State Parks Agency Caught Hiding Millions from Sacramento
• Agency's Flouting of Numerous Laws Seen as Indication of Disregard for the Public
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
As California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird begins to conduct a massive review of the state Department of Parks and Recreation's management in the aftermath of the discovery of an previously undisclosed $54 million surplus in Sacramento, opponents of the Parks Department's Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project are calling for an audit on the local project.
The surplus revelation came as a shock to legions of park volunteers all over the state and a variety of charitable organizations who have been scrambling to raise $22 million to keep 70 state parks from closing.
The discovery follows on the heels of the disclosure of a $217,000 State Parks vacation buyout scheme that reportedly enabled employees to cash in on unused vacation time using a system of creative accounting recorded on Post-It notes.
"It's been very sad to see what was once my favorite state agency become so corrupted," said Marcia Hanscom, Executive Director Wetlands Defense Fund
"First, by abandoning their principles and primary mission of protecting the flora and fauna, as well as the public bridges at Malibu Lagoon, and now to hear of this statewide financial scandal-it all points to why we need better light shining on the budgets and having checks and balances in government. Even the most revered public entities need this oversight.
"In light of this State Parks scandal we call on the State Controller and Attorney General to now initiate a complete audit and investigation of the 10-year long budget and management of the Malibu Lagoon project," Hanscom said in an open letter.
"We have found numerous approvals of funds from various entities for the lagoon project that add up to far greater totals than the State Parks and Bay Commission report is their project budget. The numbers just don't add up.
"When the Governor's office provided former City Councilmember Pamela Conley-Ulich with a reply to her request for a full budget, we could only shake our heads as we could see State Parks provided only a sliver of the bond approvals we knew about. We told the Governor's office, but our concerns were ignored. Since the announcement about State Parks not revealing correct financial information in other instances, it's time to get clear answers on the Malibu Lagoon project financial situation.
"No one has been able to piece together a complete budget. A forensic audit and investigation is the public's only way to be assured of true transparency, which has been promised, but not forthcoming," Hanscom said.
Lagoon project spokesperson Suzanne Goode told the Malibu Surfside News that the funding for the lagoon project comes from bond money and is not connected in any way to the Sacramento surplus.
"Grants are not considered revenue," Goode said. "We never have the money. We pay the contractor's invoice and submit the invoice. The lagoon project is funded by Los Angeles Proposition A and Prop 50."
Goode stated that the Sacramento surplus is comprised of State Parks and Recreation entry fees.
"It's absolutely nothing to do with the lagoon project," State Parks Angeles District Supervisor Craig Sap told the Malibu Surfside News. The project is using no general fund money. It's bond money."
Hanscom responded that it is the principle that concerns her. "Ruth Coleman? I'm very disappointed in her. Her expertise was in finance," Hanscom said, speaking of the State Parks director who resigned last week.
"It puts the whole thing in question. We are asking for disclosure. We are asking to see the lagoon project budget. We are officially calling for an audit. The public deserves to know."