Look closely and you can still see fireworks exploding over the Mono Lake South Tufa State Park. With the park still one of 70 state parks on a planned closure list, several ideas on how to keep it operating have been advanced to the applause of some, and dissatisfaction of others who don’t believe the process has been transparent.
During the Nov. 15 Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board opted not to pursue a special committee to look into options for saving South Tufa. In addition, Supervisor Tim Hansen protested a lack of disclosure by the state regarding the contents of a concessionaire’s application submitted by the Bodie Foundation.
Hansen said that no one’s been able to see the application from the Bodie Foundation, and said members of the public asked him and Supervisor Vikki Bauer to look into obtaining a copy for public review. The state, he opined, hasn’t been forthcoming in providing that copy.
He pointed out that no one from the Bodie Foundation was present at the Nov. 9 Mono Basin Regional Planning Advisory Committee (RPAC) meeting to represent the organization and talk about the application.
Under the current situation, he said, a lot “depends on what the Operating Concessionaire’s Application contains.”
Based on her impression of State Parks’ policy, Bauer suggested that to make a public records request, there’s a specific process. Hansen agreed but countered, “No one’s ever said it was necessary; it’s not a closed bidding process. It’s one group filling out an application to do what … we don’t know. The public wants to know what’s going on and we as a County should be prepared for it.”
In a Nov. 15 letter to Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Director Ruth Coleman, Assembly member Kristin Olsen (R-25th District), whose constituency includes Mono County, wrote: “In the case of Mono Lake, many constituents have contacted my office to express concern over the lack of opportunity to review the concessionaire agreement proposed by the Bodie Foundation for the purpose of keeping [the state park] ‘open.’ I am grateful that DPR has been working hard and diligently toward an agreement for Mono Lake, but I respectfully request that you release the draft concessionaire agreement for public review and comment before any final agreement is made or MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed.”
A Nov. 7 letter from Jeanne Sisson, Acting Superintendent for the Alpine Mono Sector, to the Mono RPAC, was more direct. “California State Parks is NOT seeking anyone to manage the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, and unless notified otherwise it retains its authority to manage the Reserve,” Sisson wrote. “The pending concession agreement with the Bodie Foundation is NOT in any sense a management agreement. It is primarily a fee collection agreement that has Bodie Foundation collecting fees at the Old Marina parking lot and depositing them directly into a state account that is restricted for use at Mono Lake only.”
All of the money generated from the fees would go back into the park to pay for basic services, such as cleaning, maintenance and funding for Park Interpretive Specialist Dave Marquart’s position, she stated. No portion of the fees would be used to pay salaries or expenses for the Bodie Foundation’s board or any of its members.
Sisson said she remained “optimistic that Mono Lake will avoid closure, partly through this agreement.”
Bauer said her take from the exchange was that the state is trying to get the park off the list. “It’s a perception problem more than anything,” she indicated.
Supervisor Larry Johnston said he’s very happy with the situation; happy that state parks is going to manage a state park, as opposed to the Bodie Foundation or any other group, which also gives him more confidence it will be kept open.
There are options, Bauer said, for other entities to get in and help solve problems, whether it’s the tribes with interpretive problems or Mono County looking into trash collection problems.
The item might return during the Board’s Dec. 20 meeting for an update on any new progress, decisions or other actions.
Meanwhile, at the state level, California state parks officials faced harsh criticism during a Nov. 1 hearing in Sacramento over how the 70 parks were selected for closure, with one North Coast lawmaker bashing the process as being flawed and urging that the closure plans be scrapped.
Much of the concern stemmed from the lack of transparency in deciding which parks to close and the absence of any economic analyses regarding those decisions.
–Additional source: Santa Rosa Press-Democrat