Second take on parks plan

There’s at least one good thing about our governor being a former film star: He apparently reads his reviews. And the news clippings for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to close 100 state parks as a way of saving California money were decidedly hostile.

So guess who’s calling in a rewrite?

The script doctor arrived this week with a new story line in which the governor has decided to shutter far fewer state parks than originally planned, saying that he will be asking the state Department of Finance to look for other ways to offset the deficit.

Schwarzenegger has done his best to nurture an image as a bullish, environmentally conscious leader. So the idea of closing more than one-third of California’s state parks had a lot of people seeing red, not green. There were public protests, a series of critical newspaper editorials and even pleas from fellow Republicans, who decried the loss of tourism revenue in their home districts.

The dramatic turn came recently when a memo was leaked containing the news that state authorities believe closing the parks could open the state to potential millions in liability lawsuits that would offset any savings from closing them.

It was also reported that concession holders would lose millions if the parks were closed, further defeating the idea of instant savings. Besides, the expected $143 million that the state could save by shutting down the parks is but a drop of dew on the massive $24 billion deficit California is facing.

So Schwarzenegger did a retake, though his aides tried to spin it as something the governor had hoped to do all along. They have yet to say how many parks will be closed, just that the number will be significantly less than the predicted 100. And plans to release a list of the closed parks will be delayed to a time and channel still to come (a staff member told reporters that there is no timeline for a public unveiling).

State parks officials originally said they would have to close 220 state parks to meet the governor’s cost-savings goal. Then, after the initial public outcry, it dropped to 100. Now, we’re left to guess the final magic number. Could it be 30 going on 13? That movie title has already been taken.

But the press-loving governor doesn’t have to worry about one thing: The viewers will be out there.


Bridge district gives drivers Golden fleecing

Leave it to the folks at the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District to say they need another fare hike to stay in business and then announce that business is much worse than anticipated. What would you expect from the same officials who years ago vowed that the bridge toll would not increase to $5 (now, of course, it’s $6)?

The Examiner reported this week that the bridge district’s deficit has mushroomed despite the toll hike, which was supposed to raise $93 million, because of fewer drivers. And we can all relate to the reason individuals and businesses are hurting right now, but that’s not news for the bridge district.

It’s been running in the red for almost as long as the bridge has been painted international orange — in large part because it was created to run a bridge, not a transportation agency with a fleet of ferries and buses and annual budget problems.

Officials hate it when I remind readers of this, but that doesn’t make it any less true. After the original bonds were paid off, control of the Golden Gate Bridge was supposed to revert to the state, but its managers had other ideas and the bridge district was born.

And then the tolls climbed. When it cost $1 to cross the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate was charging $3. That was a few toll hikes ago.

Still, there’s no denying that it’s a pretty bridge.


Arduous regulations are bad for business

No wonder states like Nevada are spending millions on advertising to try to lure California businesses — it’s worth it.

A new report published this week found that the state’s overcomplicated regulations cost California businesses nearly $500 billion annually and close to 4 million jobs.

The study, done by the Center for Small Business at Sacramento State University, found that California would receive $16 billion in business taxes without the regulations. And the report seems to jibe with other recent surveys, which found California among the least attractive locales for business in the country.

Naturally, business advocates were quick to chime in on the results.

“It’s not uncommon for the permitting process to involve millions of dollars and take as long as 10 years,” Gino DiCaro of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association said.

Expect lawmakers to use the finding to try to push the state to untie itself. The handcuffing regulations cost California businesses an average of $134,000, or $13,800 per household. And the 3.8 million jobs lost equate to one-tenth of California’s population, with nearly half the cost through lost labor income.

That’s a lot of money flowing through the cracks. If I’m Oregon, I’m putting out the welcome mat.


The Lottery’s mistake is one woman’s gain

Down at the California Lottery, where putting big checks in the hands of average Joes has become a marketing mainstay, they’ve come up with a new game show: The Mistaken Millionaire.

It turns out that one of the lottery’s publicized winners, 61-year-old Josefina Sineriz, owes her $2.8 million payout to a mistake by game officials, who inadvertently transposed the names of contestants on forms, which resulted in almost 20 of them being assigned to different segments of the “Make Me a Millionaire” show.

The mistake was disclosed at an Assembly committee hearing on lottery oversight this week in which The Sacramento Bee reported that an “incident report” found that procedural errors were made during the taping of the Feb. 8 “Millionaire” show.

For the record, Sineriz will keep her winnings, with lottery officials claiming that there was no violation of fairness — just one big, happy “whoops.”

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