CASTAIC LAKE LIKELY TO STAY OPEN

The Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed fee hikes for Castaic Lake on Tuesday in an effort to plug a budget shortfall that has county officials threatening to terminate lake operations Oct. 1.

The board's decision, which set Sept. 23 for a public hearing to discuss fee hikes of $2 per day, comes after several near-closures of the lake, including a Sept. 7 deadline that was barely dodged with a last-minute allocation of general funds last week.

Combined with a state contribution, the fee hikes would keep the lake open.

"The idea here is that this action will hopefully join an effort by the state to solidify a partnership in order to keep the lake open," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose 5th District includes Castaic and who made the motion to increase fees.

The proposed fee increase is meant to send a message to the state that the county is doing its part to keep the lake open, according to Sheila Ortega, spokeswoman for the county department of parks and recreation.

"This goes hand-in-hand with a continuing effort to find a long-term solution," Ortega said.

The impasse over Castaic Lake began in June, when the county passed a budget that did not include the $1.8 million necessary to operate Los Angeles County's largest lake. Since then, county officials have been threatening to relinquish operation to the state.

Although the county operates the lake -- and is under contract to do so until 2017 -- the state owns the land and if the county shirked its obligation, state officials say the lake would be fenced and shut down. The lake is popular among boaters, fishing enthusiasts and swimmers.

But state officials say that if the county quits operation of the lake, it will be in breach of contract, a claim that county officials refute.

Regardless, each time a closure deadline has approached, the county has found the money to delay the lake's closure for weeks at a time in hopes of reaching a solution with the state.

Starting Oct. 1, the total required to continue operating the lake will be $1.3 million.

Last week, Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge, said the state may be able to contribute $900,000, leaving a more manageable sum for the county to make up, Ortiz said.

So after the state's contribution, the fee hikes and some operational cutbacks, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, Ortiz said.

"You can see, we've been really, really trying to make this work," she said.

If passed, the vehicle entry and boat launch fees at the Castaic Lake Recreation Area would go from $6 to $7. Those hikes would be effective from Oct. 1 through April 30, at which point each rate would go up by another dollar.

"There is state law that ties us in with state fees and we cannot go above a certain cap. This is in the neighborhood of the cap," Ortega said