State Parks Scandal Likely Part of Larger California Govt Scandal

Michael Krasny, in the July 23rd edition of his excellent Bay Area radio program Forum, interviewed Matt Weiser (the Sac Bee journalist who broke the State Parks story) as well as Bob Berman (vice president of the Benicia State Parks Association) and Elizabeth Goldstein (president of the California State Parks Foundation).

Weiser, who regularly covers State Park issues for the Bee, said he had been hearing rumors for some months about a hidden fund. Finally, after he made an official records request several weeks ago, State Parks admitted to its existence. Apparently Weiser not only broke the story, he seems to have broken it open.

Weiser’s article included this detail:

The money accumulated over 12 years in two special funds the department uses to collect revenue and pay for operations: $20.4 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund, and $33.5 million in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.

The most interesting aspect of the Forum discussion — which also included email, online comments and phoned-in comments from listeners — was how quickly it evolved into a discussion of larger questions: Can taxpayers trust that any state agency is handling its financial accounting responsibly? Did the California Finance Department or the Controller’s Department do regular audits? Will the discovery of this hidden $54 million fund allow all state parks to stay open?

Elizabeth Goldstein mentioned  several times that there are deep structural problems in the State Parks Agency budget that will not be “in any long-term way mitigated” even if the legislature decides to return the $20.4 million balance in the Parks and Recreation Fund to State Parks, the most notable problem being the existence of a “deferred maintenance” balance of some $1.3 billion.

Listeners expressed outrage about widespread State Park fee increases over the last few years. Others mentioned all the volunteer and fund-raising efforts to keep parks open.

Some listeners said they wouldn’t be willing to vote for increased taxes for state government until they are satisfied that it can be a responsible financial steward, which is now seriously in doubt.

Goldstein and Berman agreed that these newly discovered funds will not substantially mitigate the long-term structural problems in State Parks funding, nor will they necessarily mean that all state parks will now remain open.

Another unknown, as Krasny mentioned, is what impact this scandal will have on the fate of tax measures currently before the legislature.

This story is only just beginning.

Listen to Krasny’s program in its entirety (52 minutes) by clicking the play button below:

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3 Responses to “State Parks Scandal Likely Part of Larger California Govt Scandal”
  1. Lowell Landowski says:

    A big part of the equation of how they ripped the taxpayers off at Parks

    From: Landowski, Lowell
    Sent: Monday, August 13, 2012 8:17 AM
    To: Robertson, Aaron; Mitchell, Sedrick V.;; ‘Pena, Theresa’
    Cc: Harder, Marie (CDPH-HISP-PHIB) (
    Subject: FW: California State Parks Branding Manual

    This doing work for free using donated public funds to keep parks open is a huge area of potential wasteful spending and a clear circumvention of Civil Service Laws. Just about any project officer in OGALs could have done the same work for the department at a fraction of the cost to the public. So how much did the Foundation pay its consultants and worker for the various park privatizations project they worked on for us pro-bono? What a scam a laundering of funds and responsibilities. Please forward my concerns to AG and the various auditors. The foundation’s honey pots and spending patterns, and conjoined relations to Parks and other higher ups over Parks needs to be fully and truly investigated

    Lowell Landowski

    Civil Service Civil Rights Leader

    From: Robertson, Aaron
    Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2012 10:44 PM
    To: Landowski, Lowell
    Subject: California State Parks Branding Manual


    As you requested, I looked into the cost of the California State Parks Branding Manual, dated January 2007. The Manual was developed as part of a three-pronged Marketing Study the California State Parks Foundation did for the Department under a 10-year, no cost marketing commitment.

    The study included:
    1) branding and associated advertising investigations (including development of the Manual),
    2) marketing asset study and
    3) development of a proud partner program.

    No money from the State Parks budget was spent on this project. It was done under agreement with the Foundation as a State Park partner.

    I hope this answers your question. If you have additional questions I encourage you to ask your Manager or raise the issue to your Deputy Director Sedrick Mitchell.

    Thank you,

    Aaron S. Robertson
    Deputy Director, Administrative Services
    California Department of Parks and Recreation

  2. depelton says:

    Thanks, Lowell.

    I’m confused about the way in which — in your view — taxpayers take the hit on this? Are you saying that taxpayers are the source of the “donated public funds?” If so, surely not in their role as taxpayers, but rather as citizens supporting the “California State Parks Foundation.” Is that your meaning?

  3. Lowell Landowski says:

    The taxpayers take a hit because the system has become corrupt. Parks hired and promoted many more park managers; while at a time low park field workers got cut. If you look at the amount of money Parks spends over the recent years on personnel, it did not decrease, it increased. The need to close parks was falsely justified; there were many other ways to cut the budget. This was all was to allow the privatization of parks, and the money tree shaking operations that creates. The fancy foundations did the work “pro bono” park planning work, but they pay their consultants hundreds of dollars per hour. Often ex state park official get hired as consultants and directors of the save the parks organizations; this is a corrupting influence on Parks managers contracting and business decisions. The Park planning work should have been done by regular rank and file civil servants, who are quite capable of doing the work and at a lower cost, and the work would not be so secretive and shady.
    We have a public sector and a private sector for a reason. Look back 100 years, you will find things got so corrupt in California, with insider contracts being handed to cronies, rampant nepotism and favoritism, that they formed the California Civil Service System. Corruptions the least efficient form of economy. People like Schwarzenegger and Brown like favoritism and cronyism and privatizing government, because that is where the payoffs come from. Running government operations by private contracts leads to crony capitalism. I also no longer think much of public employee unions like SEIU Local 1000, since they too can be encouraged to look the other way at corruption, by politicians like Jerry Brown, in exchange for handing out other petty favor to the union

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