Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Morro Bay, Ca for Feb 28, 07
A couple of years ago the county Grand Jury issued a report on the often lamentable condition of our public parks. The parks division budget has been flat-lined for ages while demand for services and population and visitors have increased dramatically. The result is too few parks overburdened and falling behind in maintenance often resulting in conditions that range from merely shabby to dangerous.
To help remedy the situation, a Blue Ribbon Task Force of twelve community leaders from various disciplines came together to study the problem and now have issued a task force report which contains various suggestions for improving our parks.
The Board of Supervisors now has the opportunity to implement the findings, ignore the report, or hold public hearings to get further input on the matter and proceed accordingly.
To date, the biggest concern to hit the papers on the report is its recommendation that a separate county parks department be created and fully funded. Right now the parks department is fitted in under the General Services Department and the concern is that while tucked into General Services, the department is being treated like a red-haired step child. Naturally, that suggestion is hotly denied by Duane Leib, head of General Services, who points out that setting up a separate parks department would cost more since many services would necessarily have to be duplicated. And as for arguing that parks is getting somehow overlooked, Leib is quoted in the Tribune as saying, “I have carefully allowed parks to operate on their own agenda and have not restricted or interfered with their growth and improvement. He added that Jenny [Pete, head of the Parks division] has "always enjoyed "unfiltered access" to the Board of Supervisors.”
So there the matter sits until the BOS acts. In the meantime, the people of this county need to be thinking about some additional questions: If creating a whole new separate department would be too expensive, could the Parks Department get more bang for their buck if they hired a full time volunteer coordinator to set up an aggressively run program of community outreach to enlist the aid of volunteers willing to help in actively improving and even increasing park facilities?
As just one example, consider Off Leash Dog Parks. A few short years ago there were zero dog parks in the county. Now, thanks to Parks head Pete Jenny’s active support in partnering with volunteer groups, there are now four official fenced, properly run (by volunteers), very popular and heavily used Off Leash Dog Parks offering recreation opportunities to all in the county, with more in the works. From zero to four is an expansion and creation of NEW park facilities for very little cost to the taxpayer – all the result of actively joining public/private resources.
But it wasn’t an easy task because too often citizens wishing to create new recreational opportunities face a bewildering maze of overburdened staff, bureaucratic hurdles, the intractable stone wall of political Turf Wars, administrative indifference, or unnecessary legal entanglements, all of which could be lessened by a knowledgeable full time staff person whose sole job would be to help create and support such projects, actively seek grants to fund them and focus on ways cities, the county, the state AND private citizens could all combine forces to create these new recreation areas.
That would be one relatively easy fix. But the bigger question must rest with the community: Just how much do you value your parks? And how much are each of you willing to pay to make sure those resources are not only kept usable but expanded to meet the growing population?
It is a cruel irony of California land prices that when you can’t afford to buy park land is exactly when you need to buy park land because when you CAN afford to buy it, it’s too late, it’s all gone. So that’s the rapidly closing window of opportunity this county has before it: Fully fund both parks acquisition, fund the necessary services needed to maintain and improve the acquisitions, and get creative about finding new ways of partnering to get more bang from each buck. Or, lose it all and have to answer our grandchildren when they ask us, “Why did you turn a blind eye to a future that was not yours to squander?”