Public needs voice in privatizing parks
(Editor’s Note: What follows is the first of two parts of a lengthy, Aug. 3 letter from state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, to Gov. Jerry Brown regarding the privatization of California state parks and recent parks fee increases. The first part addresses the issue of park privatization.)
Dear Gov. Brown:
Thank you for your announcement that you will use funds to keep state parks open. I believe your announcement will go a long way toward rebuilding the public’s trust in our state parks system and I look forward to working with you and your administration to return our beloved state parks system to a healthy and sustainable condition.
However, I am writing to you now regarding two additional issues that I believe need to be addressed.
Plans are currently being developed by the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to turn over operations of entire parks to for-profit operators. While I do not personally support privatization of parks, if this is to be the new policy at DPR, I feel strongly that the public must be part of the decision-making and such a program must be undertaken with the public’s full knowledge and support, and with legislative oversight.
DPR has issued an RFP to for-profit companies to take over all of the operations of 21 parks in the Delta and Central Valley, giving the state as little as a 3 percent share of the revenues generated. Contracts have already been signed for four of these parks with for-profit companies.
Unfortunately, DPR has continuously misrepresented its plans to the public. DPR sought Public Works Board approval of the first RFP at the Feb. 1 meeting of the Public Works Board. I am a legislative advisor to the Public Works Board and wrote a letter objecting to approval of the RFP.
In response, DPR publicly announced it would not seek to privatize the entire operation of any individual park. Yet, DPR proceeded to do just that.
Meanwhile, the California State Parks Foundation has quietly entered into consulting agreements with PROS Consulting and CHM Government Services to conduct a study for DPR for three districts – the San Diego coast, Monterey and the Central Valley, for the purpose of developing financial sustainability plans for each park in those three districts. The RFP specifically seeks to combine public and non-public funding for state parks.
In DPR’s words, “we will be looking closely at what services we provide, to whom, at what cost, and for what
I believe Californians are under the impression that DPR’s mission statement already provided answers to these questions. If we are to substantially change the mission of our state parks system, the public must be an integral part of the decision-making process. Such a change should not be undertaken in secret by the state bureaucracy.
Websites of the two consultants engaged by DPR reflect their expertise in hotel and resort investment, development and management. CHM describes itself as “a subsidiary of Capital Hotel Management, LLC (CHM), the largest independent hotel asset management and investment advisory company operating in the U.S. today.”
PROS Consulting Services provide “specialized experience in parks and recreation, tourism planning and development, sports, municipal utilities, public works, transportation, general civic planning and development, and governance and administrative services.”
PROS Consulting was responsible for controversial changes to the Kentucky State Parks system, including privatizing many operations and allowing alcohol to be sold in state parks. PROS Consulting is also responsible for helping privatize Arizona State Parks.
Obviously, privatization is DPR’s plan for the future of our state parks. Combining public and non-public funding, turning over most or all of the operations of individual parks to private for-profit companies, and developing plans to generate profits for private companies constitutes privatization no matter what DPR calls it.
Despite my requests, I have been unable to get DPR to tell me the status of these consulting contracts.
I am writing to ask for a moratorium on privatizing the operations of entire parks. The legislature and the public must be engaged concerning the future operations of these public parks before the state moves any further toward privatization. Private concessions may be an appropriate tool under certain circumstances, but the public must have knowledge and input in the decision-making process, the proper protections must be in place and the legislature should have an opportunity to exercise oversight.