Closed state parks cost Central Coast jobs

August 13, 2010

NOTE: John Laird and Sam Blakeslee are both candidates for the 15th State Senate District. CalCoastNews asked Laird and Blakeslee to give their opinions regarding economic issues facing our community.

OPINION By John Laird

We must take a stand to fix our state parks, so that we do not continue to lose jobs on the Central Coast – right at the moment when our visitor-serving economy needs them the most.  A recent study found that state park visitors on average spend $57.63 in neighboring communities each time they visit a state park or beach.

Politicians talk a lot about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” but seldom offer proposals to do anything to actually save, let alone create, them.  Fixing how we fund state parks will protect and add jobs along our coastline.

Our parks are plagued by years of neglect. The Sacramento Bee reported recently that at Hearst Castle, arguably California’s most famous state park, the marble Neptune Pool leaks so much that stalactites have formed in a cavity underneath.

The Bee story further pointed out that Hearst Castle generates more revenue than any other park: $8.8 million in visitor fees the year before last. Yet, even at such a popular park, there’s a maintenance backlog that includes a need for a replacement roof for the castle’s Spanish tile roof and a new roof for the visitor center – projects that require $4.3 million.  The security system for artifacts in the mansion and guesthouses needs upgrading and the interior architecture needs work. And this is just one of the 278 parks.

Twelve new parks and 100,000 acres have been added in the last decade, because voters believe in parks and have approved state bond money to add parks to the system. But state support for maintenance has dropped in that period.

A $1.3 billion park maintenance backlog has piled up as a result. It’s gotten so bad that it would take a budget increase of about $120 million a year just to keep from adding to the maintenance backlog—let alone actually trying to reduce it.

I proposed in 2008 a vehicle license fee increase of $10 a year to reinvest in our parks and provide free entrance to parks for California vehicles with non-commercial license plates. At the time, a poll showed well over 70 percent of Californians supported this plan.

But in the political gridlock that characterizes the California legislature today, no-taxes-ever pledges by legislators to out-of-state political operatives don’t allow for such a proposal to get the two-thirds vote necessary to be successful. In response, 700,000 Californians signed petitions to put Proposition 21 on the ballot for November.

The state budget, now six weeks late, comes first. Can we hold the park system together – and the jobs it supports – until the voters weigh in on a long-term solution in November?  Whoever comes out of the Senate race in the 15th District will likely cast a key vote in answering that question.

My opponent, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, says our parks are funded fine at current levels and he’s opposed to Proposition 21. In interviews with the media, he says what’s needed is more work by volunteers and non-profit organizations. His position is out of step with California and way out of step with the Central Coast.

In the special election for the 15th Senate District, I have been slammed with about $2 million of negative ads in this election just because I have the courage to propose real solutions to problems like funding for state parks.

People are tired of gridlock and are hungry for solutions that make sense—that don’t make our state budget problems worse, that invest in our future and that build our economy.  That’s why I proposed a way to save our state parks and I support Proposition 21. It’s a central dividing issue in this election.

Let’s move above all the negative ads and get to the business of fixing our state and creating jobs.  We can do this.  Election day is August 17—please vote.

John Laird is a former Assemblymember, who represented the 27th Assembly District on the Central Coast.  The author of the bill that established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, CDF Firefighters and the Consumer Federation of California.  For more on John’s endorsements and key issues in the race, visit or



  1. mkaney says:

    Hey, Laird, WAKE UP. When we talk about “jobs, jobs, jobs” we’re NOT talking about public sector jobs! Maybe there wouldn’t be a backlog at Heart Castle if lazy state employees were motivated to get off their asses and work efficiently. I bet if you start firing some, the rest will get the message real quick.

    (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  2. CCWheelers says:

    Now from my experience, a politician says one thing, and does another. Scared from lies, even when I hear something good, I don’t believe it.
    I like John Laird’s opinion….
    but he is running for office…

    (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
    • marypress says:

      John has been in public service for 25 years including mayor of Santa Cruz. He was elected Assemblyman in the Santa Cruz area in 2002 and won again in 2004 and 2006 by a 70% margin. If it helps to look at what his record has been, he is listed on

      (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
  3. SLORider says:

    $57.63 x 2 million annual Oceano Dunes visitors = $115,260,000 per year.

    (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
    • trider says:

      $57.63 being the average visitors spend in communities around the park overall in the state. So if there are 2 million visitors a years to the Oceano Dunes, the community around Oceano, if it meets the average, would bring in about $115 million.

      (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
  4. easymoney says:

    The state parks are paid for by visitor visits, what is not paid for is the continued higher costs of state employees and their pensions. Many state parks are maintained by third party companies, yet the continued escalating fees never seem to cover what the state wants…

    (2) 18 Total Votes - 10 up - 8 down
  5. racket says:

    So we all pay a little bit more tax to fund park rangers? That’ll solve our economic woes?

    I hope I am mis-reading this and you have some sort of real idea.

    (0) 22 Total Votes - 11 up - 11 down
    • Bluebird says:

      Laird isn’t talking about Park Rangers he’s talking about deferred maintence. Tourism is/was a big part of the California economy. Frankly I think he is being too cautious. A $10.00 a year tax is a drop in the bucket.

      (2) 12 Total Votes - 7 up - 5 down
    • MikeyMike says:

      First of all, all of the facts on the very well-thought-out Prop. 21. can be found at Prop. 21 will give California vehicles free day-use admission to the state parks in exchange for a new $18 vehicle license fee, which will be specifically dedicated in a trust fund to state parks and wildlife conservation. A Citizens’ Oversight Committee will be created to ensure funds from this measure are spent appropriately.

      Maintaining parks is not just for park-goers. Every Californian has a duty to protect the history of the State of California. State parks contain landmarks and artifacts dating back hundreds of years, and we need to preserve them for future generations.

      Lastly, please read the facts before bashing park employees: The stereotype that all state workers have a golden retirement plan is FALSE. The folks who have to deal with the parks’ maintenance crisis make between $29K and $45K/yr and will receive less then $1500/month from the state upon retiring. The formula is 2% x no. of years x highest wage= 50% of the highest salary less $133 for social security deduction. So after 25 years of service they get 50%. Not much. Not only do state park employees have to deal with back logged repairs, crime, failing systems, and constant emergencies, but they get slammed for being on the supposed state Gravy Train. NOT TRUE. Vote Yes on Prop. 21.

      (6) 8 Total Votes - 7 up - 1 down
      • whatisup says:

        30 years of service X 2% X $45,000 = $27,000 per year plus a 2% per year cost of living increase each and every year plus retirement benefits.

        What is the average salary for the worker in this position after 30 years of service? Remember 30 years of service is very early retirement (start work at age 25 and retire at age 55 after 30 years of service). How many people in the private sector get to retire at 55?

        Safety workers (Police, Fire, Prison Guards generally get 3%). 30 years of service X 3% x $100,000 = $90,000 per year retirement plus a 2% cost of living increase each and every year plus retirement benefits.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • Cindy says:

      I’ll be voting yes on Prop 21 but I have to agree with racket, is this going to solve our economic woes?
      I’d sure like to hear that Laird has a few more idea’s in his pocket.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down

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