Million-dollar views, cheap rent and allegations of favoritism at California State Parks

California
Cottage 21, foreground, and Cottage 17, two doors down, at Crystal Cove State Park are seen in this undated photo. .The cottages are rented to California parks department employees at below-market rates under a program created to allow essential workers to live close to the natural treasures they protect or maintain. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Cottage 21, foreground, and Cottage 17, two doors down, at Crystal Cove State Park are seen in this undated photo. .The cottages are rented to California parks department employees at below-market rates under a program created to allow essential workers to live close to the natural treasures they protect or maintain. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It’s a coveted perk for state parks employees: For just a few hundred dollars a month, they can live in government-owned homes in some of California’s most scenic and sought-after locations — beachfront cottages, historic houses in pricey neighborhoods and cabins surrounded by stretches of pristine wilderness.

The benefit was created so California Department of Parks and Recreation staff could live close to the natural treasures they protect or maintain. But the well-intentioned program has been poorly managed, with current and former employees alleging that state property is being used for the benefit of some favored staff members, according to a Times investigation.

The department’s nearly 500 occupied state-owned houses, mobile homes, dorms and trailers rent — on average — for $215 a month, according to a Times analysis of state housing data. At those prices, the revenue from renting homes to employees is not enough to cover the cost of maintaining them. A review of state housing data, county tax assessor documents and other public records also found that the agency has disregarded state policies outlining when its cut-rate rents should be increased.

State policy requires rent to be raised to market value whenever an employee tenant moves out, but three years of records show that rental prices have not increased in the vast majority of cases.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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