The Little Hoover Commission, hired last year to examine operations of the California State Parks system, released a report on Monday calling for a major overhaul of parks' management and operations. Among the chief recommendations was outsourcing of some of the state's 280 parks that the department did not have the means of supporting.
"We have to take a fresh and rigorous look at the system from top to bottom," said Stuart Drown, executive director of the commission. "We need a new business model and fresh thinking."
Parks serving primarily local visitors would be turned over to local government or private organizations that could better tend to them. Existing partnerships with such groups, established in recent years to save parks from closing due to budget cuts, should be strengthened and extended. The overall management model needs to become more business-oriented, the commission suggested.
The report also calls for updated budget-oversight processes. Financial problems nearly closed 70 state parks before state legislature stepped in last year and put a two-year moratorium on park closures. An accounting scandal that came to light after the report had been commissioned found that CSP had a $54 million surplus hidden away, $20 million of which had been intentionally hidden, according to an investigation. Meanwhile, the department has a list of maintenance issues that amounts to more than $1 billion.
The commission's report also calls for an increase in state funding for the department, which has fallen from 91 percent in 1971 to 22 percent in 2012. As a result, park quality and staffing have declined, leading to decreased attendance.
"We can't do it the way we've been doing it," said Drown. "The existing model doesn't work."