This past Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the use of the County’s Park Charter Fund solely for projects of county-wide significance. The county planning staff worked hard throughout the year to show that the fund has been consistently used in both rural and urban areas, prove that a huge gap still exists in the county’s trail network, and identify potential parcels for connecting existing trails to unincorporated, urban, park-deficient areas. These findings demonstrated the importance of the Park Charter Fund to the county’s park system, thus eliminating the need to alter it.
For over 40 years, the voter-approved Park Charter Fund has been used to establish a stellar system of regional parks, county parks, and network of trails throughout the urban and rural areas of Santa Clara County. Originally passed in 1972, and renewed six times since, the Park Charter Fund sets aside 1.425 cents per $100 of property taxes to run the county parks and recreation department. It is without a doubt one of the most important community funded projects in the County’s history, helping maintain 44,000 acres of beautiful parks and trails for walking, jogging, and bicycling.
However, the future of the Park Charter Fund has been in question since early 2011 when Supervisors George Shirakawa and Dave Cortese sought to use the fund to address park-deficient neighborhoods in their districts. Redefining the use of the fund money would have undermined the fund’s original, voter-supported sentiment for investing in regional significant parks, trails, and open space. Although the need for nearby parks is important to every community, it is not appropriate to use this fund for small, neighborhood parks unless they are of county-wide significance. Making one-off exceptions for the use of this fund, or in any governmental program or policy, would create a slippery slope and conceivably alter the fund’s mission forever. Once that door is open, it is difficult to close—this pot of money would be susceptible to even more unintended uses.
Greenbelt Alliance and the Friends of Santa Clara County Parks, Trails, and Open Space believe the Park Charter Fund has made Santa Clara County a better place to live by protecting the region’s open space and improving the livability of its cities and towns by increasing access to parks, trails, and nature for urban and rural communities. We both submitted comments to the County Board of Supervisors, rallied public support, and testified at the county board meetings on behalf of the fund.
Thankfully, we succeeded. With public distrust of government steadily rising and current resources growing tighter and tighter, undermining the integrity of the already voter-approved Santa Clara County Park Charter Fund would have created further distrust of elected officials. This was a huge victory for the environmental community, outdoor enthusiasts, and anyone who has ever set foot in a Santa Clara County park.