Bay Area visitors will be denied entry to national parks and tax returns will be thrust into limbo if Congress fails to reach an appropriations agreement by the end of the week.

Representatives of various government agencies said they were still hopeful today a shutdown could be avoided this weekend, but local politicians expressed concern as Bay Area offices prepared for the worst.

“Unfortunately we are in the midst of a political meltdown, and it’s going to affect all of us,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said today during a phone conference with constituents.

President Obama said during a speech Wednesday that a government shutdown this weekend would have “real effects on everyday Americans,” including those waiting for tax rebates.

Hundreds of thousands of government workers would go without paychecks, and mortgages and other loans could be jeopardized, the president said.

Locally, Alcatraz Island, Fort Point and Muir Woods would be among the National Park Service facilities closed in the event of a shutdown, spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said.

Gated parking lots and visitor centers would be closed, and access to park areas denied, according to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the national parks.

Visitors using overnight campgrounds and other accommodations would be given 48 to make alternative arrangements.

The Park Service would retain just enough employees to protect life and property on public lands, meaning some law enforcement, emergency services and firefighting personnel would be retained, the interior department said.

Those workers would count as “excepted” employees, or those who report to work without pay during a shutdown and are reimbursed retroactively, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Furloughed workers, however, are not paid and not permitted to work, and they only receive back pay if Congress specially approves it.

Although federal agencies do not have the authority to pay their employees during a shutdown, all workers continue to be covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program.

Military and essential law enforcement personnel fall into the excepted employee category.

FBI personnel in the field would continue to work, including in the San Francisco field office, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman said. Drug trafficking and gun violence operations would continue as usual.

Federal prisons would remain open, and criminal litigation would continue as an “activity essential to the safety of human life and protection of property,” DOJ spokeswoman Jessica Smith said.

The U.S. Marshals Service would also continue transporting detainees, providing security for judges and courts, and working in the field, she said.

A government shutdown would mostly affect civil litigation, community outreach to victims of crime, and processing of grants, she said.

Military personnel participating in operations “essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of our national security,” are also excepted from shutting down, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

They too would not be paid during the shutdown, but military retirees and annuitants are not paid from appropriated funds and would continue to receive benefits.

Inpatient and essential outpatient care in U.S. Department of Defense treatment facilities would also continue, including at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Judi Cheary said.

The hospital will remain open and the facility’s clinics will function regardless of the budget negotiations, she added.

The U.S. Postal Service would not be affected by the shutdown because it Is not funded with any tax dollars, San Francisco postal district spokesman James Wigdel said.

Stamps and service fees fund all of the post office’s activities, he said, and the department will continue accepting passport applications even if the government shuts down.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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