Government Spending

How Budget Cutbacks Are Helping California Parks

The private sector stets up as the state government admits defeat.


For a state that prides itself on innovation and alternative ideas, California remains stuck in a rut of outdated thinking when it comes to the provision of government services. But thanks to budget cutbacks, California officials might be open to some original thinking, as they wrestle with ways to keep open 70 state parks that have been targeted for closure.

California's state government controls 278 parks, with 1.3 million acres of land. While many are run-of-the-mill facilities, others encompass magnificent landscapes. It's no wonder that many people are upset at the prospect of halting public access to these places.

The governor has proposed cutting $22 million from the park budget to help close the state's budget deficit. The parks on the list would be shuttered by July 2012. The closure announcement has resulted in much weeping and gnashing of teeth, as this January statement from the California State Parks Foundation makes clear:

This cut goes too far and must be stopped. It is also a distraction from the fact that the state is in the process, right now, of walking away from 70 parks that it is responsible for stewarding and protecting for all Californians.

The foundation also slammed the governor for "going where no governor has gone before."

The governor is threatening to inflict as much pain on Californians as possible so that they get behind his goal of raising taxes. His message: Everything is cut to the bone and if you don't hike taxes, we're closing your favorite parks and slashing other services.

But an encouraging thing is happening: Foundations, local governments, and private operators are stepping to the plate and coming up with ways to keep these parks open. That's what happens with services that the public really wants—individuals will figure out ways to provide them once the government gets out of the way.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation "is looking seriously at finding people and groups to take over the operation—or at least the funding—of parks slated for closure," reported the Modesto Bee recently. "The agency will hold workshops in five cities in four weeks to teach people how they might be able to swing an operating agreement for one of the 70 parks on the chopping block."

Despite some hysteria, 10 parks have already been dropped from the closure list after local cities have taken them over, or after new parking fees and concession deals were announced. Wealthy donors saved one park in the Bay Area. An existing non-profit group, for instance, will keep the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento open for tours. This is why budget cuts often are good news—they provide opportunities for creative solutions that evade the same old calls for tax hikes.

Consider, also, that the parks budget situation isn't as bad as it might seem. According to a new report from the Legislative Analyst's Office: "The level of funding proposed by the governor for 2012–13 is generally consistent with the levels provided during the past decade. With the exception of 2011–12, when a large amount of bond funds were provided to the parks on a one–time basis, funding for the parks has remained relatively flat since 2006–07."

That hardly is a crisis. But government agencies spend one-time funds as if they are permanent revenue streams, and then they complain about harsh cutbacks rather than manage their budgets responsibly.

Government runs things in a manner typified by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The park system is no different, as government fee structures and spending priorities often are unrelated to market forces or consumer preferences. A privately operated park would never pay its lifeguards more than $200,000 a year in compensation, as is occurring on some public beaches in Orange County.

"Of course, these budgetary problems could be avoided if the state parks were operated by private owners," Nick Sabilla wrote at "Owners could charge visitors a reasonable price to enjoy the parks, which would incentivize conservation and quality service." Private operators already provide concessions and other services at government-owned parks. I once worked for a private contractor that operated an Air Force base, so this isn't some radical, untried notion.

Private operators would follow the directives of the Legislature, and merely operate state-run resources—they wouldn't be selling off parcels or opening new gold mines, as some people have claimed.

Despite a campaign by the Sacramento Bee and others to shame Californians into supporting a park bond (Prop. 21) in 2010, voters were wise enough to say no. The Bee even featured front-page news stories warning of a park crime wave, which amounted to little more than an increase in the number of violations park rangers had issued for beer drinking and trespassing.

Californians should likewise resist the new scare campaigns. For instance, in a January column in the Bee, writer Susan Sward argued that potential park closings say something dark about our moral values: "My visit to the Redwood Campground—now in its early stage of decay—told me that when shuttered parks are left untended, soon enough the structures defining those parks will rot, and there will be nothing at those sites to tell aliens that this was a society that valued nature and spent millions providing parks for its people."

But these parks are not going to rot. My question is what our current system says about our values. If Californians claim to care so much about their beautiful park lands and landscapes, why do we allow them to be under the monopoly control of a government that is incapable of doing practically anything well?

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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  1. Opening them to sale to the highest bidder is such a novel solution that nobody suggests it.

    1. That’s because you-know-who would be the highest bidder.

      1. Not me! I’m dead.

        1. “I absolutely insist on protecting private property… we must encourage private initiative.”

          ~Adolph Hitler, March 24, 1942

          1. He was also a vegitarian. Which means all vegitarians are genocidal psychopaths. Right?

            1. use the mass times acceleration, luke

            2. There was a Jooish guidance counselor in my high school who liked listening to Wagner until she discovered he was Adolph’s favorite composer.

              How dumb is that?

            3. Have you talked to one lately?

          2. Interesting quote from the guy who already nationalized all the industry in his own country as well as his neighbors.

            Are you proud that Obama says the same thing?

          3. “We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”

            ~Adolph Hitler

            1. talk with forked tongue

              Not surprising, knowing they’re all city-Statists bent on Gambol Lockdown.

      2. Fuck yeah! Sell the AIR too, which will clean up the pollution problem!

        And if it doesn’t, that’s ok, cuz all the wealth will be in higher, righter, tighter hands as it should be!

