Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents Mill Valley and all of Marin in the state Legislature, said in a statement that it was "troubling and frustrating" to hear that California State Parks officials secretly withheld $54 million in state funds.
The Sacramento Bee reported Friday that State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her deputy was fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years. State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, costing the state more than $271,000, the Bee reported.
Huffman (D-San Rafael), who chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and also serves as co-chair of the Legislative Environmental Caucus, said he was shocked at the revelation. State parks such as and just north of Novato, among others, have been threatened with closure because of state budget problems.
"(It comes) at a time when my colleagues and I, along with hundreds of California residents, have worked diligently over the past few years to scrape up enough funds and resources to help save 70 state parks from closure due to budget cuts," he said. "While many of these state parks have since been saved, it is only temporary relief as we continue to secure a more sustainable funding stream.
"I find it shocking that $54 million in state funds were kept off the books over the past several years, when we’ve been told several times by State Parks officials during budget negotiations that the funding wasn’t there to keep all of our parks functioning."
Huffman, who represents the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses southern Sonoma County and all of Marin, has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of transparency and the "fortress mentality" at State Parks.
"The only good news I can see from this scandal is that it will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious ‘reset’ to an agency that desperately needs it," he said. "One thing that’s clear from this scandal is the state has the duty to keep every park open while we clean house at State Parks and resolve problems.
Huffman said he would work with Gov. Jerry Brown and and state Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird on the changes that are going to be necessary to restore public trust and confidence in state parks management and operations.
Brown appointed a replacement for Coleman on Friday.