Two bills drawn up by Marin Assemblyman Jared Huffman will help funding and management problems that have plagued California State Parks over the past several years now that they have been signed into law, Huffman's office said in a release Tuesday.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1589, authored by Huffman (D-San Rafael), requires the state Department of Parks & Recreation to develop a prioritized action plan for generating revenues and collecting unpaid user fees at state parks, and calls for accurate and transparent accounting of all state park funds.
The new law — key component of Huffman’s legislative agenda this session — also allows taxpayers to redirect portions of their tax refunds to the California State Parks Protection Fund in exchange for an annual state park day-use access pass.
The second law, AB 1478, coauthored by Huffman, implements additional measures in response to the recently-discovered funds that were stashed away by State Parks officials. There will be a two-year moratorium on future state park closures, matching funds for park donors and local operating agreements, and additional funding toward audits and investigations of the management crisis at California State Parks.
Huffman said he has worked with state leaders on legislation to restore public trust since the news of the state parks scandal broke earlier summer. At the time, Huffman said it was "troubling and frustrating" to hear that California State Parks officials secretly withheld $54 million in state funds.
The Sacramento Bee first reported that State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her deputy was fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on the surplus money for as long as 12 years. State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, costing the state more than $271,000, the Bee reported.
“These two new laws will help implement these changes that will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious ‘reset’ to an agency that desperately needs it,” Huffman said in the release.
California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein said she was pleased with Brown's pen strokes Tuesday.
“AB 1589 gives the state important tools for a future that is increasingly emphasizing the need for more self-generated revenue in our parks,” she said. “While we do not believe that our state park system, a true public good, will ever be able to sustain itself without a core of dedicated, public funding, we do wholeheartedly agree that the movement toward more revenue generation should be done with a roadmap."
Huffman said there is a lot more work to do to restore public trust and confidence, ensuring that the park funds go to support parks at risk of closure.
"To bolster the generosity of the donors and nonprofits who have stepped up in a big way is an essential first step,” he said.
Huffman, who is running for U.S. Congress, represents the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses all of Marin County and southern Sonoma County. He serves as co-chair of the Legislative Environmental Caucus.