Russian Billionaire Saves Fort Ross

State park represents early Russian settlement of North America

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Will Luo
    The 19th century chapel built by Russian settlers at Fort Ross will remain standing at least in part thanks to Russian billionaire Victor Vekselberg.

    At a dinner in San Francisco on Tuesday evening, Russian billionaire Victor Vekselberg signed an agreement with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to provide money to keep Fort Ross State Park open and in full operation.

    Schwarzenegger's threat to close Fort Ross along with all the other state parks made big enough news in Russia last year that the government sent its ambassador for a visit.

    It's a nice gesture -- and a beautiful park -- but depending on billionaires and other private interests to swoop in and save public lands doesn't exactly seem feasible as a long term solution for the state's budget crisis.

    Fort Ross was originally settled by Russian colonists in 1812, who settled the area along the Sonoma Coast as far south as Bodega Bay.

    Vekselberg, president of the Renova Group, which owns stakes in a number of companies including oil and aluminum producers, was in town this week alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as part of the ongoing goodwill tour.

    The private, nonprofit Renova Fort Ross Foundation promises to find "a long-standing solution" to the state park's finances, which were short $800,000 in 2009 thanks to state budget cuts imposed by Schwarzenegger.

    Vekselberg has a fascination with his country's history, and toured the museum and grounds the morning before signing the deal.

    A measure to fund State Parks through a surcharge on vehicle license fees will be on the ballot in November.

    Jackson West loves that area of California dearly, but billionaire business oligarchs? Not so much.