Off-Roaders Seek Takeover of California Parks
Henry Coe and Red Rock Canyon State Parks Targeted in Financial Crisis Gambit
Sacramento — Grasping to recoup a $10 million cut in the California Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) budget, off-road lobbyists are urging compensation via a takeover of state park units. The idea, seconded by some state officials, surfaced at an “emergency” March OHV Commission meeting but was not published until posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
One of the state parks specifically targeted is Henry Coe, the largest state park in Northern California. The 87,000-acre park in Morgan Hill (near San Jose) provides a major outlet for hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities. The park does not allow motorized recreation.
“We should not take these threats lightly. For some reason, the off-roaders seem to have a lot of traction with State Parks Director Ruth Coleman,” warned California PEER Director Karen Schambach, noting that Coleman is a holdover Schwarzenegger appointee. “Look what she has allowed them to get away with in Red Rock Canyon State Park.”
Another of the targeted parks, Red Rock Canyon, was given to State Parks by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 1994 legislation which required “maximum protection” of its natural and cultural resources. Yet, under Director Coleman Red Rock Canyon has been ravaged by illegal off-road use.
The March 2011 meeting minutes quote state OHV Division Chief Phil Jenkins as saying:
“There are a couple of parks, most notably Red Rock State Park, where we have currently the state park system allowing Green Sticker (OHV) activity. It might take some of the burden off of State Parks if we were assuming more responsibilities there.”
Several speakers suggested taking Henry Coe State Park the park “in trade” for the state using fuel tax revenue earmarked for support of OHV recreation to help close its yawning budget gap. Terry McHale, a lobbyist for the OHV industry, said:
“It is time for those moribund parks that are not being attended by people, that are sitting up there without being used, it’s time to say either close them down or let’s be so bold – we may not get Henry Coe State Park, but a lot of those parks are out there dying to be used. And you have a program where they can be used, and they can be used well.”
The Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of State Parks has benefited since the early 1970s by a generous allocation from fuel tax revenues. Transfers are based on estimates how much fuel is used off-road. A 2006 state survey found the program had been getting twice the amount of these revenues it should rightfully receive but legislation in 2008 allowed the program to continue to receive the excess funds provided they also support non-motorized recreation. The same survey found the majority of off-highway vehicle use was by hikers, campers, bird-watchers and other recreationists simply driving on dirt roads.
Despite findings of its own fuel tax survey, OHV Deputy Director Daphne Greene has yet to spend any money for projects not directly benefiting so-called “green sticker” vehicles, such as dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles. In a 2009 opinion, the Legislative Counsel faulted this policy but Greene has not shared her program’s surplus with its impoverished parent agency. As a result, the state’s eight OHV parks soak up nearly $100 million a year while 270 state parks eke by on $99 million of General Fund revenue.
“California state parks are on the chopping block solely due to the failure to equitably share revenue,” said Schambach. “Rather than allow the takeover and inevitable destruction of these beautiful lands by off-roaders, the OHV Division should be required to ante up the fuel tax revenues that come from non-OHV recreation, thereby helping keep these beleaguered parks open for the enjoyment of all Californians,”