Torrey Pines reserve eyed in cuts

Park supporters stay optimistic

Torrey Pines State Beach and Natural Reserve could be closed if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut funding to state parks is approved by the state legislature.

To reduce the state’s $24 billion budget deficit, the governor proposed closing 220 of the state’s 279 parks to save $143 million over the next two fiscal years.

While taking the proposal seriously, park advocates said they are also waiting for the budget process to play out a little longer in the legislature.

“We understand cuts need to be made,” said Peter Jensen, president of the Torrey Pines Association, the nonprofit organization that supports the reserve. “We’re looking forward to creative and possibly exciting solutions for how all state parks can remain open.”

Superintendent Brian Ketterer, who manages the state parks in north San Diego County, said he doesn’t see the draconian proposal happening.

“But it’s on the table,” Ketterer said.

Ketterer said he and his staff are working on their budget to see if they can keep the popular reserve open for the more than 2 million visitors who use the park each year, even if state funding is cut.

“We’re going through a number of budget exercises finding ways to become self sustaining to make this work to the benefit of the public and parks,” Ketterer said.

Jensen said his association and the volunteer docent association are also willing to do anything they can to help keep the park open.

If forced to closed, Ketterer said the parking lots, gates, public restrooms and museum would likely be locked, and no rangers and lifeguards would be on site to assist the public and patrol the reserve. The reserve’s educational program, which teaches thousands of students every year, would also be discontinued.

While it could be considered trespassing, hikers would still likely be able to use the trails, Ketterer said.

However, with no rangers and only one caretaker on site, the park would be vulnerable to homeless encampments, increased fire risks and degradation of sensitive habitat if hikers went off the trails, Ketterer said.

Torrey Pines was targeted for closure last year, when the governor proposed closing parks to save money. Like last time, the Torrey Pines Association is encouraging the public to voice their opposition to the proposed closure by contacting their elected representatives and filling out petitions, Jensen said.

The state budget conference committee was expected to take public testimony on the proposal June 2.

“We don’t know exactly what actions have to be taken for a few more weeks,” said Senator Christine Kehoe. “We’re still working through the process cutting the size of the deficit.”

Alternatives, such as raising access fees, have also been proposed to help keep the parks open, Kehoe said.

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