Group protests proposed closure of Torrey Pines

Sign-wielding, green-clad Torrey Pines State Park and Beach supporters on Saturday protested the proposed closure of the 2,000-acre natural reserve.

Members of the Torrey Pines Association (TPA) and Torrey Pines Docent Society members were reacting to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget-cutting plan to close 220 state parks, including several in San Diego County.

Park docents were collecting signatures on a petition for a funding alternative that proposes an annual state park access pass derived from a new $15 charge on California car registration fees.

“This is part of a statewide Save Our Parks day,” said Peter Jensen, president of the TPA, a park fundraising group. “We’re trying to help people get on board with the possibility of the $15 license fee.”

The fee would not be enough to save the endangered parks, he said. “But it would be a start; it would help.”

In defense of the license tax, Torrey Pines docent Rick Vogel noted: “Taxes are the cost of a civilized society. The fact is, the Legislature and the governor have not been rational in the way they have gone about this (state) budget.”

Docent Jennifer Davis, who was collecting signatures, got a mixed response.

“I’m getting a couple different reactions,” she said. “Some people don’t like the idea of another tax on their license when they get their registration; they think taxes are just wrong. Others think it’s a great idea. They love the park and want to come back for $15 a year.”

Shutting people out of a state park is impractical and wouldn’t save money, TPA member Patricia Masters argued.

“There’s no way to close the park,” she said. “There would be local economic impact. Research has shown, for every dollar spent on state parks, over $2.60 is returned to the local economy.”

The biggest loss in attempting to close Torrey Pines, added Masters, would be loss of protection.

“There would be no lifeguards at the beach, no maintenance staff, no rangers, " she said. “The beach will be closed as well. It would revert back to the 1800s when there was no protection and people camped in the reserve and cut the Torrey pines down and burned them in campfires.”

Trudy Wood of Clairemont, a retired government worker who attended the rally and signed the petition, was concerned about the idea of closing most state parks. ‘Everybody needs to come out and at least tell them that you care about the parks,” she said.

Wood said the fee idea was a good one that might need some tweaking. “I think they might have to negotiate the amount,” she said.

Jensen said passage of the $15 vehicular license tax, which would require two-thirds approval in the Legislature, would allow unlimited free access to all state parks to anyone driving in.

“We think the public could be on board with it,” he said. “Whether it passes in the Legislature is another matter.”