Safety Concerns Increasing in California State Parks
Santa Cruz Personal Injury Attorney
When the philosopher Thomas Hobbes asserted that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish and short, he wasnt referring to California state parks. But visiting a state park in California - particularly one with a boat launch, a beach or legal access for off-road vehicles - has become significantly more dangerous than it used to be.
Since 1999, reported crimes in the parks have risen from 65 per day to 170. And this may be underreported. With nearly 30 percent of the ranger positions open, park officials find it increasingly difficult to pursue trespassers and those who fail to pay entry fees. Under constant budget pressure, the government has been unable to maintain the presence it once had to deter crimes and catch violators.
Fortunately, the types of crimes being committed are usually not violent. The most common offenses are:
- Trespassing in closed areas
- Driving violations, particularly in off-road parks
- Failing to pay entry fees
- Illegal camping or fishing
- Excessive noise
- Alcohol violations
- Marijuana cultivation
Offenses such as these do not, of themselves, create a Hobbesian state of nature where lives are immediately at risk.
Still, the cumulative effect of a large increase in offenses takes its toll on peoples sense of safety and makes injuries more likely. Across the state, there is a sense that something must be done.
One possible way to make state parks safer is to create a more consistent way to fund the law enforcement activities that are necessary to promote safety. Californians will vote in November on a ballot initiative, Prop. 21, intended to do just that. It would increase motor vehicle fees by $18 and dedicate the money to the parks. That, in turn, would enable the state to hire more park rangers to enforce the law.
Even if Prop. 21 passes, however, it isnt likely to be a cure-all for safety problems in the parks. Other measures may also be needed, such as an increase in user fees at the parks with the most crime concerns.
If adequate steps to improve the safety situation are not taken, the state may be opening itself up to premises liability claims for injuries that occur in the parks. Laws on government liability may try to set some limits on recovering damages, but are not necessarily the last word.