Ventura County is no stranger to funding cuts for its state parks. Over the past decade, when California sank into the funding quagmire that threatened to close regional parks due to budget cuts, the Channel Coast district, which includes coastal parks like San Buenaventura State Beach and McGrath State Park, felt the squeeze. Now, the Friends of the Channel Coast State Parks will host its first Ventura Beach Festival in hopes of raising funds for area projects.
Melissa Baffa, executive director of the Friends of Channel Coast, has seen the effects of the budget cuts firsthand and says that there’s a deferred maintenance backlog totaling close to $1 billion throughout the state.
“The way that I like to say it is that when our household budget is tight and you notice your fence is getting a little wobbly, then one day the big wind comes, the fence is down and the dogs are all over the neighborhood,” said Baffa. “That’s the situation that all sorts of park districts have found themselves in.”
When, in 2011, McGrath State Beach was slated to be closed along with dozens of others across the state, residents rallied to keep it open by raising funds to replace an outdated sewer line.
Now, with Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget, $40 million has been allocated to the state parks, a drop in the bucket from a decade ago when 91 percent of the park’s funding came from the general fund. Now, 47 percent comes from the general fund.
The Ventura Beach Festival will be a fundraiser to assist in park events and classes, such as the Junior Rangers and Junior Lifeguard training camps. The festival will feature a variety of local musicians and bands.
“Our parks are a big part of tourism in the area,” said Baffa. “There are 279 state parks in California and they’re heavily used; they’re a major economic impact in their community.”
Jerry Emory, director of communications for the California State Parks Foundation, says that despite the backlog of maintenance and the issues that have accrued over the years, the situation is looking better this year than in years prior. Emory says that the backlog of maintenance across the parks added up quickly.
“What that translates into is things like showing up at a state park and the bathrooms are busted, trails are deteriorated, campgrounds aren’t in the best shape,” said Emory. The $40 million set aside by the governor will go toward a list prioritized with the most important maintenance projects listed first, Emory says. “This is not going to take care of the issue, but it will help with the most urgent issues.”
To compensate for the budget shortfall, the state has opened its parks for events that haven’t historically been welcome. Music festivals have become popular events hosted at state parks and, in Ventura, there is no more popular park than San Buenaventura State Beach, which last year held several events permitted by the state.
Kat Merrick is the event coordinator for the Ventura Beach Festival. Merrick has worked with the state parks to host the Blues at the Beach Festival and the Cash Fest at the Ventura Fairgrounds.
“[The state parks’] difficult part is that they’ve got to continually juggle between wanting to have events that generate revenue, but they also want to be open to the general public, too,” said Merrick. “They can’t have it shut down every weekend for events.”
A portion of San Buenaventura Park will be closed to the public, but entrance will still be possible to access some tables and the beach itself.
“The parks have been extremely accommodating,” said Merrick. “They want to keep the parks a great public experience, but how do you do that on a financial shoestring?”
Like the parks, the Friends of the Channel Coast have had to prioritize, too. Some priorities involve Santa Barbara’s Refugio State Beach, which is in need of important repairs, but on the agenda going forward are possible projects involving San Buenaventura State Beach as well.
Cuts to the parks have had a bigger impact than on just infrastructure, says Baffa.
“The parks in our district serve at least 2 million people per year. A lot of them come through camping, a lot through day use, and that’s just our tiny little slice of the state park system,” said Baffa.
According to a study released by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, visitors to state parks spend an average of $4.32 billion per year, with $1.66 billion in revenue generated by tourists from outside of the state.
“To see the budget just cut and cut and cut, it can be pretty ridiculous,” said Baffa.
The Ventura Beach Festival, however, will be a time to celebrate the state parks and, while doing so, raise funds to assure that the programs used by locals and tourists alike continue, says Baffa. She and the Friends of the Channel Coast hope to raise upward of $75,000.
“Our goal is to celebrate what makes California and, specifically, what makes this Ventura area such an amazing place,” said Baffa.
The Ventura Beach Festival will take place on Saturday, May 3, at San Buenaventura State Beach. Tickets range from $10 to $25 for general admission, and $125 for a VIP pass. For more information, visit www.friendsofccsp.org/ventura-beach-festival.