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Life Estates

The Santa Monica National Recreation Area was created by the Act of November 10, 1978, as section 507 of the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, Public Law 95-625. Enactment of the legislation did not constitute a legislative taking of all or part of the privately-owned lands, or interests therein, within the boundaries of the recreation area established by the legislation. Until such time as the government, pursuant to the legislation, acquires the lands, the property rights to the privately-owned lands, whether improved or unimproved, remain unaffected.

Initially, it should be observed that the Act exempts the acquisition of fee title to improved properties, except (1) when the Secretary determines that the lands are being used, or are threatened with uses, which are detrimental to the purposes of the recreation area, or (2) unless each acquisition is necessary to fulfill the purposes of the Act.

Improved property is defined as "a detached single-family dwelling, the construction of which was begun before January 1, 1978, together with so much of the land on which the dwelling is situated as is in the same ownership reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of the dwelling for noncommercial residential purposes...." Section 507(f).

For an improved property not exempted by the Act from acquisition, the law provided, as a matter of right, that the landowner on the date of its acquisition by the government, as a condition of such acquisition, may retain for herself or himself, her or his assigns, a right of use and occupancy of the improved property for noncommercial residential purposes, for a definite term of not more than twenty-five years, or, in lieu thereof, for a term ending at the death of the owner or the death of his or her spouse, whichever is later, at the election of the owner. The law also provided for payment to the owner the fair market value of the property on the date of its acquisition, less the fair market value on that date of the right retained by the owner. Accordingly, the value of the property and the value of the reserved use and occupancy to be deducted therefrom are determined and payment is made up front to the landowner on the date of acquisition of the property. Values are not determined at the time the reserved term expires.

If the owner of an improved property elects to reserve a right of use and occupancy for life, that interest expires automatically upon the death of the owner or the owner's spouse, whichever is later. At that point, nothing remains in the holder of the retained interest. Matters of compensation have already been resolved and payment made at the time of the government acquisition of the property--fair market value of the land and improvements on the date of acquisition, less the fair market value on that date of the right retained by the owner.

On the other hand, if the landowner elects to retain a right of use and occupancy for a definite, fixed term not to exceed twenty-five years for herself, himself, her or his heirs and assigns, the retained interest automatically expires at the end of the fixed term, whether that term is for twenty-five years or less. As in the case of a retained right of use and occupancy for life, at the end of the fixed term for years, matters of compensation for these acquisition would also have been resolved at the time the government acquired the property, and the landowners paid the fair market value of the land and improvements on the date of acquisition, less the fair market value on that date of the right retained by the owner.

Congress has expressed its concern for homeowners by making provisions for reserved rights of use and occupancy for a fixed term of years, or in lieu thereof, for life, on land qualifying as improved property in various authorizations beginning with the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961. Their use is now a standard part of National Park Service operations, with 1500 to 1600 such reservations now in existence.

Mr. YATES. Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Regula.

NPS LAND ACQUISITION Mr. REGULA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. One thing, Mr. Watt, to all of this, it seems to me

Mr. YATES. Mott, not Watt. (Laughter.]
Mr. REGULA. Watt not? I guess I had it on my mind.

Mr. Mott, listening to this it seems to me there are some tough priority choices here. That is the issue of acquiring more land, which carries with it additional operating expense, substantial costs, versus enhancing what we've got. I know before I arrived we touched on the question of the facilities at Yosemite. I did visit there last summer and know exactly what you were referring to. I've seen it in many other areas.

We're going to be faced with limited resources, without any question, for many years ahead, because of the deficit problem and the tax policy and so on. Given all of that, I think we have to make a choice. How do you see this? Which has a higher priority, land acquisition or enhancement and maintenance of what we have? That's a very fundamental policy question. It confronts this Committee.

Mr. Mott. It certainly is. I think we have to look at it from the long-term point of view.

Mr. REGULA. I realize that.

Mr. Mott. We have to–because if we don't act now, it may be that cultural and natural areas will not be available in the future. The National Park Service is not going to grow as rapidly as it did in the past, but I think there is always going to be a need for growth, for the National Park Service to take care of the recreational needs of the people of these United States. Now, we have a close relationship developing with the State Parks Department people, asking them to take care of some of these problems, assume their share of the responsibility as well as the cities and counties. But I think that there will always be growth in the National Park Service, and we have to recognize that.

My personal feeling is that neither the Congress nor the people have expressed the importance and significance of the National Parks to the people of this country both from the standpoint of the aesthetics and the economics. I think that we need to understand that without these National Parks and without State Parks we are in serious trouble as far as the general public is concerned relative to their wealth and to their economy.

