Henry Willard Coe, in profile

Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to look into the idea of having the county parks department manage the lands of Henry Coe State Park that lie within the county, if the state’s proposal to close the park (along with virtually all the Bay Area state parks) goes through as planned after Labor Day.

Paul Rogers of the Mercury News wrote an in-depth report on the proposal for Monday’s paper.

Taking over management of the park could pose significant challenges for the county.

The park is so big that it is twice the size of all 28 county parks combined. Because of relentless state budget shortfalls in recent years, Coe only has five rangers and one supervisor to patrol the entire park — and they also patrol two other state parks, San Juan Bautista State Historic Park
and Fremont Peak State Park, both in San Benito County. Eight maintenance workers keep up all three parks as well.

The light staffing means Coe already has problems with poachers shooting deer, cattle from nearby ranches wandering into its boundaries, and Mexican drug gangs growing marijuana in its remote quarters.

Also, the state park rangers carry guns. County park rangers do not. Through an arrangement with the sheriff’s office, deputies are called out on serious law enforcement issues in county parks.

Then there is the money issue. Santa Clara County is facing a $273 million deficit this year and jails, hospitals and sheriff’s operations all are under tight budget pressure.

But Yeager said funding could come from the county’s “Park Charter Fund.” That fund, approved by voters in 1972, and renewed again in 1996, guarantees that 1.425 cents of every $100 in assessed property tax valuation goes to county parks.

The fund provides about $38 million annually, or 85 percent of the $43 million county parks budget this year. As Yeager sees it, the county is required under law to spend the money on parks anyway, so if it could cut other areas, such as buying fewer park vehicles, it could potentially hire additional people to run Coe.

Today’s Merc had a short piece on the vote. One concerned hiker thought counties bailing out the state might let our lawmakers off the hook.

“Do not pass this motion,” said John Wilkinson, who has spent 15 years hiking and leading others through the vast oak-studded Henry W. Coe State Park. “It could suggest to legislators that the counties will rescue it and they can relax.”

Wilkinson and other park preservationists are fighting desperately against a proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to close 80 percent of state parks.

Ah, the ol’ “don’t put that fire out because it sends the wrong signal to arsonists” argument.

I’ll update if I hear anything more on this. Thanks to David at Random Curiosity for posting the link on his Twitter feed. (You’ll want to see his Las Vegas adventure).