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California State Parks Scandal Adds to Dismay over Betrayal of Washoe Meadows State Park

The recently revealed news of fiscal improprieties within California’s Department of Parks and Recreation adds to state parkland advocates’ dismay over the agency’s suspect budgetary and management practices the past few years. No activist group has been more impacted by the State’s opaqueness, evasiveness, and questionable motives than the Washoe Meadows Community, which for more than six years has fought to save Washoe Meadows State Park from the ruinous incursion of a golf course into the heart of its forests, meadows and rare springs.

The move of up to nine holes of the Lake Tahoe Golf Course into Washoe Meadows is a centerpiece of the state’s proposal to repair the Upper Truckee River, whose decline has been brought about by, ironically, the current golf course, built in 1958. Unfortunately, despite acknowledgment that its chosen strategy is not the environmentally superior alternative, State Parks focused on “economics” instead, claiming that only an expanded golf course would provide a much-needed revenue stream; the State has not yielded on this theory despite newer models’ showing a continuing decline in golf rounds.

Now, the revelation that an unreported $54 million worth of public funds has been in the department’s coffers is seen as a betrayal by park activitists throughout California who conducted desperate campaigns to save some 70 parks threatened by closure.

Defense of Place joined the Washoe Community’s efforts more than three years ago when it became known that the Park would have to be stripped of its State Park protection — granted in 1984 for the land’s “unique and irreplaceable natural resources” — to make room for the golf course.

The Commission voted on this unprecedented move in January 2012, clearing the way for EIR approval for the Upper Truckee River Restoration and Golf Course Reconfiguration Project. But while it has always supported efforts to repair the river, the Washoe Meadows Community filed suit against State Parks and the Park Commission for procedural and California Environmental Quality Act violations. Settlement talks are currently underway.

Concurrently, the Washoe Meadows Community — along with Tahoe Basin leaders — has assembled respected scientists, environmentalists and economists whose proposals can broaden the vision for stream and wetland restoration methods (adding protection to trout spawning streams and Lake Tahoe) and wider recreational opportunities.


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