Local groups dig deep to supplement the programs at San Onofre, San Clemente and Doheny state beaches
by Stacie N. Galang and Andrea Swayne
On the surface, the area’s three state beaches — San Onofre, San Clemente and Doheny — glisten with raw beauty and beckon to visitors as they always have. Mother Nature provided their majestic coastal cliffs, pristine shores and killer breaks, making them among the most popular in California’s park system.
But local supporters and officials say the trio of beaches, like other state-run programs, are in need of plenty of below-the-surface care, gone neglected because of tight budgets.
“It’s always a game of cat and mouse,” said Parks Superintendent Rich Haydon, who oversees the three state beaches in south Orange County and north San Diego County. “The infrastructure is old. We have our share of deferred maintenance.”
In particular, Doheny State Beach’s water delivery system and sewer treatment stands in desperate need of repair, Haydon said. It’s among the $1.3 billion in infrastructural improvements needed across the 180-state park system.
Haydon said some of the pipes were replaced in the 1980s, and years of use and their ocean setting have caused them to wear down and break. Within the last month, the park maintenance staff has had to find and repair a 4-inch water main and it’s a constant challenge to fix the leaks and make the emergency repairs.
Because of their popularity, the area’s three state beaches were never on the list of 70 state parks or beaches slated for closure earlier this year. Nevertheless, strapped state budgets have meant much needed, large-scale repairs have been postponed.
In Sacramento, a scandal in recent months over $54 million in unreported state funds has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to call for greater scrutiny across all state accounts. In the meantime, two top leaders in the California State Department of Parks and Recreation resigned.
Last week, Brown said in a news release that he would use the found money to keep more state parks open and “fix serious park maintenance problems.”
“The disclosure that the parks department had millions in additional revenues is mixed—it’s better to have more money than less, but it’s totally unacceptable for Parks personnel to squirrel away public funds,” he said in Friday’s release. “I extend my deepest appreciation for the donors who have come to the aid of our parks in this time of need. I ask for their patience as we take all necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.”
But patience won’t plug leaky pipes, and local officials have no idea yet whether their projects will be among those selected for improvements.
Steve Long, the retired superintendent of the area beaches and a San Onofre Foundation board member, noted that all the fees collected locally go back to Sacramento. The popularity of the regions parks does not mean they keep what they make.
“There’s always chronic underfunding if you will,” Long said.
He described the recently discovered money as “a drop in the bucket.”
“Yeah, it’s an unfortunate story,” Long said. “Not all of the information is well understood … I do know our task of is to address the educational programs. They are not funded.”
Let’s Go Surfing Now
In the meantime, cooperating groups in the form of the San Onofre Foundation — for San Onofre and San Clemente state beaches — and the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association are raising funds to keep the educational component of the parks available to the public.
This weekend, the two nonprofits have joined together to host the Doheny Beach Surf Festival. Over two days, the groups plan to host live music, surf demonstrations, vendors and booths and exhibits from like-minded organizations. Bands like ALO and musicians like Eddie Money will perform at Doheny State Beach over the two-day festival.
“Our main goal is to assist our local state parks,” said Jim Kempton, CEO and executive director of the San Onofre Foundation. “So we’re never doing good enough because there’s always more that can be done to make the parks better, to educate park visitors and to improve the quality of the experience.”
Because the Doheny Surf Festival is a fundraiser organized expressly to support local state beaches, the event and its supporting nonprofit organizations recently took some heavy criticism on a KFI-AM radio show in light of the discovery of millions of dollars of the unreported money that should have been available while the state parks system reported a $22 million deficit and planned to close 70 parks.
“My best analogy of a cooperative association like ours is that it does what at PTA does for a school, or a football booster club does for the team,” said Bill Brooks, president of the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association. “That’s an important thing for the public to understand. Our fundraising efforts provide support for the extras that would otherwise not be funded by the state, whether the state funding is there or not. The visitors’ center and aquarium, for example, wouldn’t necessarily get state money.”
From learning how a surfboard is made and shopping for the newest in products and technology to watching tandem, outrigger and SUP demonstrations, visitors will be completely immersed in all things surf at the festival.
The public can enjoy the festival for the cost of parking, which is $15. Tickets to the concert are $29 in advance and $34 at the door. A shuttle from Dana Hills High School will provide take visitors to and from the park for $5 per person or $15 for a family.
Line in the Sand
Brian Ketterer, Orange Coast district superintendent, said last year’s district budget was $14.2 million to pay for operating expenses and salaries at Orange County’s state beaches, including the three local, Huntington, Bolsa Chica, Crystal Cove and El Moro. Because of what’s happening in Sacramento, he has not received the final budget amount for this year.
Locally, the state funding must care for 2,106 acres at San Onofre, the 254 acres at Doheny and 117 acres of San Clemente state beaches, according to Ketterer. Last year, 1.28 million people visited Doheny State Beach, 379,248 visited San Clemente State Beach and 1.62 million hit the beach at San Onofre, the district superintendent said.
The funds raised by the cooperating organizations provide educational programs for visitors and area students.
In 2010, the San Onofre Foundation’s total revenue was $90,578 and the Doheny State Beach Interpretative Association’s revenue was $62,288, according to their most recent available tax filings.
Kempton said that one of the reasons the groups are putting on the surf festival is to expose more people to the area’s state beaches and what they provide.
“It’s a gift that California gives itself, these parks, and they are the most special places we have,” he said. “Ours are particularly amazing because we have so many different activities that we do in them.”
One of the most recent examples of supplemental funding is the purchase of a new set of kayaks that will be used for providing public kayak tours at Doheny and the printing of Junior Ranger coloring books for program participants, according to Brooks.
The organization also applied for and won a $10,000 grant from Odwalla to buy trees for the park and is working on obtaining a matching grant.
“Everyone in the organization is passionate about our parks,” Brooks said. “We all absolutely love them, use them and want to make sure that they last for everyone to enjoy—for our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.”
The visitors’ center and aquarium at Doheny — closed for repairs since 2007 — is in the final phase of renovation and, while Brooks said he can not yet announce a firm opening date, he expects the center to be open by the end of the year.
“The funding for the remaining work is secured, we just to need to complete that last few details — stucco, the door, carpeting and a life support system for the ocean animals,” he said. “We are ordering display cabinets and are about ready to fill aquatic displays with water and introducing specimens.”
Brooks noted that the best way to keep our ocean healthy is through education.
“When people learn about the abundance of life under the waves, they become more attuned to how what they do on land effects the creatures in the water,” he said. “I hope the state has the wisdom to see that it costs more to close the parks than to keep them open.”