The Benicia City Council directed staff to move forward with negotiations allowing the City to take over grounds maintenance at the Benicia State Historic Capitol and day-to-day operations at the State Recreation Area.
The message from the City Council to city staff was clear Tuesday night: Work with the state to come up with a way for Benicia and its stakeholder groups to run the two state parks, and look at every possible funding source before asking the city to spend general fund dollars to keep the parks open.
Keeping the State Recreation Area open means hikers and fishermen will still have access to the shoreline trails and at least one restroom will remain open for public use during daylight hours.
Maintaining the grounds at the Capitol means an anchor for the tourism program will still be available and the public restroom in the heart of downtown will continue to add to the general comfort of locals and visitors alike.
Staff outlined a plan to negotiate three agreements with the state that would allow the city to keep the State Recreation Area open seven days a week and be paid for with an $80,000 funds transfer from the state; maintain the grounds, including the restrooms, at the Capitol; and a last agreement that would be between the state and the Benicia State Parks Association to operate the Capitol and the Fischer-Hanlon House.
Questions remain, including who is liable if someone is injured while visiting the parks, what happens if the state decides not to continue offering the $80,000 for keeping the SRA open, and where will the $25,500 needed to maintain the grounds at the Capitol come from?
Carol Berman, president of the Benicia State Parks Association, says that group is ready to play its role in keeping the parks open. She said the group is far ahead of other local groups in terms of being ready to enter into an agreement with the state.
Mike Dotson, the city's director of parks and community services, said one of the advantages of running the parks locally is the ability to take care of some of the maintenance issues without intervention from state bureaucrats. City staff, working with staff from the state Parks Department has identified approximately $3.5 million in deferred maintenance, an amount action Economic Development Director Mario Giuliani called “very conservative.”