Despite the fact that almost 70 of California’s state parks were fighting to stay open amid sweeping budget cuts, Hearst Castle reportedly waived hundreds of thousands dollars in event fees over the last decade.
According to an Oct. 21 report by the investigative reporting organization California Watch, since 2002, Hearst Castle waived approximately $611,000 in fees for 125 events held at the state park.
Those events ranged from weddings to fundraisers and cocktail parties, and typically involved prominent political figures, according to the report.
Nick Franco, superintendent for the state department of parks and recreation’s San Luis Obispo Coast District, told the organization that most of the excused events were hosted by local partnerships, but conceded that politics also figured into who paid full price and who did not.
For example, roughly $124,450—more than a fifth of the total of all waived fees—were ceded for the birthday party of former state superintendent of public instruction Jack O’Connell and a charity race benefiting the nonprofit Best Buddies hosted by former first lady Maria Shriver, the report reads.
Those waived fees wouldn’t have only benefited the Castle, but also the 11 other parks within the San Luis Obispo Coast District. Morro Strand State Park and Limekiln State Park are two such parks; both were set to close in July in the face of the budget cuts, but were granted a last-minute reprieve through additional funding from a private park management company, as well as from the district.
To compound matters, a recent investigation revealed that the state parks and recreation department had been sitting on a $54 million surplus for years, despite the threats of closures.
A spokesperson for Hearst Castle told New Times the park would be issuing a response to the report in the coming days. However, that response hadn’t been released as of press time.