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.
The waived fees stood to benefit not only Hearst Castle, but also the 11 other parks in the San Luis Obispo Coast District.