August 14, 2012
They're still open, but state parks are under fire.
Months after Gov. Jerry Brown threatened to close 70 state—including beloved Garrapata and Zmudowski State Beach—to save $22 million, a stash of more than $53 million was discovered in state parks coffers.
Those hidden funds came to light in the course of an investigation by The Sacramento Bee into an unauthorized vacation buyout program for state parks staff. Now Manuel Lopez, the former deputy director of administrative services at state parks who initiated the vacation deals, is under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Lopez was one of 56 employees at state parks headquarters in Sacramento who sold unused vacation time back to the state in spring of 2011. The buy-back program cost to the state over $271,000, and was never approved by the state Department of Human Resources.
In a July 31 letter to Lopez, FPPC's Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk wrote, "You may have violated the personal finance prohibition of the [Political Reform] Act when you participated in a vacation buyout program."
Although the Political Reform Act makes an exception for government salary and compensation, Winuk says there's a loophole that could prove the vacation buyouts were a violation of the law. Lopez personally benefited from the buyouts.
Natural Resources Agency spokesman Richard Stapler deferred questions to the FPPC. "That complaint is against a specific individual, who is no longer in the employ of state parks," he says.
Lopez, who resigned in May, could not be reached for comment.
State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned in July when news of the hidden funds surfaced. David Saxby, assistant deputy director for administrative services at state parks, who was involved in the vacation buyouts, has announced plans to resign Aug. 31.