East Bay parks, voters get it right
Tom Stienstra, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Voters in East Bay Area counties showed the rest of America how to run a park district by passing Measure WW with a 71 percent yes vote.
The measure allocates $500 million to the East Bay Regional Park District over the next 20 years, with 67 expansion and improvement projects already earmarked for funding. The projects include funding the Bay Trail along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay from Fremont to Martinez, buying land to expand parks already in place near Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and Sunol, and improving access to the unique Vasco Caves, which few people even know exist, among dozens of projects.
The likely key to voter approval is that the measure did not increase tax rates, but extended a similar 1988 measure. That measure led to the purchase of 34,000 acres of open space and parkland, and funded hundreds of local park projects, including building more than 100 miles of new trails. The East Bay Regional Park District now has 65 parks, 98,000 acres and roughly 1,100 miles of trails, including 29 trails that connect parks.
To pay for it, homeowners pay $10 per year per $100,000 assessed value, so owners of a home assessed at $500,000, for instance, would pay $50 per year. In turn, most of the parks have no entrance fees, so annual budgets are not at the mercy of fluctuations in visitation, such as with the state park system, or the state budget issues. This funding structure has become a model for park districts across America.
"This is a major endorsement of the East Bay Regional Park District," said Pat O'Brien, general manager of the park district. "Approval of this measure during this time of severe economic problems make this approval even more significant." For information: http://ebparks.org