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As Closure Looms, Supporters of Historic Encino Park Scramble

Politicians, community members meet to discuss ways to keep the little known but historically significant Los Encinos site from falling prey to statewide cuts in park system.

With the state budget deals now sealed, state parks are scheduled to close to cover the two-year, $22-million cut in the parks budget that Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature agreed to in March.

Over the next 12 months, those state parks will begin a layoff process and implement service reductions, unless a nonprofit organization offers to take over the park.

“Every one of the 70 parks on the potential closure list is an important park, or they would not be state parks in the first place," Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, told Encino Patch. “So no one, understandably so, wants their park, or any of them, to close. But the budget passed and we have no choice but to implement it.”

, a 5-acre landmark located at Balboa and Ventura boulevards in Encino, will be put under “caretaker” status, meaning rangers will check on it only periodically.

Michael Crosby, the president of the Los Encinos Docent Association, and state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), spoke at the Encino Neighborhood Council general meeting Wednesday night to discuss possible ways to prevent the closures.

“I want to see if we can come up with a creative way or strategy to keep it open in the short term, while we collectively encourage the governor to find other savings and revenue other than closing the state parks,” said Pavley, who reminisced at the meeting about her frequent visits to the park as a child growing up in nearby Sherman Oaks.

The state Assembly in May unanimously approved legislation allowing nonprofit organizations to take over operations of the state parks using privately raised funds. In Encino, however, a nonprofit organization already exists to take care of the local park. The Los Encinos Docent Association has been around for 17 years, recruiting volunteers to lead tours, participate in public education programs and help with fundraising and administration.

Since officials announced the park closure list in May, the few local park docents have tried to spread the word to help raise funds and save Los Encinos. However, most Encino residents seem unaware of the park, and the long dormant Los Encinos Docent Association needs an influx of new membership to effect change, Crosby indicated.

“We’ve been kind of a caretaker organization up until now, just doing our . But we’re certainly ready and geared up to do other things,” Crosby said. “The problem, basically, is that nobody knows Los Encinos is there.”

The last time Los Encinos was shuttered, it was closed for 13 years,  after the 1994 Northridge earthquake severely damaged the 1839 De la Ossa Adobe, a landmark structure of great importance to the history of the San Fernando Valley. After a major rebuilding and restoration effort, the state park centerpiece reopened in 2008 and it never regained its former popularity, Crosby said.

“It’s hard to save something that people don’t know exists,” said Encino Neighborhood Council member Greg Martayan, who admitted he didn’t know about Los Encinos until he was on the council for three years. “I went to Campbell Hall [a local private school]. … I never went on a school trip and we never visited it or anything. I think there are a lot of wealthy people in Encino who might be interested in perhaps saving or donating to Los Encinos. … But my generation has no memory of Los Encinos, [unlike] the senator’s generation who has those kinds of memories of fondness and love.”

Rich in history, Los Encinos has a small, yet informative visitors center, a living history program, well-restored adobe buildings, and a  natural spring and duck pond. The De la Ossa adobe encapsulates the history when hundreds of thousands of gold miners came pouring into California in the 1850s. The tranquil surroundings amid the bustle of Encino have made this a favorite spot for some parents to bring their children. 

"I think it’s imperative for our culture, for our children, to have this park open so that they can learn about the history of the San Fernando Valley, the people that came before them, and just to provide a venue for people to go to the park on the weekends,” said local author and historian Bronwyn Ralph during the meeting. “As a community, it would be such a loss, not only for Encino but for all of the San Fernando Valley."

That’s why Los Encinos supporters are urging neighbors to vote in Coca-Cola's "" contest, which will award grant funds to America’s three favorite national, state or local parks, chosen based on the number of online votes they get. So far, it's a long shot for Los Encinos. As of Wednesday afternoon, with 1,649 votes, the local park was in 93rd place in the nationwide contest.

Handing over operations to nonprofits sounds like a workable, if temporary, solution. The question is whether nonprofits will be able to step up and handle all of the responsibilities that come with running a state park.

“Doing that requires the personnel expertise and a funding stream,” Stearns told Encino Patch. “None of that will be forthcoming from State Parks. We have no funding to pay someone else to do the job. If we did, we would not be closing these facilities."

Direct funding for Los Encinos State Historic Park is about $209,000 per year, Stearns said. That does not include the overhead help from district offices and Sacramento, which provide maintenance, administrative support, added security, legal and personnel office functions, he said.

“If friends and supporters can muster the kind of organization that can fund and operate a park, then we shall consider that,” Stearns told Encino Patch. “It is not a mom-and-pop operation of just opening the door and collecting an entrance fee. It is park management, buildings and grounds maintenance, utilities and infrastructure, cleaning and other housekeeping, security, protection and preservation of artifacts and other resources, maintaining books that would be subject to audit, and more.”

Among the suggestions given during the council meeting Wednesday night were to ask the Department of Water and Power to provide the utilities for free or find more energy-efficient equipment to help cut costs. Residents also proposed cutting back operating hours to Friday through Sunday only; raising revenues through booking of weddings and receptions; having a local car dealership auction off a vehicle or a local supermarket donate 5 cents for every reusable grocery bag shoppers use in any of its grocery stores.

There have been similar recommendations and a number of entities interested in donating across the state, Stearns said, but so far, none have decided to sign an agreement to fully fund and operate a park. 

“None of us likes this situation, but with the state dealing with horrendous cuts at all levels of service, and with the electorate not favoring fee and tax increases to support such services, this is our new reality for the foreseeable future,” Stearns said.

 

Did you know Encino had a historic state park? Any suggestions on how the community can help keep it from closing? Tell us in the comments.

Allan July 30, 2011 at 07:00 PM
I wonder how many who are scrambling to keep the park open voted for Brown. Had someone else been elected, there might have been a closer look at pensions of folks like the prison guards, instead of these closures in order to save money.

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