Legal costs of closing parks likely to exceed savings

By on Fri, September 18, 2009

The cost of closing state parks may cost more than any savings, according to a leaked memo from the state parks department’s attorneys, reports the Mercury News. Governor Schwarzenaggar added $6.4 million to the legislature’s $8 million cut in the state budget, which would require the closure of many state parks.

Park concession holders could sue for breach of their contracts with the state. Concessionaires in state parks generated $89 million in sales last year.

The memo, which was written earlier this month for state parks director Ruth Coleman and distributed to high-level parks managers, was leaked and obtained by a Sacramento-based environmental group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which has posted it on its Web site. ...

Faced with a $24 billion deficit amid plummeting tax revenues, the Legislature cut $8 million from the state parks budget. Last month, Schwarzenegger cut an additional $6.2 million through a line-item veto, for a total of $14.2 million. ...

Other legal problems spelled out in the memo include the Endangered Species Act. The state might face fines by the federal government if poachers kill endangered salmon, condors or other animals on unpatrolled state park property, for example.

Further, the state also could be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. State parks settled a 1999 lawsuit by the California Council for the Blind and Californians for Disability Rights in which the agency agreed to make its entrances, paths, signs, restrooms and other facilities accessible to the disabled between June 2009 and 2016. If state parks missed the court-ordered deadlines, the plaintiffs would likely sue, and "it is unlikely state parks could use lack of funding as a defense to making parks accessible," the memo said.

The state may also be in violation of the California Coastal Act if it blocks public access to beaches. It even might be required by a court to write an time-consuming, costly environmental impact statement to close parks, the memo adds.

You can view the memo after the jump.

State Parks & Recreation Legal Memo -