Re-Financing the East Bay’s Parks: Measure WW


On a grey, late Sunday afternoon, El Cerrito resident Sherman Lam returns from hiking with his family and his dog in the tall bluffs overlooking the city, part of the 90 acres of the El Cerrito Hillside Natural area.

“We come here quite often. It’s kind of like a Sunday outing for us,” Lam says, as he waits by his car at the bottom of the hill for his wife and daughter. “My wife also likes to come here during the week with her friends and walk.”

On November 4, Lam and other residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties will vote on a proposal to extend an existing regional park bond measure to the tune of $500 million. The bond money will uphold ongoing park district projects including urban creek restoration, wildlife protection and additional land purchases according to park district officials.

“It’s about having the opportunity to acquire more parkland while it is still available,” said Jack Kenny, Chief of Parks for the East Bay Regional Park District.

The money will also be used to acquire, develop, and improve local and regional parks, trails, and recreational facilities for East Bay residents.

Measure WW is an extension of original bond Measure AA, passed in 1988, which imposed a maximum $10 tax per year on every $100,000 of assessed property valuation, according to the park district website. For the owner of a $300,000 house, this would translate into paying about $30 a year.

“The good thing about this measure is that it doesn’t raise taxes. It’s just continuing [Measure AA] for another 20 years,” said Kenny.

If voters approve, 75 percent of the new money will go towards buying new parkland and funding projects, and 25 percent will go to cities and local park districts, like El Cerrito’s.

Melanie Mintz of the El Cerrito Public Works Department estimates that about 1 million of the bond money would go to the city. How this money would be spent has yet to be determined, she said.

“Parks and recreational facilities are an integral part of our community,” said Mintz.
“Whatever funding sources can be developed to enhance or expand, or to maintain them – are helpful to local governments.”

Of the over 60 planned projects that would receive funding from the new measure, Kenny listed restoration of urban creeks, extending the Bay Trail, renovating Eastshore State Park, and upgrading the environmental education center in Tilden Park as high priority projects.

Measure WW has rankled some East Bay residents, including John Grigsby, an engineer from Oakland and one of the three creators of No on Measure WW, a grassroots organization with a website devoted to decrying the East Bay Regional Park District’s park stewardship.

Grigsby describes No on Measure WW as a small group of “ fairly typical East Bay working professionals” who are environmentalists and cyclists.

Grigsby’s organization maintains that two-thirds of the park system’s acreage is used for industrial cattle and sheep production. He said the regional park district offers very limited trail access for cyclists, and in 2006, the park district used more than its fair share of funding from the state park budget.

“People need to look at what their money has been buying and what their money has been spent to maintain,” said Grigsby.

Before voting to put Measure WW on the November ballot, the park district board hired a polling firm to determine support for an extension bond measure, and the latest poll showed over 72 percent of respondents in support. The bond requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Despite a faltering economy, which Kenny said might influence voters to reject the measure, Kenny remained optimistic that residents would see the benefit in funding the regional park system.

“Protecting the quality of life in the East Bay is what the measure plans to do,” he said. “There is a history of people knowing the value of parks and open spaces in the East Bay.”

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