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California delays park closures

The closing of 100 California state parks due to budget cuts has been delayed, because deciding which parks to close was more complicated than expected.

"We are involved in a process we didn't understand was as complicated as it is," Roy Stearns, spokesman for the park system, said in news story that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Park officials aren't sure how to keep the public out of closed state parks and beaches. "That's the difficulty and also the worry as we try to come up with a list of closures," Stearns told the Chronicle. "It's pretty impossible to close (many of the beaches and parks) or put a fence around them. People are probably going to go there. We hope they are careful and don't put themselves at risk."

Local sheriff's deputies will patrol the closed parks, Stearns said, but many state beaches and remote wildland areas will be impossible to supervise adequately.

California's 279 state parks cover 1.5 million acres. Which parks will be closed remains uncertain.

Park officials have said that parks that don't make money, cannot be operated with minimal staffing and are not self-sustaining through fees are in jeopardy. In the Chronicle article, Stearns said the project now is to determine which parks can be patrolled by personnel from nearby parks or by part-time workers.

The agreement to close as many as 100 of the parks was part of a deal signed in July by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to erase a $24 billion budget gap this fiscal year.

The final list of closures, when it is released, will be a working document that may change if funding changes or if there are new ideas to keep parks open, Stearns said.

An environmental coalition is considering a 2010 ballot measure to create a $15 vehicle license fee to keep parks open. The initiative would raise about $400 million a year and eliminate entrance fees for motorists at all state parks.

Legislation for such vehicle fees failed in 2008 and 2009 after Republican lawmakers opposed new taxes.

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