Although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last Thursday proposed closing Tomales Bay State Park to save money, several knowledgeable people here doubt that will happen — especially if the opposition is sufficiently vocal.

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Park visitor Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles hikes through Tomales Bay State Park. Photos by Janine Warner, founder of DigitalFamily.com.

The park, which includes Hearts Desire Beach, Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, Shell Beaches I & II, and Millerton Point totals 2,000 acres. It is among 43 parks statewide the governor wants to close to save a total of $13 million per year.

With state-government spending in fiscal 2008-09 now projected to exceed revenue by $14.5 billion, the governor has proposed slashing 10 percent from most departments’ budgets. That would reduce healthcare for 6.6 million low-income people in order to save $1.1 billion a year. Spending on public education (kindergarten through high school, junior college, the state university system, and UC system) would be cut by $4 billion.

The governor, whose personal wealth is more than $100 million (The San Francisco Chronicle has reported), proposed that spending on Social Services for poor families be cut by $390 million per year. Schwarzenegger would likewise cut child-welfare payments by $84 million per year. Aid to low-income people who are blind, otherwise disabled, or elderly would be cut by $300 million per year. Care for foster children would drop by $82 million per year.

“I have made it very clear we cannot tax out way out of this problem,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s no reason to tax anyone because our system doesn’t work,” the governor added ambiguously.

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Inverness resident Carlos Porrata was the resident ranger for Tomales Bay State Park when he retired in 2004. Carlos had been a state park ranger 28 years, including two in Samuel P. Taylor State Park and 24 years on Tomales Bay. Now a trustee of the Marin Community Foundation, Carlos wrote me, “I was very disappointed when I heard the news that Tomales Bay State Park was one of the state parks being considered for closure…

“The Office of the Governor asked State Parks to come up with a plan proposal for a $17 million reduction for the 2008-09 fiscal year budget (a 10 percent cut)…. Most of the department’s budget is personnel, so the decision was made to eliminate positions by closing a series of parks.

“To choose which parks would be proposed for potential closure a set of filters (criteria) was developed. The filters were: 1) Can the park be physically closed to the public? 2) If the park were closed, would it save the amount needed? (In the case of Marin District, [the proposed closure] entails two permanent positions). 3) Closures would have to be spread around throughout the whole state.

“It should be emphasized that this is just a PROPOSAL and a lot of back and forth will soon start between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office. I do not think the [Marin] District has started conversations as to what closing Tomales Bay State Park would entail operationally or if there might be other possibilities to achieve the required [spending] cut.

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A raft for swimmers at Tomales Bay State Park with Indian Beach in the distance.

“The closure of Tomales Bay State Park would certainly be a challenge. Although the entrance gate to Hearts Desire beach can be closed, we all know that the State Park beaches are easily accessible by boat and kayaks. Jepson Trailhead and the south boundary trailhead to Shell Beaches I and II are also easily accessible.

“I clearly remember having gone through this predicament in the early 1990s, and although a large number of positions were eliminated, park closures never materialized. A lot of [proposals] ended up being part of the process in the political dance between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.

“If the closure of that jewel of the state parks were to become a reality, another big loss would be the Environmental Living Programs that are held at Indian Beach for fourth and fifth graders throughout the school year, a signature program for Marin District.

“The good news is that Tomales Bay State Park personnel would not loose their jobs; they would probably be reassigned to another one of the park units (e.g. Samuel P. Taylor), and two open positions … would not be filled, achieving the savings needed.”

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State Park maintenance worker Roberto Barajas on Sunday cuts up trees that fell against a Tomales Bay State Park building in the recent storms.

One of those who doubts whether much money can be saved by closing the state park is LeeRoy Brock of Point Reyes Station. A retired ranger at the neighboring Point Reyes National Seashore, LeeRoy was a ranger at Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico when it was temporarily closed two decades ago.

There was no way to keep the public off the land, he said, so federal employees were still needed to clean up litter, maintain facilities, and patrol the area. LeeRoy suspects the situation would be the same at Tomales Bay State Park. Like Carlos, LeeRoy said there are too many places to enter the park on trails or by boat to keep people out.

img_0001.jpgState facilities, such as those getting park-maintenance workers Roberto Barajas’ and Janet Tafoya’s attention after the last storm, will still need protection from the elements, not to mention vandals. But under the governor’s proposal, there would be no Hearts Desire’s entrance fees to help pay for the work.

As one current state park official told me, it’s possible the Point Reyes National Seashore would try to acquire Tomales Bay State Park if it closed. That would be a shame, he added, for it’s already being run “efficiently.”

“This week,” Carlos said, “I will be writing to State Senator Carole Migden and Assemblyman Jared Huffman, sharing my concerns and disappointment about the proposed closing of Tomales Bay State Park — or any other parks, for that matter.

“Without taking away from the importance of parks and trails, however, I am personally very upset about the proposed cuts to the health, welfare and education of so many poor and needy children and families in California. They will be devastated by the draconian cuts that will affect other state agencies while the governor is willing to sink a huge sum of money into building a new death-row facility. Go figure.”

Tomales Bay State Park is rich in Miwok Indian middens. Its beaches are sheltered from the prevailing wind. And it is geared to families, who can park near picnic tables and barbecues overlooking the bay.

How did the park come to be? “Most of the Tomales Bay area lay untouched until the late 1940s, when developers discovered its beauty and began to purchase beachfront lands,” notes the State Park website.

“Local residents, fearing that the beaches would be closed to public use, formed a committee to help secure the land for park purposes. The Marin Conservation League, various conservation and civic organizations, and the state purchased portions of the area. On Nov. 8, 1952, Tomales Bay State Park was dedicated and opened to the public.”

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“State Park Property. All features protected. This is your heritage. Help Guard It…”

Yet after all the work that went into creating Tomales Bay State Park, the future of its land is again in doubt.