State parks hoarded $54 million, claimed budget shortfall

July 21, 2012

The director of California’s state parks resigned and a deputy was fired Friday following the discovery the  department had stashed away nearly $54 million in surplus money while parks were threatened with closures because of budget cuts.

While the under-reported cash remained untapped, the California Department of Parks and Recreation claiming dire financial health was soliciting donations slated to help keep some of the to state parks scheduled for closure open, including Morro Strand State Beach campground in San Luis Obispo County.

A preliminary investigation into Parks’ finances has revealed that for at least 12 years the department underreported tens of millions of dollars to the state Department of Finance. As a result, the Department of Finance was not aware that the State Parks and Recreation Fund and the Off Highway Vehicle Fund held $20,378,000 and $33,492,000 respectively above their official, most recently reported balances. The underreporting occurred over the course of two prior gubernatorial administrations.

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the circumstances surrounding the underreporting by the parks system that dates back to at least 2000. Governor Brown has also directed the state Department of Finance to conduct a comprehensive audit of Parks’ fiscal controls and the California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird to conduct a sweeping review of Parks’ management.

“I welcome Governor Brown’s swift action to address these hidden assets,” Laird said. “We will get to the bottom of this situation and work with the Attorney General, the Legislature and the Department of Finance to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. We will also work with the Legislature to see how this money can be used to mitigate park closures.”

Governor Brown has accepted the resignation of Parks Director Ruth Coleman and Chief Deputy Michael Harris was fired.

Governor Brown appointed California Natural Resources Agency Undersecretary Janelle Beland  as acting interim director of Parks. He has directed her to promptly report to him and Secretary Laird on further actions that should be taken to ensure that the Department is being managed with honesty, accountability and transparency, according to a press release.

In addition to their audit of Parks, the Department of Finance is reviewing all special funds across state government to verify that departments have provided identical fiscal information to Finance and the Controller. The Department of Finance has also put new protocols in place to strengthen how special fund figures are verified and reconciled with data from the Controller and other sources.

The State Parks and Recreation Fund was established in 1979. Its sources of revenue are fees, rentals and returns collected for the use of any state park system area. It can be used for resource management and protection, planning, acquisition and development projects.

The Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund was established in 1971. Its sources of revenues are off-highway vehicle registration fees, transfer fees, penalties, fines and forfeitures. It can only be used for acquisitions, development, construction, maintenance, administration and conservation of areas for the use of off-highway motor vehicles.

The hidden assets were brought to light when new Parks fiscal staff began an internal review of accounts, following a separate investigation by the Attorney General over unauthorized vacation buy-outs.


52 Comments

  1. Jorge Estrada says:

    UNAUTHORIZED Vacation Buy-Outs?!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Cicero says:

    The State Controller asked the cogent question that does not seem to be addressed in any of the stories about these dedicated off road vehicle and state park funds.

    Why didn’t the Department of Finance, the Governor, or the Legislative leaders ever consult the Controller about the amount of funds available for State Parks? The Controller has had a handle on these funds all along. Apparently the budget proposals all get created without talking to the one State Officer who actually tracks and pays out the money.

    It is too bad that the State Supreme Court overruled John Chiang as Controller when he refused to issue checks to the Legislature last year when they failed to produce a budget that the Controller could accept as balanced. Maybe they would be more inclined to listen to the Controller if the power to review the budget the voters all thought he had was actually enforced.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

    • seesfarther says:

      It has always chafed my ass to see the rangers at Montana de Oro and up in the San Simeon area driving around in their brand new jacked up 4X4 trucks. Each seems to have every communication device known to man, a shotgun on the console, and a sidearm strapped to their waist.

      Yeah, they always play tough guy and never fail to have their hand on their pistol as they hassle people about ‘safety issues’ like dogs off leash. The moron up at San Simeon was widely known as a Richard – and you all know what I mean by “Richard.” I recently heard a rumor that he has retired. What a pathetic waste of money!

      It was bad enough before, but finding out about their understated funds makes it particularly hard to swallow. What’s it gonna take Sacramento? What the FUCK is it gonna take?!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 11

  3. The Gimlet Eye says:

    Seen from the point of view of the particular group interests of the bureaucrats, every measure that makes the government’s payroll swell is progress.

    Ludwig von Mises, Planning for Freedom, p. 48

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 12

  4. stopagenda21 says:

    All state owned property should be sold to private investors with allodial title granted. Problem solved.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 25

    • kettle says:

      This is the most ridiculous thing I have read all day.

      Anything even close to this would only make rich people and corps even more money, they can then move offshore.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 10

      • The Gimlet Eye says:

        One the contrary, it is the most sensible thing that I have read in months.

        How can the rich possibly get any richer than they already are? What if their money isn’t worth anything?

        There comes a point at which the victim of crony collectivism dies. Where, then, will the “rich” get further riches? There won’t be any!

        At any rate, the “state” does too much, owns too much, steals too much, rules, intimidates, and dominates too much. It should be “rolled back” to where it belongs; mostly far away from us and out of our hair.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 13

      • BeenThereDoneThat says:

        Kettle I read a few years back that between the state and the Fed. they own over 50% of the land in California. I.e. parks Fed lands etc.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8

        • BeenThereDoneThat says:

          P.S. my point being you are afraid of big business, you should be afraid of big brother.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 8

          • kettle says:

            BeenThereDoneThat says:
            “P.S. my point being you are afraid of big business, you should be afraid of big brother.”

            Not afraid of either, now your just making shit up. Not trusting either to care about anyone but themselves and there cash, yes.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10

            • BeenThereDoneThat says:

              Commenting to your comment about making rich people richer. Sounded like a little distrust of them in my opinion. Nothing made up.

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

      • stopagenda21 says:

        Kettle

        Our government IS made up of rich people and greedy corporate types.
        This country was built on the principles of freedom and the right to own property, when the state owns the land our freedoms are lost.
        Try having a little confidance in the people who have the drive to develop resources and create jobs.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 9

  5. taxpayer says:

    This whole thing has the feel of one of those fake email scandals where someone claims to have a very sick child and no insurance to pocket the money for themselves. All the donor’s money should be returned because it was taken under false premises. If there’s any justice there should be some criminal convictions happening after the investigation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. shelworth says:

    How many other government agencies have they’re own hidden little nest egg? All of them maybe?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 4

  7. rogerfreberg says:

    I think these folks need to be poooon-ished!

    Why don’t we just cut their budget to zero and see if anyone notices?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 9

  8. justme says:

    I watched them pave over the beach sand a hundred yards from the surft to construct a parking lot in SoCal near Carlsbad. Then they set up an electric entry gate wired to a money-taking machine (“iron ranger”) to collect parking fees for them.They then managed to get something passed outlawing anymore parking on Hiway one which was adjacent the their new money-making scheme, intending to redirect the cars into their lot. The law wasn’t legal so the cars stayed parked along the hiway for FREE and the paved over the beach parking lot stayed empty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  9. Vagabond says:

    Heck this reads like a Kurt Vonnegut novel where it’s found out that every government fat cat gets caught with a big pile of dough, enough to buy enough of the economy to prop up the falling empire for at least one generation. The perpetrators are forgiven (after the loot is appropriated) their misdeeds, and declared heros and the leaders of prosperity. That’s a good chunk o change Calif. I hope you don’t just blow it on window dressing, but real expansion of your parks, you need it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

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