Senator Evans Letter to the Governor on Parks Privatization Efforts and Fee Increases

Friday, August 3, 2012

SACRAMENTO – Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) today issued the following letter to the Governor regarding California State Parks privatization efforts and fee increases

 

August 3, 2012

 

Governor Jerry Brown

State Capitol

Sacramento, CA 95814

 

Re: State Parks: Privatization and Fee Increases

 

Dear Governor Brown:

 

Thank you so much for your announcement today that you will use funds to keep state parks open. I believe your announcement will go a long way toward rebuilding the public’s trust in our state parks system and I look forward to working with you and your Administration to return our beloved state parks system to a healthy and sustainable condition.

 

However, I am writing to you now regarding two additional issues which I believe need to be addressed:

 

  1. Plans are currently being developed by the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to turn over operations of entire parks to for-profit operators. While personally I do not support privatization of parks, if this is to be the new policy at DPR, I feel strongly that the public must be part of the decision-making and such a program must be undertaken with the public’s full knowledge and support and with legislative oversight.

 

  1. DPR has been quietly proceeding with a proposal to charge exorbitant entrance fees at state beaches in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, despite closing nearly every state park in those counties and in the face of a massive local volunteer effort to rescue these closed parks.

 

1. PRIVATIZATION

 

DPR has issued an RFP to for-profit companies to take over all of the operations of twenty-one parks in the Delta and Central Valley for as little as 3% share of the revenues generated. Contracts have already been signed for four of these parks with for-profit companies.

           

Unfortunately, DPR has continuously misrepresented its plans to the public.  DPR sought Public Works Board approval of the first RFP at the February 1, 2012 meeting of the Public Works Board. I am a legislative advisor to the Public Works Board and wrote a letter objecting to approval of the RFP.  In response, DPR publicly announced it would not seek to privatize the entire operation of any individual park. Yet, DPR proceeded to do just that.

 

Meanwhile, the California State Parks Foundation has quietly entered into consulting agreements with PROS Consulting and CHM Government Services to conduct a study for DPR for three districts--San Diego Coast, Monterey and the Central Valley, for the purpose of developing financial sustainability plans for each park in those three districts.  The RFP is here. http://www.calparks.org/whoweare/employment/financial-planning-and-cost.html. The RFP specifically seeks to combine public and non-public funding for state parks.

 

In DPR’s words, “we will be looking closely at what services we provide, to whom, at what cost, and for what benefit.” Its fact sheet is here: http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/4620532/1496454774/name/Fact%20Sheet.pdf. I believe Californians are under the impression that DPR’s mission statement already provided answers to these questions. If we are to substantially change the mission of our state parks system, the public must be an integral part of the decision-making process. Such a change should not be undertaken in secret by the state bureaucracy.

 

Websites of the two consultants engaged by DPR reflect their expertise in hotel and resort investment, development and management. This is how CHM describes itself:  “CHM Government Services was formed in December of 2007 as a subsidiary of Capital Hotel Management, LLC (CHM), the largest independent hotel asset management and investment advisory company operating in the U.S. today.” Its website is here: http://www.chmgov.com/about.php

 

PROS Consulting Services provide “specialized experience in parks and recreation, tourism planning and development, sports, municipal utilities, public works, transportation, general civic planning and development, and governance and administrative services.” Its website is here:  http://www.prosconsulting.com/

 

PROS Consulting was responsible for controversial changes to the Kentucky State Parks system, including privatizing many operations and allowing alcohol to be sold in state parks. http://www.kentucky.com/2010/06/11/1301519/state-parks-will-cut-workers-hours.html , http://www.kentucky.com/2010/06/30/1329898/june-30-editorial.html

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9G8J5E03.htm

PROS Consulting is also responsible for helping privatize Arizona State Parks. http://morrisoninstitute.asu.edu/media/news-events/gammage-privatization-of-state-parks-anything-but-a-simplistic-endeavor

 

Obviously, privatization is DPR’s plan for the future of our state parks. Combining public and non-public funding, turning over most or all of the operations of individual parks to private for-profit companies, and developing plans to generate profits for private companies constitutes privatization no matter what DPR calls it.

 

Despite my requests, I have been unable to get DPR to tell me the status of these consulting contracts.

 

I am writing to ask for a moratorium on privatizing the operations of entire parks. The legislature and the public must be engaged concerning the future operations of these public parks before the state moves any further toward privatization. Private concessions may be an appropriate tool under certain circumstances, but the public must have knowledge and input in the decision-making process, the proper protections must be in place and the legislature should have an opportunity to exercise oversight.

 

  1. FEE COLLECTION

 

As you are aware, DPR previously announced the closure of 70 state parks. Almost all of the state parks in DPR’s District 1 are on the closure list, with the exception of state beaches. No other portion of the state is more heavily impacted by the closure of state parks than the North Coast. Nearly every state park in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties is on the closures list.  Volunteers from these two counties have come together, organized and raised money and have either signed operating agreements or are working on them for multiple parks, either alone or in partnership with local governments, including:

 

           Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area

             Hendy Woods State Park

 Jack London State Historic Park

 Annadel State Park

          Sugarloaf State Park

 Manchester State Park

 Westport Union Landing State Beach

 Austin Creek State Park

Jug Handle State Natural Preserve

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Greenwood State Beach.

             

The volunteer effort to keep these state parks open represents a massive effort on the part of people in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties who, by and large, do not have deep pockets and who live in small, rural communities which rely heavily on tourism.  Volunteers in each of these two counties have been forced to work very hard to keep multiple parks open and operating. 

 

At the same time as DPR was closing nearly every park in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, it was also quietly moving forward with a controversial proposal to collect fees at state beaches in these same counties. Because little or no services are provided at these beaches and because all the other state parks in the area were on the closures list, the only possible purpose of this revenue collection plan was to benefit state parks in other parts of the state.

 

Despite the recent revelations that DPR was hiding funds, DPR continues to move ahead with this proposal. As you may be aware, the state made a similar proposal many years ago; that proposal was met with a firestorm of local opposition and it was ultimately withdrawn. The current proposal is another slap in the face to people who have already come forward with funding and volunteers to operate nearly every other state park in the vicinity.

 

In addition, the fees proposed are exorbitant. The beaches in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties are primarily enjoyed for the purposes of watching sunsets or taking a walk on the beach. Unlike other beaches in the state, the state provides very little if anything in the way of services. No life guards are provided. Few beaches have bathroom facilities. No water or food is available. Boating ramps and other services are not provided.

 

I am requesting that the administration direct DPR to immediately withdraw its proposal to charge entrance fees at state beaches in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.

 

California’s state park system has long been the pride of all Californians. It was conceived and developed as a state-wide system, its mission the preservation of our common history and natural heritage. All parks were envisioned to provide access to all visitors at minimal cost. This statewide system was the result of the vision, creativity, dedication and investment of millions of Californians over 150 years. Without any transparency, public input or debate, the plans and proposals currently being devised by DPR represent nothing less than the destruction of that vision.

 

Governor, I deeply appreciate your leadership thus far on this critical issue during this challenging time. Please continue to work with me, the public and the Legislature to preserve, protect and enhance our public state park system that was envisioned and built by previous generations of Californians for the enjoyment of all of us and for future generations.

 

                                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                                        Noreen Evans

                                                                        Senator, 2nd District

                                                                       

cc:       Darrell Steinberg

John Perez

John Laird

Janelle Beland

Gareth Elliot

Caryl Hart