Residents of the Piercy and Leggett communities made progress toward creating an organization that can operate Standish Hickey State Recreation Area locally if the state closes it this summer.
The community group, called "Team Standish," chose a board of directors, discussed a projected budget, and reviewed a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA) at a meeting at Leggett School on Monday, Feb. 6.
Because of the state budget crisis, the California legislature has slashed State Parks’ budget for the past two years, by $4 million in fiscal year 2010/11 and $11 million in the current year, FY2011/12, Acting Superintendent of the North Coast Redwoods District Michelle Gardner told the Redwood Times.
These cuts forced severe reductions in park staff, resulting in closed campgrounds and reduced maintenance. Next year, FY2012/13, which begins July 1, the proposed state budget includes an additional $11 million in cuts.
This means entire parks must be closed. Seventy parks and recreation areas were on the original closure list. Three of them, including Del Norte Redwoods State Park, were saved by partnering with the National Park system, but the remaining 67, including Standish Hickey SRA, Benbow SRA, and Grizzly Creek State Park near Fortuna are still slated for closure on July 1, Gardner said.
But AB42, a bill passed by the California legislature, authorizes State Parks to make agreements with non-profit organizations or local governments to operate parks and recreations areas that would otherwise be closed until the state is able to do so.
A further proposal, currently under consideration in Sacramento, would allow for-profit corporations to manage concessions like camping and visitor services in "bundles" of the parks most likely to be profitable.
Closure of Standish-Hickey would be a disaster for the small Northern Mendocino communities. For the last few months Team Standish has been researching options and holding public meetings to work on the many aspects of managing a public recreation area.
Team members contacted MAPA, a 501(c3) non-profit corporation that works with other organizations to support keeping parks open in Mendocino County, last December. MAPA, which is also proposing to manage Russian Gulch State Park on the Mendocino coast, is seriously considering a partnership with Team Standish so that Standish-Hickey can remain open and operated by the local community.
Fifteen local people came to the meeting at Leggett School. According to several participants, many others wanted to come but were ill.
Bess Bair brought the group up to date on the state’s position. The Department of Public Works, which oversees all contracts with the state, says that they favor non-profits and local agencies but are still keeping all their options open, specifically the possibility of allowing for-profit concessionaires to operate the revenue-producing aspects of park operations.
Most recently DPW has decided to audit all groups considering park management, which would mean that Team Standish, up to this point an ad-hoc group of community members, would be scrutinized along with the state-certified non-profit MAPA.
The Garberville-based Trees Foundation, a 501(c3) that umbrellas other groups involved in environmental issues, has offered to become Team Standish’s fiscal sponsor, Piercy resident Jeff Hedin announced.
This would allow supporters to make donations earmarked for Team Standish to the Trees Foundation, who would place the funds in a separate account and keep the records. Donors would be able to write off their contributions as tax deductions, and fiscal management would meet the state’s requirements.
For its assistance, Trees Foundation would charge Team Standish a fee of seven per cent.
On the other hand, revenue earned by park operations, such as camping fees, firewood sales, gift shop sales, and so forth, would be managed by MAPA, which would take a 20 percent share of gross revenue for its services as spelled out in the MOU.
Before reviewing the MOU, the group considered its own structure. After much discussion, participants decided that the membership of Team Standish would be comprised of everyone who has come to meetings and volunteered to work on the project. New members who want to help will be welcome.
They decided to elect a five-member board of directors, including a president, secretary, treasurer, and two other directors. By general consensus, Hedin was selected as president, Melissa Rosenthal as secretary, and Ruby Arias as treasurer. Jill Palmer and Bess Bair are the other two directors.
The draft MOU requires Team Standish to provide a proposed budget, work with MAPA on a management plan, "assist with management and oversight on a local level...," and collect, account for, and deposit revenues and donations into a bank account designated by MAPA.
MAPA’s responsibilities will include disbursing funds, including payroll, providing items for resale in the visitor center, consulting with Team Standish on operations and management issues, and acting as their liaison with State Parks.
Additionally, MAPA director Stan Anderson agreed to provide Team Standish with start-up funds so that the park will be ready to open under local management on July 1.
The group wanted clarity on what was meant by "assist" with management, since their goal is to keep management local. They also wanted clarification of references to "donations," since MAPA had assured Team Standish representatives that they could hold their own fundraisers and take donations separately.
They wanted to be sure that appropriate insurance, including liability and Worker’s Compensation, would be provided by MAPA.
Several members of the group also felt that 20 percent of revenue might be too large a share and wanted to negotiate this further with MAPA before approving the agreement.
Twenty percent is "not bad" considering the complexity of MAPA’s payroll, Hedin said, and Bair pointed out that even without an agreement or fees, MAPA had already given the group help they were unable to receive anywhere else.
By general consensus, the group agreed to authorize the board to continue to work with MAPA to resolve these issues and bring back a revised MOU for approval.
Before signing the MOU, MAPA requires Team Standish to produce a proposed budget within the next two weeks, prior to State Parks’ workshop on local management of parks in Fort Bragg Feb. 23.
With only a summary of the state’s budget for Standish Hickey for fiscal year 2009/10 to go by, the group struggled to come up with suitable numbers.
Total expenses in FY2009/10 totaled $313,950, but revenues were only $159,330.
While no expense figures for the past year FY2010/11 were available, total revenue, even with only one campground open, had increased to $167,828.
The largest single item in the budget was the cost of two full-time rangers, which came to over $160,000 in FY2009/10. Team members felt they could use local sheriff’s deputies, off-duty rangers who work at other local parks, or private security to provide law enforcement when needed at considerable savings.
Besides rangers, staff costs included maintenance services at approximately $38,000 and visitor services at approximately $20,000 during FY2009/10.
By relying on volunteers, the group felt they might be able to get by with only four paid staff on a seasonal basis instead of six. Gary Ballard, owner of the Peg House, which is right across Highway 101 from the entrance to the park, offered his store as the place where campers could register and pay their fees.
The budget also included smaller items such as garbage service, electricity, propane, and so on, totaling approximately $22,000 in FY2009/10. The group discussed various ways of cutting back on these expenses.
Not included in the FY2009/10 figures were supplies and equipment. One member pointed out that the team would also need to buy a truck for maintenance.
Promotion and publicity were not included in the FY2009/10. Currently State Parks manages this for all parks, but once a park is out of the system, whoever operates it will have to provide this.
Bair pointed out that they need to show MAPA only a projected budget indicating they had considered all these expenses. As they learn more, adjustments can be made.
With the group’s unanimous approval, a small ad hoc committee agreed to meet this week to come up with a proposed budget based on the figures they had and the group’s suggestions.
One big question mark is what the state will actually require from new park managers. To answer these questions, State Parks is holding regional "partner workshops" for interested non-profits and local governments around the state.
Team Standish representatives plan to attend the workshop in Fort Bragg on Feb. 23.
According to Acting Superintendent Gardner, the workshop will be strictly informational. No one is expected to provide actual proposals at that time. State Park staff from Sacramento will talk about requirements for operating parks, provide a workbook with requirements and guidelines, and answer questions.
For more information about Team Standish, visit their website at www.standishhickey.com or their Facebook page, Save Standish Hickey Park. Their email address is email@example.com. Those without internet access can call 983-6115.
For more information about State Parks’ Partner Workshop, go to State Parks’ website, www.parks.ca.gov, and click on the flag that says "Partner Workshops" near the center of the home page. The entire workbook that will be distributed at the workshops is available through the website.