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Turlock Lake remains open under new operator
TID directors refuse to affirm contract
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The Turlock Lake State Recreation Area will remain open, but the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors isn’t pleased with how new operator American Land & Leisure was forced upon them.

TID, which owns Turlock Lake, had hoped to choose its own concessionaire, but instead the California State Parks service will retain control while sub-leasing operations to AL&L.

“It’s our lake, and we’re just letting go all control now, and there’s another layer in between us,” said TID Director Ron Macedo.

The Turlock Lake SRA is home to a 66-site campground, a day-use area with a sandy swimming beach, hiking trails, a boat launch, and some on-site administrative buildings. Since 1950, TID has leased the on-site recreation facilities to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

But with $22 million in budget reductions planned for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, California State Parks announced plans to shutter 70 of its 279 state parks – including Turlock Lake.

Anticipating California’s withdrawal, the district sent out a request for concessionaries to operate Turlock Lake in April. Two qualified parties applied.

But the State of California, looking to maintain state parks in the Central Valley despite budgetary concerns, conducted its own concessionaire search process.

“Their feeling was that they had just a few Valley state parks, and that Valley state parks were pretty underrepresented for the populations they have in this area,” said Carol Russell, Don Pedro Recreation Agency director.

The state’s search found four qualified proposals, with Orem, Utah-based AL&L ranked best among applicants by a panel including Russell. AL&L already operates more campgrounds on federal lands than any other concessionaire, with clients ranging from national forests to Pacific Gas & Electric.

TID would have liked to pick its own concessionaire, removing the extra layer of the state parks system, but the current lease agreement calls for California State Parks to operate Turlock Lake through 2030. And that lease does not preclude the State of California from sub-leasing the lake’s operation to a third party concessionaire.

As such, the state granted AL&L a five-year contract to operate Turlock Lake with only minimal input from the district. AL&L will come to Turlock Lake on July 15, assuming full control of operations by Aug. 1.

“AL&L is going to have to increase fees and make a bunch of changes,” said TID Director Rob Santos. “Are we just going to let them do that to our park?”

According to Russell, AL&L will still be required to operate pursuant to TID’s lease agreement with the State of California. AL&L has no intention to raise rates this year, she said, and TID will retain “oversight” of rates and charges.

State parks rules, including a ban on alcohol, will remain in effect. The state parks service will continue to oversee the facility, ensuring the facility is maintained to their standards.

“That’ll be interesting,” Macedo said.

Though Tuesday’s TID agenda had called for directors to make a motion affirming AL&L’s contract, the directors opted to instead take no action.

“I’m not going to make a motion, and I’m not going to second it,” Santos said.