Click photo to enlarge
Portola Redwoods is one of the state parks on the closure list that, it turns... ( Tom Mangan )

In the latest setback to Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to close one-quarter of California's state park system to save money, 16 of the parks he is proposing to shutter cannot legally be closed, federal officials said Friday, because they have received federal money that requires parks to remain open.

"This funding is a grant to the state, like a contract," said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. "It is linked directly to the deed of these lands. It says the state makes a commitment to provide these places for public use in perpetuity. To not do that is essentially a breach of that contract."

The affected parks include Castle Rock State Park in Santa Clara County, Twin Lakes State

Beach in Santa Cruz, Portola Redwoods in San Mateo County, Candlestick Point near San Francisco, Limekiln in Big Sur and Salton Sea State Recreation Area in Southern California.

"It's a challenge. It's a legitimate issue we have to work through," California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman said Friday.

Problems with the state's plan surfaced last week, when the head of the California Coastal Commission said that even though 11 state beaches are on the closure list, state park rangers cannot legally block anyone from the shoreline.

The latest stumbling block centers around a federal program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the fund collects royalties


from offshore oil drilling and uses the money to buy land for national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. The leading source of parks funding in the United States, the fund also issues grants to state and local parks to pay for everything from land acquisition to building new trails, visitor centers and restrooms.

Strings attached

Since 1965, California has received $287.3 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Written into the law is a requirement that any parks that receive the funds are required to remain open to the public. If states close parks that received the funding, the law does not require them to pay the money back, but it does require states to provide new park land of equal appraised value in a nearby location.

Also, the National Park Service could declare California ineligible for future federal parks grants if it closes parks that were purchased with land and water act funding.

Coleman said Friday that she has begun discussing the issue with Christine Lehnertz, the head of the National Park Service's regional office in Oakland.

Coleman said the key question is whether the National Park Service will allow California to keep parks on the closure list open for one or two days a week and still qualify as "open," or operate a park with volunteers, or even take all the rangers out and leave the gates open to satisfy the law.

"It's one of the variables we have to look at," Coleman said. "We are hopeful we can achieve enough access to meet the federal law's requirements."

Asked whether she consulted with national parks officials about the issue before she released the state closure list on May 13, Coleman said she had not because the list was a closely held secret.

"It wouldn't have been appropriate until the list came out," she said.

Lawyers and managers for the state and national parks systems will discuss the details in the coming months, she


Coleman encountered the same push-back from the National Park Service two years ago, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 220 state parks. After receiving 135,000 cards, emails and letters of opposition from the public, he dropped the idea.

Complicated process

The issue is the latest difficulty facing the Brown administration as it tries to close parks. Last week, Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, said beaches on the list cannot be closed without a permit from the California Coastal Commission because of the state's 1976 Coastal Act. Even then, he said, state park rangers cannot ban anyone from walking on wet sand up to the "mean high-tide line" on any beach, as written in the state constitution.

"It is becoming more and more clear that closing down state parks is not a simple thing to do, and may not even save very much money," said Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California. "This really accentuates the importance of the governor and the Legislature finding ways to keep our state parks funded and open."

On May 13, Brown's staff announced that 70 of California's 278 state parks would be closed by July 1, 2012, to help pay down California's $9.6 billion budget deficit. The closures will save $11 million this year and $22 million next year, they said.

"Closing state parks is not a task that gives anyone joy, but we are experiencing turbulent times that necessitate deep -- almost unthinkable -- cuts to public services," Brown said May 13.

Jarvis, the national parks director, said Friday that he opposes California closing any state parks.

"I'm sympathetic to the states. But this is the wrong place to find those savings," Jarvis said. "Parks are an essential social function that should be provided. People can take their kids and family and get a break from the hustle and bustle from daily life. When the previous governor attempted this, he got more letters than on any other issue."

Contact Paul Rogers at 408-920-5045.

Proposed total
of 278 state parks to close
to save an estimated $11 million this year and
$22 million
next year.

But 11 of those parks can't be closed because California law prohibits barring access to the shoreline.

What's new:
Federal officials say 16 parks cannot be closed because they received federal funds that require the parks to stay open. LIST, PAGE A13