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Parks And Beaches Suffer From Budget Cuts

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GLORIA PENNER (Host): Parks, beaches and open spaces are some of the most coveted resources in San Diego. But the state's huge budget deficit is taking its toll on local state parks and beaches. KPBS reporter Sharon Heilbrunn tells us how this could impact both the quality of life in San Diego, and its economy. SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS News): If you live in San Diego, chances are you've enjoyed spending time here and here. San Diego is known for its beautiful parks and beaches. But recent state budget cuts are taking a toll on these destinations. In Old Town, open restrooms are harder to find and museums are closing on a rotating basis one day a week. State campgrounds and beaches have felt the pinch as well. BRIAN KETTERER(CA State Parks District Superintendent): In San Diego County, we've had about a $2.1 million budget cut. From a management standpoint, what we've tried to do is put the customer first, just like a business. So I'm hoping the visitor won't see drastic cuts in a lot of areas. There will still be somebody at the kiosk duriing normal business hours, those hours are shortened to banker's hours, basically 8 to 5. You won't see toilets being cleaned as often but they will be cleaned. And lifeguard service, although the beachgoer won't see it, there won't be that backup or additional support in case of an emergency. But the biggest cuts come from maintenance. Maintenance, we've seeen approximately a 65,000 cut in temp help. Again, we're trying to hide that. Projects like trail improvements, that's a big area of concern right now. HEILBRUNN: San Diego State Assemblywoman Lori SaldaƱa says it was a difficult but necessary decision to cut services at the parks. LORI SALDANA (San Diego State Assemblywoman): The first proposal was to close the parks completely. Those of us who know how important parks are to the state pushed back against that proposal. So having them closed a few times a week is a setback, but it doesn't mean entire closures. We're still analyzing the local impact, but statewide, state parks generate over 4 billion dollars in revenues from people visiting the state, as well as state residents who are going to campgrounds, who are spending money as they travel. All the businesses around the state parks benefit from that. People are buying food, they're buying camping supplies. So state parks really are an economic engine for the state. I think, what we always want to look at, when we make cuts like this, is, let's analyze the impact of those cuts. Are we really saving money, or are we costing us more in the long run, and how do we mitigate that? HEILBRUNN: About 32 million people visit San Diego each year, and many come to enjoy the beaches, parks and open spaces. JOE TERZI (President, San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau): When you think about San Diego, you think about the weather, and you think about the beaches. You think about all the great attractions that San Diego has to offer. So, it's a very key, important element in the overall promotion of this nation. Over time, when you think about the value of clean beaches and facilities that both local and visitors can use, it's really important for the overall appearance and the feel that the destination is one that you want to be in. So, in the long run, I think there might be some negative impacts that we have to be concerned about. In San Diego, it's an $8 billion economic impact. Tourism is the third-- I think it's second, but we say it's the third most impactful business in San Diego and it needs to be kept strong. HEIBRUNN: For Brian Ketterer, the cuts are a reason to reassess how state parks are run. KETTERER: I think the great thing about this budget cut itself is that it's making state parks look at things in a different light. We've always been dependant on volunteers but we've never been proactive in searching them out, and I think this budget cut and this economy is asking us to do just that. HEILBRUNN: Now, there are nearly 300 state parks in California, and more than 100,00 jobs are dependant on park visitors spending money at local businesses. We want to know what you think about this. Log onto KPBS.org/sdweek and leave us a comment. For KPBS, I'm Sharon Heilbrunn.

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