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WW seeking big new money for East Bay Parks

on October 30, 2008


After its first approval 20 years ago, a local park development measure running out of money is back on the ballot this fall. The East Bay Regional Park District is asking residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties to vote for Measure WW, which would raise up to $500 million through government bonds.

The money raised would replenish a dwindling supply of funds that have been levied since 1988 through Measure AA, the last bond issue aimed at East Bay parks.   Measure AA raised $225 million for the park system, less than half the amount currently being sought.  If the new measure is approved, the parks system would invest the money in over 5 dozen projects, including expanding and restoring an eight-mile park along the East Bay shoreline; establishing an interpretive visitor facility and indoor meeting at Las Trampas; and restoring bird habitat at the Hayward Shoreline. According to East Bay Parks officials, Measure AA has already benefited Tilden Park and its Environmental Education Center, Wildcat Canyon Park, Brooks Island, Eastshore State Park, and Point Pinole.

As the local population increased, East Bay Parks officials said, the district used the funds to acquire new parklands, which prevents overcrowding of recreational spaces. “It allowed us to keep up with the expansion of the population,” said Dave Collins, Assistant General Manager of Finances at East Bay Parks.  Funds raised through Measure AA have preserved 34,000 acres of open space, developed 100 miles of new trails, and funded hundreds of local parks and recreation projects, according to East Bay Parks officials.

Opponents of Measure WW said they feel the funds would be misdirected. “This is an environmental distraction,” said John Grigsby, spokesperson for No On Measure WW, a group of self-identified hikers, mountain bikers, and environmentalists who say they don’t trust East Bay Parks. “Sometimes they leave parks in worse condition than they got them,” said Grigsby, referring to East Bay Parks employees. He pointed out that there are “1000 miles of ugly, steep, erosive ranch” and service roads in EBRPD parks. “Year after year, he said, the District scrapes away at these roads with bulldozers, graders, and other heavy equipment, and the result is a horrible eyesore.”

Instead, the group is advocating for more money to fund the California State Parks system, which they say is underfunded. “They run their parks much better,” Grigsby said. He pointed out that while East Bay Parks alone spent $143 million last year, the California state park system spent $344 million in 2006.

Measure WW supporters said that because the measure seeks to raise funds in a similar fashion to Measure AA, there is no reason to oppose it. “We really don’t see why anybody won’t support it,” said Kathryn Raymond, Executive Director of the Friends of Oakland’s Parks and Recreation, which supports Measure WW. “We have been paying for these services for years,” she added. She credited her organization with having 500 active families in the region.

Members of No On Measure WW said they are not opposing WW because of the
 country’s faltering economy. “We are not making that argument,” Grigsby said. “People have to decide for themselves.”

If passed, Measure WW will allow EBRPD to borrow up to $500 million from banks and other investors. This money will then be paid back by collecting $10 annually, over 20 years, per $100,000 of a homeowner’s property value.  “We are not asking for a tax increase,” said Collins, who noted that
 the East Bay Regional Park District was created in 1934. “During the height of 
the Depression, he said, people recognized the need to pay for 
community well-being.”

“If people like the current level of maintenance of our parks,” he
 said, “they should know that Measure WW will help maintain it.”


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