        1. You left out “whiter”/

  2. That’s what happens with services that the public really wants?individuals will figure out ways to provide them once the government gets out of the way.

    But, but, but….

    1. People fed them selves from the land.

      But then government got in the way, so the elite “capitalists” could gain wealth and control, at the expense of everybody else.

      “Agriculture creates government.” ~Richard Manning, Against the Grain, p. 73

      Capitalism requires initiation of force.

      1. People fed them selves from the land.

        Get off my lawn.

          1. Bill Maher wants you to call them Kenyans now.

      2. “People fed them selves from the land.”

        Unlike today, where we use food replicators.

        1. Between foraging and agriculture.

          The stupid is strong with KPres.

    2. But, but, but….

      teh childrunz?

  3. That’s what happens with services that the public really wants?individuals will figure out ways to provide them once the government gets out of the way.

    I don’t understand. If the state government isn’t telling them what to do, then how do they know what to do?

    1. Officer, am I free to gambol about plain and forest?

      MARX: NO!
      MISES: NO!

      Because the elite can’t afford people hunting and gathering a free lunch. Who would work in their offices, factories, and armies if they weren’t threatened with starvation and poverty?

      1. -ded into society as any other big-government-enforced entitlement program.

        1. I don’t think so.

  4. “I like warm pee”…..urine.html

    1. Carrie explains that drinking the warm pee for the first time didn’t make her throw up so she decided: ‘You know what, I can do this.’

      And, by golly, people like me!

    2. Um, and the rest of her diet?

  5. “Stets up” I can’t follow you kids with your street slang anymore.

  6. “That’s what happens with services that the public really wants?individuals will figure out ways to provide them once the government gets out of the way.”

    Or maybe they could form a government and ask it to provide those services?

    There’s a lot of things I don’t want the government doing, but setting aside, and/or maintainng some wild lands for future generations is ok by me.

    1. …when it is protecting (via cops, courts, and thugs) what was TAKEN by force from Non-State society by the capitalist elites.

      “[The Native Americans] didn’t have any rights to the land … Any white person who brought the element of civilization had THE RIGHT TO TAKE over this continent.” ~Ayn Rand, US Military Academy at West Point, March 6, 1974

      Cuz the elite are white and smart and have that “element of city-Statism (civilization)” about them, and thus deserve to TAKE.

      1. All kinds of people today call themselves “libertarians,” especially something calling itself the New Right, which consists of hippies, except that they’re anarchists instead of collectivists. But of course, anarchists are collectivists. Capitalism is the one system that requires absolute objective law, yet they want to combine capitalism and anarchism. That is worse than anything the New Left has proposed.

      2. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two bandwagons. They want to be hippies, but don’t want to preach collectivism, because those jobs are already taken. But anarchism is a logical outgrowth of the anti-intellectual side of collectivism. I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect. The anarchist is the scum of the intellectual world of the left, which has given them up. So the right picks up another leftist discard. That’s the Libertarian movement.
        -Ayn Rand…..bertarians

        1. I appreciate Rand’s critique of the anarcho-capitalists.

          Frankly, everybody’s critique of other political solutions are usually pretty much right on.

          I’ve come to the conclusion that, within the agricultural city-statism (civilization) mass society, which ignores man’s neurobiological limitations (Dunbar’s Number) that:

          1. Everybody is completely full of shit and it’s well documented by all political groups in their critiques, and

          2. Nobody has the slightest workable solution to make mass society work.

      3. “..when it is protecting (via cops, courts, and thugs) what was TAKEN by force from Non-State society by the capitalist elites.”

        How can you take land from a non-State society? That would imply that they OWNED the land, ie, that it was the PROPERTY.

        1. Hey, they haven’t fully developed the city-Statist concepts of property like KPres has.

          Fibertards will gloss over any initiation-of-violence that profits them. Just like any Stalinist motherfucker.

    2. Or maybe they could form a government and ask it to provide those services?

      Go right ahead. I look forward to the armed showdown on the evening news.

  7. soon enough the structures defining those parks will rot,

    So what defines these parks? The trees and the wildlife and all that or the ranger station/giftshop and the porta potty’s?

    1. So what defines these parks?

      Grunting sounds coming from the men’s restroom as Tony and White Indian take turns acting out their favorite gay porn flicks.

    2. soon enough the structures defining those parks will rot

      You would think that would be a plus to your hardcore greentards.

  8. The parks have had privately operated campgrounds for a long time. I have no problem with privately operated concessions in parks, including campgrounds and visitor centers, but I do oppose entrance fees. If it’s public property, I shouldn’t have to pay to go there unless I use the services that they provide.

  9. “My visit to the Redwood Campground?now in its early stage of decay?told me that when shuttered parks are left untended, soon enough the structures defining those parks will rot, and there will be nothing at those sites to tell aliens that this was a society that valued nature and spent millions providing parks for its people.”

    That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: we MUST continue to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in to our state park system so that aliens might understand that we CARE!!

    Holy. Fuck. How does this woman have a fucking job?

    1. God forbid we be judged harshly by aliens.

  10. Ron Swanson would be overjoyed.

  11. This sounds similar to Colorado Springs.

  12. Does it really help?

  13. The blog is absolutely fantastic. Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need. Thanks.

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