The Santa Clara County Parks Charter Fund is the primary source of funding for county parks and trails maintenance and for acquisition of new park lands. Created by voters forty years ago, not by raising taxes but by setting aside a portion of existing taxes for this purpose, its purpose is to fund parks and trails “of countywide significance,” i.e. that benefit residents throughout Santa Clara County. The Parks Charter Fund has never been used to fund small neighborhood parks or playgrounds. However, that may change on June 5, when the Board of Supervisors considers a proposal to allow the Parks Charter Fund to be used for small parks in urban unincorporated areas.
Committee for Green Foothills believes that the intent of the voters to provide funding for regional parks and trails should be respected. However, CGF also recognizes that some unincorporated urban areas do not have nearby access to parks and trails that would provide all residents with the opportunity to enjoy safe, healthy outdoor activity, as well as the natural beauty for which the Bay Area is famous. Therefore, CGF is supporting an alternative proposal that will maintain the Charter Fund’s policy of funding only parks and trails of countywide significance, but that will prioritize funding for trails located in urban areas that are deficient in park resources. For example, the Coyote Creek Trail, the Three Creeks Trail, and the Guadalupe River Trail all have the potential to provide opportunities for jogging, hiking, and biking to urban areas that currently have no easy access to County parks resources. These trails, unlike small neighborhood parks, would fit within the current County policy of “countywide significance.”
The proposal to change the County policy on the use of the Parks Charter Fund would require an amendment of the County’s General Plan and Parkland Acquisition Plan. This permanent change in official County policy would potentially open the door to the Charter Fund being drained of the resources needed to acquire and maintain regional parks as intended by the voters. In finding a middle ground where parks needs of unincorporated urban areas can be met through funding regional trails that run through those areas, CGF hopes to preserve the integrity of the County Parks Charter Fund and maintain our world-class county parks system for the benefit of the whole county.
UPDATE 6/5/12: At the meeting today, the Board of Supervisors deferred the vote on this issue until August.