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Federal Gov't to Schwarzenegger: There are Legal Issues with Closing State Parks

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Leo Carillo State Beach received federal funding with stipulations to stay open in perpetuity | Photo by Clinton Steeds via Flickr


Leo Carillo State Beach received federal funding with stipulations to stay open in perpetuity | Photo by Clinton Steeds via Flickr
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget-saving threat to close 80% of state parks for two years has the federal government raising a red flag. Numerous parks, including a handful local to Los Angeles, are under stipulations to stay open to the public because the land was fully or partially federally funded or transferred to the state from federal ownership.

If closures were to happen, the state could lose future federal funding, not receive reimbursements and be in violation with legal contracts, according to a June 8th letter from the National Park Service to Schwarzenegger, obtained by LAist. 69 of the 220 parks threatened to be closed fall under the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Grant Program, which financially assists states and local governments for acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. Over the years, California has received approximately $286 million.

To help solve a $24 billion budget deficit, Schwarzenegger's plan calls for $140 million in savings by closing 80% of state parks for two years. The legislature's Democratic budget revision proposal, currently being debated, calls for a one year closure saving the state $70 million with a follow up bill that would then re-open the parks by enacting an annual $15 vehicle license fee, something the Governor has vowed to veto because it's an increase in fees to the public.

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"The state could be on a collision course with the federal government," said Traci Verardo-Torres of the California State Parks Foundation, reacting to the letter. Closing parks protected by LCWF provisions means a few critical oversights by Schwarzenegger, including the fact that they have to be maintained for public outdoor use in perpetuity. Also, parks currently in the grant process will not receive reimbursements, forcing the state to possibly lose money, and future federal funding for state parks under the program may no longer be available for California.

In the Los Angeles region, Leo Carillo, Topanga, Robert Meyer Memorial State Beach and Point Mugu received funding under the LWCF. The latter park is also one of the six in California under the Federal Lands to Parks Program (FLP), which requires the state to leave it open for public park and recreation uses in perpetuity. If violated, the federal government can repossess the land and give it to another entity.

"As you are aware, your state parks also support local business activity and generate tax revenues," the letter pointed out. "If anything, the need for such recreational opportunities is greater now, not only due to leaner economic times but also because of the increasing personal, community, and environmental health issues associated with more sedentary lifestyles and lack of contact with nature." In hopes of avoiding punitive steps, the National Park Service in the letter offered ways for the two governments to work through the issues.