Mr. REGULA. Well, I think people agree with you. They like the parks. But we still come back to the fundamental question. We have to decide whether to deal with Muir Woods, which has significant problems. You said people like the parks, that's true, but they like to have good sanitation, they like to have good facilities, etc. Muir Woods needs them, Golden Gate needs them. On and on. The problem is, we have a limited number of dollars. This question you mentioned about Tall Grass. What will that cost us to do that? How many dollars are we talking about?

Mr. MOTT. I think the estimated cost there is somewhere in the neighborhood of at least $10 million to $15 million.

Mr. REGULA. Probably a modest estimate when you get to a court of law and a jury decides on how much we give them.

Mr. Mott. The value of land in that area is going down. I think there are some very tough decisions that we have to make. As the Secretary says, there are lots of problems in the National Park system. What we have to deal with is the critical problems, if we are to work in accordance with the budget and the money that's available to us.

There are water lines that need to be replaced, but they don't need to be replaced today. They can be replaced tomorrow, or the next day. We have, with this new maintenance program, a very good handle on that.

There are some very difficult, hard decisions that we have to make. Our people are beginning to recognize that money is not going to be as easy to come by as it has been in the past. We are gearing our management program and our whole operation accordingly.

Mr. REGULA. I will say that the Park Service people are as good as any group in Government at making do, if you will, because they've had to. I think they're very dedicated people, your staff personnel. They make the best of limited resources. Nevertheless, they can only do so much with a building or whatever. I think the pressures are going to be enormous in the years to come, with population growing. The workweek will probably be reduced in time, transportation may become easier, and we need to anticipate that. But we're back to a very fundamental question.

Should we be concentrating our resources on maintenance and enhancement rather than land acquisition?

FEE LEGISLATION Mr. Mott. I think that Congress acted very wisely in providing us with fee legislation. If it wasn't for the fee legislation, we would be probably $50 million short in the 1989 budget. But because of the fee legislation, we will have the money to do the things that need to be done.

The public has accepted the fees. We have received virtually no letters of condemnation with regard to putting the fees into effect. I think we're going to see that kind of attitude on the part of the public. They're willing to pay to help the National Park Service maintain its quality, provided that money comes to the National Parks.

Mr. REGULA. My understanding is that in spite of the fee increases your voluntary contributions have at least been constant or gone up. Is that correct?

Mr. Mott. In most cases, they've paid their fees to come into the park and they're still contributing and in most cases more than they'd contributed before.

PARKS VOLUNTEERS

Now the other thing that we're doing: we had 29,000 volunteers last year helping us to do the interpretative work, office work, maintenance, and so forth. That's a large number of people willing to contribute their time and their talents to help maintain and develop the National Parks. We're going to see more of that kind of thing.

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Mr. REGULA. I agree. I think that's one of the great untold sto ries of the Park Service—the success of your volunteer program When you talk to these people out in the parks, their enthusiasm is a tremendous asset.

Mr. Dicks. Would you yield for a moment? What does the Park Service do to spur on this volunteerism?

Is there a regular program to try and get-

Mr. Mort. We have a regular program and we have our program of training for the volunteers. We encourage this through various advertisements or stories in the newspaper, things of that sort. People are very willing to assist in that program.

I think that one of the things that you should understand is that when we take over a natural area or a cultural area, or one of the 26 million artifacts that are part of the National Parks system, we take over that responsibility forever. Your children, your greatgrandchildren expect to go to Yosemite and Yellowstone and Inde pendence Hall and so forth. They expect that to be there forever. And that's an awesome responsibility that we've taken on. We are now getting our cataloging in shape. We're getting our artifacts put in satisfactory condition. We are getting our research program so it functions to provide us with the data that we need to make good judgment decisions.

Our people in the National Parks are very interesting people. They care for each other, they care for the resources. And they care for the visitors who come through the park. And because of that caring attitude, they do a great deal more than normally would be expected of an employee.

Mr. HODEL. Mr. Chairman, just for the record, the figure I used at the press briefing was 39,000 volunteers and that figure is correct.

NPS LAND ACQUISITION Mr. REGULA. One last question, Mr. Chairman. I notice, Mr. Mott, that your budget request for land acquisition is $15.8 million. Acquisition of the Tall Grass Prairie would take every dollar of that.

Mr. Mott. Assuming that Congress approves it-the Tall Grass Prairie-they would appropriate the funds necessary for it.

The $15 million that we have in the budget is basically for buying inholdings and so on. It is not for expansion of the system or for buying new lands.

Mr. REGULA. What kind of a number do you think would be involved in the operation of the Tall Grass Prairie, if we were to make the acquisition?

Mr. Mott. I don't have that figure. We do have a figure of what it would cost us, but I would have to check this to be sure. It's about $290,000 per year.

Mr. REGULA. Thank you.

Mr. HODEL. That would not include a visitors' center and so forth. Just what would be-

Mr. Mott. That would be necessary for it to be-

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