Audit: California Does Not Track Costs of State Parks

Byline: Associated Press

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Department of Parks and Recreation does not know how much it costs to operate each of California’s 270 state parks, beaches and recreational areas and had no way of knowing how much the state would have saved by closing 70 parks last year, according to an audit released Feb. 14.

State Auditor Elaine Howle’s findings were part of an investigation into $54 million found hidden last summer in two special funds, but it reveals the money troubles were a symptom of much deeper dysfunction within the department.

The audit said department administrators estimated the operating costs for individual parks based on geographic regions using 10-year-old figures. Even newer estimates provided since the scandal broke were inconsistent, Howle said.

“Without updated and complete estimates of the costs to operate each park, it is difficult to accurately estimate the amount the department would save by closing a given park, and to measure the impact of partnership agreements that provide funding to help pay parks’ operating costs and offset the effects of budget reductions,” the audit said.

Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and a senior department official was fired last summer.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson as director last November, but parks spokesman Roy Stearns said Jackson was not available for comment Thursday. In a written statement, the department said it is developing a new budget that will include specific operating costs for each individual park.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has been critical of how the department chose the parks that would have been closed. Her spokeswoman, Teala Schaff, said Howle’s audit confirms Evans’ concerns about the closures, which were avoided after Brown allocated some additional money and the state reached agreements with nonprofits, local governments and others to help keep them open at least for a few years.

“They had no idea how they picked the 70, nor do they know how much it costs to operate them,” Schaff said. “It’s good to know those people aren’t there anymore and there’s a different management team in place.”

The state attorney general previously found that officials at the highest level of the parks department helped keep the millions of dollars secret for more than a decade, a finding reiterated in the report released Feb. 14 by the Bureau of State Audits.

— Juliet Williams and Tracie Cone

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