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Your park, Your park, delivered 

Welcome to Montaña de Oro, brought to you by AT&T. It’s not a reality yet, but in an effort to keep Montaña de Oro free, some are hoping AT&T could become a corporate sponsor of sorts.

By 2010, SLO County officials will have to make a choice that could result in a kiosk and park entrance fees or paying upwards of $50,000 per year to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Although Montaña de Oro is a state park, SLO County maintains some of the property, including the main access road and Morro Bay Golf Course. More land was recently added to Montaña de Oro, but part of the agreement was that SLO County would bear part of the cost.

Due in part to good timing, AT&T could help keep the park free. Company representatives are seeking a state permit to lay a cross-continental fiber optic cable through Montaña de Oro and connect to an existing conduit already at the park. Once built, the cable will span from California to Hawaii to Southeast Asia.

So far, the available options lie somewhere between asking AT&T for a little charity to, if possible, mandating reimbursement. Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes the park, said he’s talking with state officials about whether the county has any authority to require compensation from AT&T as an offset to the environmental impacts from the construction operations.

If that falls through, the other option is to ask AT&T representatives for money as a show of being “a good corporate citizen,” while also giving the company a chance to cash in on good PR.

Although park entrance fees would be relatively low ($5 for a day visit or a yearly $25 pass as proposed), some in adjoining Los Osos view Montaña de Oro as one of their only community parks, Gibson said. Linde Owen, a member of the Los Osos Community Advisory Council, has been a strong advocate of working with AT&T to keep the park free.

There is a chance that AT&T could get a plaque or other type of visible recognition. That idea has not been entirely rejected, but it has some worried about the precedent for corporate sponsorship of public lands. The advisory council wrote a letter to Gibson and state park officials saying that an entrance kiosk would not be welcomed unless the cost to the public was diverted by “limited corporate sponsorship and recognition” or other third-party fundraising.

In a letter to the California State Lands Commission, Owen wrote, “As a corporate sponsor, AT&T would spend a little to gain a lot. Please give back to Los Osos and the millions who visit this wild land park.”

She told SLO County supervisors that a small AT&T sign would be OK, but did not want other companies sponsoring public lands and littering the coast with corporate logos. Gibson said he hopes to get money from AT&T, but also did not want to give them too much leeway.

“The whole concept of corporate entities … funding the operation of public lands, that’s a slippery-slope kind of question,” he said.

Company officials could not be reached by press time to respond to the idea.

The worry: welcome to the Central Coast, brought to you by Pepsi.

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