By Aaron Blevins, 7/05/2012
Facilities Get Last Minute Reprieve to Stay Open
McGrath State Beach, one of the few beaches in the Los Angeles area that allow visitors to camp overnight, has reopened after private groups and governmental entities chipped in to repair an aging sewer line that runs over the Santa Clara River.
The beach reopened over the weekend after being closed since October. The $500,000 sewer line project, and a lack of funding to fix it, had led McGrath State Beach to the California Department of Parks and Recreation closure list, which took effect July 1 and aims to trim $22 million from the state budget.
However, McGrath was one of approximately 65 state parks to reach agreements with private entities to keep the areas open temporarily. While the future is uncertain, park patrons celebrated its re-opening in grand fashion on Saturday.
“People are just thrilled to death that it’s back open,” said Melissa Baffa, of Friends of Channel Coast State Parks. “It’s overwhelmingly positive. The community is ecstatic.”
The “Save McGrath” effort involved public and private entities that footed the bill for the deferred maintenance project. Baffa said officials from the city of Oxnard and Ventura County offered $50,000 each, which was used to leverage funds from the state and the federal government. A $50,000 donation from Peter Mullin, the owner of the Mullin Automotive Museum, pushed the fundraising effort over the hump.
“This was a group effort,” Baffa said. “We’re glad to be a part of it.”
She said McGrath State Beach is the organization’s second most visited park, with 600,000 visitors per year. It has a strong generational “visitorship” and a direct effect on local businesses, some of which have seen their customers dwindle during the closure, Baffa said.
“That’s a pretty dramatic influence,” she added.
While state park funding has been cut recently, Baffa said the sewer line repair was a one-time issue. She said officials are not expecting any more problems in the near future, and plans are in the works for more improvements.
“As far as the crisis … that’s done, that’s happened,” Baffa said.
In the summer of 2011, the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation released a list of 70 state parks that would be closing July 1. Since then, various organizations have reached temporary agreements to keep the majority of them open.
Near Los Angeles, six state parks were threatened by the budget cuts. Three — McGrath State Beach, Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park and Los Encinos State Historic Park — have reached temporary agreements to stay operational. Agreements are pending for the other three — Pio Pico State Historic Park, Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park and Saddleback Butte State Park.
“An open park, for however amount of time, is better than a closed park,” said Jerry Emory, of the California State Parks Foundation. “We applaud it. It was a Herculean effort. …[But] these are all temporary. They’re laudable … but they’re not the answer.”
He said the closure list is the result of budget cuts and systemic problems with the department of parks and recreation. Emory said there have been “severe” service reductions in parks all over the state, and the department has $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance issues.
“It’s like putting a Band-Aid over a gaping head wound,” he added.
The foundation has been looking to secure grants to continue patching up the cuts, and it has granted $340,000 to state nonprofits to keep parks open, with another round of funding expected to be allocated in a few days, Emory said. He said the organization is also looking to the Legislature to help parks generate new revenues and explore long-term solutions.
“We think we’ll learn more this fall,” Emory said.
For a list of proposed closures or to donate, visit www.calparks.org.