Hearst Castle Outdoor Neptune Pool
You betcha, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell owes the State of California some serious coin. And, he should pay up.
While nearly 70 of California’s state parks fought to escape closure from budget cuts, the crown jewel of the park system – Hearst Castle – waived $611,000 in private event fees over the last decade for select individuals and organizations, including the politically connected.
Hearst Castle, the lavish 165-room estate on a San Simeon hill overlooking the Pacific coast and Highway 1, has been the venue of choice for 125 events since 2002, ranging from weddings to fundraisers, birthday bashes to cocktail parties.
Most of the excused events were hosted by local partnerships, but politics also played a role in deciding who had to pay full price and who didn’t, said Nick Franco, superintendent for the state Department of Parks and Recreation’s San Luis Obispo Coast District.
More than a fifth of the total – $124,450 – was waived for the birthday party of former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and a charity race led by Maria Shriver while she was California’s first lady. The race benefited an international nonprofit, Best Buddies.
Politics as usual where the POLS get a deal and everyone else would have to pay full price for the use of the State Park facility.
The state’s former schools superintendent got a significant discount, too. After leaving office in January 2011, O’Connell hosted a 60th birthday party on two nights, one in October and one in November, which typically would have cost $44,200 for the event permits alone. Hearst Castle did not require the longtime politician to pay the standard fee for two nights of bringing 55 anticipated guests to tour the facilities and swim in the famous Neptune Pool, followed by a reception, said Jim Allen, Hearst Castle’s marketing director.
“I honestly didn’t think about it that deeply,” Franco said. “If I think about it now, I certainly could have charged him that fee – whether or not he would’ve paid it, I don’t know.”
According to Franco, instead of directly paying the state park for his birthday party, O’Connell donated $10,000 to the nonprofit Friends of Hearst Castle – a cooperating association of the California Department of Parks and Recreation that supports the preservation of Hearst Castle and assists with community outreach and education. According to the nonprofit group’s tax forms, O’Connell also donated another $5,000 during the 2011 fiscal year.
O’Connell assumed he had paid full price to host the events, he said, and he wasn’t aware that his $10,000 check was considered a donation rather than a payment to the state park.
“I just sent what was requested,” O’Connell said. “I paid what was asked.”
Anyone want to bet that O’Connell’s donations were out of campaign funds?
Well, were they, Jack?
In any case, O’Connell owes the state at least $29 K.