue repairs.

Recommendations are due in the next 18 months, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“While the amount of funding is going down, the responsibilities and the services we want to provide are increasing. We want to turn that around,” Kehoe, a Democrat, said in an interview.

It was announced Monday (Aug. 5) that Kehoe will be the co-chair of the commission along with Lance Conn, a San Francisco Bay Area businessman with past ties to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and AOL. Commission members will not receive a salary.

Kehoe’s appointment gives San Diego County two influential voices in the future of state parks. In late 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown tapped retired Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson of Fallbrook as director of the Department of State Parks and Recreation.

Jackson is widely credited with helping restore faith in parks after a series of startling revelations over misuse of funds and hiding surplus dollars even as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved to close 70 parks due to budget shortfalls.

California operates 280 parks, drawing about 70 million visitors a year. The department runs on slightly less than $500 million in general fund revenues — a 37% drop from the amount allocated five years ago, Kehoe said.

Kehoe said one of the commission’s charges is to see if more safeguards are needed for the parks budget.

“There will be a lot of attention paid to accountability,” Kehoe said.

More broadly, she said the commission will look at ways to provide stable operations funding for the system’s diverse collection of beaches, forests and cultural sites, from Old Town San Diego to Año Nuevo’s sanctuary for elephant seals.

Kehoe said the commission is open to more partnerships with nonprofit groups “if that can be done in a good way.” She also supports looking at endowments.

Kehoe also wants to ensure that parks are protected in rural areas where they are “one of the few economic engines” drawing tourist dollars.

As far as new fees or taxes, Kehoe said that discussion is premature.

The commission plans a series of public meetings over the coming months.

“I want to hear what Californians have to say and what they want to see at their parks,” she said. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

Resources Secretary John Laird, in announcing Kehoes’s selection along with the other members, said, “Sen. Kehoe brings decades of high-level public policy leadership on a host of environmental and good-government issues, including the unique challenges facing our parks.”

While in the Senate, Kehoe worked on a variety of parks-related issues, as well as other environmental programs. One of her signature bills created the San Diego River Conservancy.

Kehoe was termed out of the Senate last year after serving eight years. She is currently the executive director of the California Plug-in Vehicle Collaborative, which promotes all-electric cars.


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