As the proposed closure of about 70 state parks approaches, a new piece of legislation in the State Assembly aims to keep some of them running, including Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
A bipartisan group of legislators including Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen announced this week that the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, known also as AB 1589, was to be considered in the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week. The bill is expected to reach the Assembly floor after Memorial Day, according to an announcement from Olsen’s office.
The bill, which Olsen co-authored along with more than a dozen other legislators, will create new funding mechanisms for park operations and add extra steps the state Department of Parks and Recreation must take before closing parks.
According to Olsen’s office, the bill includes the following proposals:
• Change the process for closing parks and require the parks department to disclose its methodology and rationale behind selecting the parks for closure. Closing parks would also be a “last resort” only to be considered after other options like private-public partnerships.
• The department would have to develop a plan to increase revenue, collect unpaid user fees and create a state park enterprise fund.
• The Department of Motor Vehicles would be able to offer state park license plates with the fee for the plates going to support the park system.
• Taxpayers would have a choice to use some of their tax refunds on an annual day-use access pass to the parks.
Olsen called state parks like Railtown “vital to the economies of the local communities they serve,” and said the bill is a way to “continue fighting to prevent the closure” of parks like Railtown.
Railtown is still on a state list of 70 parks set to close in July to save the state $30 million, though local leaders are working to prevent it. A ballot measure to expand a lodging tax would help fund park operations temporarily if approved. And multiple local service organizations are currently raising money to supplement the funds that would come from expanding the tax.
Tuolumne County is one of 24 communities working with park officials to come up with an alternative plan to keep their state parks open.