Monday, August 06, 2012

Those who raised and gave money to save Calif. parks are upset, want refunds after stash revealed

Coe Park supporters with a $279,000
check for the state three months ago.
(Preservation Fund photo)
When cash-pinched California officials announced last year that they couldn't afford to keep 70 California parks open, neighbors held bake sales, children collected nickels, cities dug into their reserves, and nonprofits rallied big donors. Most of those 70 parks at risk were in rural areas where fundraising could be a monumental, heartbreaking task anyway. With the recent disclosures of a largely unknown $54 million pile sitting in state parks accounts, the Los Angeles Times reports that the can-do spirit has been replaced by a how-could-they indignation.

The fallout from the revelation, so far, has been the forced resignation of the state's parks director who many believe knew, or should have known, about the fund. Now, Steve Chawkins and Chris Megerian report, local governments are demanding their money back, "saying they were duped at a time they could little afford it." Ventura County alone is asking for an immediate refund of $50,000 which it desperately needs for a sewer line.

An unexpected outcome of the fracas is that organizations that support parks tell the Times that the affair has tainted their already ongoing pleas for donations. "There was a sense of betrayal," said Carolyn Schoff, head of the California League of Parks Associations. "We're the ones in the trenches raising funds for state parks and now there's a dark shadow over us." State officials have urged the public to bear with them as they try to make sense of the situation. In a letter to parks donors, Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird and Janelle Beland, acting director of state parks, said they were "as outraged as you are about this news." (Read more)

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