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California Parks Department Under Investigation for Hidden $54 Million Surplus

China Cove, Point Lobos State Park

China Cove, Point Lobos State Park

Some patrons of California state parks who donated funds to help keep their favorite outdoors retreats open are asking for their money back after an expensive accounting scandal was uncovered.

For months, California’s state parks have been underwater and facing closure if more funds were not appropriated for daily operations. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) officials were soliciting donations to keep some 70 parks open that were slated to close, about one quarter of state parks in their system. Local governments and private persons/organizations donated a significant amount of money to keep the parks open.

A sweeping audit of several state agencies at the beginning of the month revealed an extra $119 million in untapped funds throughout California. Of those funds, $54 million was attributed to the DPR and was hidden in two special funds. Also under scrutiny is an unauthorized program that allows for DPR employees to trade in unused vacation time for more than $271,000 in cash.

“This is a disaster for our efforts to build partnerships and create strategies to support our state parks,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D – San Rafael) to the Los Angeles Times. “There’s only one way to fix it, and that is to act as quickly as possible to restore public trust and confidence.”

This finding has cost DPR Director Ruth Coleman and her chief deputy their jobs.

Officials with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration said no other agencies were “hiding cash like the parks department.”

A legislative hearing by the Assembly Budget Committee is scheduled for today and the Senate is expected to do its own review next week. Lawmakers are calling for an accelerated independent audit of the DPR.

Information from the LA Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2012/08/california-parks-audit.html and http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-state-parks-20120809,0,3921757.story

Image from Jay Galvin (jay galvin) on the flickr Creative Commons

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Tucker/100000559542949 Scott Tucker

    What the article doesn’t say is that the majority of the funds were not hidden. They were there for everyone to see if they had bothered to look. These funds were reported to the legislature at least 3 times. The funds are in the Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trust Fund. Note the Trust Fund. Funds in Trusts are not supposed to be used for anything except what the trust was set up for and supposedly can’t be “raided” for any other person. These are funds that were paid by owners of OHV’s through registrations, fees and gas taxes. This is the only successful self funded program in the entire State, and it’s a “Pay to Play” program. Now they’re calling it “hidden” and “excess” so they can raid it. If these funds are raided, the program will collapse. These funds are earmarked for land acquisition to expand SVRA’s, improvements to current SVRA’s and law enforcement on the SVRA’s.

  • http://twitter.com/muirnet John Stewart

    There Is a 40 year history of questionable financial dealings within State Parks. The OHV Trust Fund has been raided numerous time to benefit State Parks and Recreation Fund, Dept of Fish and Game and the state General Fund — almost $193 million. 2008/09 the SPRF was broke. Since then, $129 million has been diverted from the OHV Trust Fund. While $33.5 million has been identified as OHV Trust Fund, the remaining $20.4 million is linked to a “loan” to the SPRF from the OHV Trust Fund. While a reconciliation audit claims there are no more hidden funds, State Parks and Resources Agency have a documented history of playing games with public funds. And, they are now begging for private donations and additional tax dollars. It is time to drain the swamp and build a park system for the people.