August 29, 2005 - From the August, 2005 issue

Trust for Public Land Urges Passage of Parks Bond for Wild Space, Urban Parks

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that works nationwide to conserve parks and open space for people to enjoy. TPL is supporting a proposed California bond measure that would help set aside thousands of acres of open space in urban, rural, and wilderness areas. MIR spoke with Larry Kaplan, TPL's Los Angeles area director, and Rachel Dinno, Director of Government Relations for the TPL's western region about this bond.

Larry Kaplan

Rachel, a new state parks bond is being considered for the ballot in 2006. Since 2000, voters have approved two park bonds and two water bonds. Is there a need for another park bond?

Rachel Dinno: The protection of our natural resources and growth of our state parks system, wildlife areas, and urban parks depends solely on voter-approved bond funds. According to the legislative budget committees, as of next year all bond funds will be fully allocated. Essentially, we will have no more funding for resource protection. To address this issue, a coalition of conservation groups, including the Trust for Public Land, is working to pass a resources bond through the legislature. Senator Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) and Senator Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) are carrying the bond, SB 153, on which all of us are working to get on to the ballot by either June of 2006 or the November 2006 election.

Expand on the dollar size and the contents of this proposed bond. What will its priorities be? Will it include funding for more than just park projects?

RD: The current bond as drafted is a $3.8 billion resource bond, which includes funds for water quality, clean beaches, river parkways, and coastal protection. It provides funding for wildlife protection, conservation of our forestlands and working landscapes, such as agricultural land and grazing land, as well as funding for the creation and expansion state and local parks.

There have been information sessions and stakeholder planning meetings around the state about this bond this past year. What have you gleaned from those meetings about what ought to be in the bond? What funding priorities have and have not been included in the bond to date?

LK: The proposal, SB 153, is quite similar to what was in Proposition 40. Let's face it: there is a greater need for resource protection than there are funds. We must take a comprehensive approach to resource protection in the state. So, what you see in SB153, I think, comes out of all of the meetings with the stakeholders, the urban groups that have met. There have been groups representing constituencies in L.A. and the Bay Area. The end product is a pretty broad measure that has something for everyone. There is funding for urban inner-city parks, and there is funding for things like the various conservancies throughout the state. There is funding for the Santa Monica Mountains. There is funding for the San Gabriel River Conservancy. There is funding for the Coastal Conservancy, and for working landscape protection. There is funding for air quality and water quality.

The urban program has funding both on a per capita basis, which goes directly to cities and counties. It also has funding in competitive grant programs that reward certain types of projects such as joint use, in addition to projects that address very specific needs that have been identified, for instance, the health disparities in very low-income neighborhoods that address the problem of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes. Just a whole, broad range.

Could you assess for our readers how well the money from the previous state park bonds has been spent? Given the size and the overwhelming public support for the past park bond measures, are stakeholders pleased with how the bonds have been utilized?

RD: The bonds in 2000 and 2002 helped compensate for the lack of investment in our natural resources during the 1990s. In that entire decade, we did not have a single resources bond. The last bond funds went quickly to make up for that lack of investment. The Chesbro/Murray bond will address the needs of our growing population. According to the latest demographic information the state of California is projected to grow by 12 million people by the year 2025. This is the equivalent of adding the combined populations of the states of Oregon, Washington and Nevada to our current population.

We need to look at what our state is going to look like, and how we are going to make sure that the quality of life for everyone in this state – and everyone coming to this state is preserved – and that we have places to recreate, that we have buffer lands between our communities, that we have open space areas, that we have protected our forest lands, that we have urban parks, and places for kids to play, that we have protected coastal properties and access to our beaches, and that we have protected the land along our rivers, lakes, and streams, making sure that in the future as population grows, we are not contaminating our own drinking water.

LK: We have also protected the agricultural land in our state. One of these days, people are going to go into supermarkets and they are going to look at the fruits and vegetables, and it is all going to say product of Mexico or Chile, or something like that. It is really important to protect the agricultural resources in this state, as well as urban parkland, and open spaces on the urban fringe. It really is about being proactive in order to address what is inevitably going to happen. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, metro L.A. is the most densely populated urban area in the United States. Of course everyone immediately asks, "What? Denser than New York?" But, you know, when you look at the numbers, yes.

California is going to have huge population growth in the next couple of decades, and this bond will help us create a balance to the growth.

Address how the new bond's goals will meet the needs of California. Trust for Public Land has been a transaction-oriented organization for over a quarter of a century. Surely, one of the challenges of working in urban areas, as opposed to exurban and unpopulated areas of California, is how to site parks within the fabric of our urban landscape. Don't urban parks therefore require collaboration with housing developers, city agencies, and school districts? Elaborate on the challenges in our urban communities and how they differ from the challenges that TPL has encountered in the past.

LK: There are a lot of challenges. The obvious one is the cost of land is very high. Everyone is aware of the real estate market, and that affects everything. It is competition because of the growth and because of the –especially in the last 5 or 10 years or so – growing trend of urban infill. So, we are now working in neighborhoods that five years ago developers were not interested in, but now they are interested in doing infill. So, we are competing against housing developers. We are competing in Los Angeles against school development because, again, we are all looking in the same neighborhoods, so there is competition.

Something that has gotten a little easier, although it is still somewhat of a challenge, is brownfield recycling, developing on contaminated properties. There has been a lot of growth in terms of the public and government agencies' understanding of the issues of recycling contaminated properties, so it has actually made it easier. And it is also getting people to think outside the box, and I will give you two examples.

One example, one that you know about with New Schools/Better Neighborhoods, is getting public agencies to say that joint use is something that makes sense, and we have to figure out a way to make it work, and there has been mixed success. As I have said before, a lot of the really cutting-edge stuff that is happening in L.A. is happening not necessarily in the city with LAUSD but in the smaller independent cities in places like Glendale, Lawndale, Paramount, and Pasadena, where they do think outside the box in the school districts or local cities.


Then the other thing is, I guess, in the same category but a little more germane to park districts. Often, I am asked "How are we going to build parks in L.A., which has no land?" You have to change the way you think about parks in urban neighborhoods, especially in a place like L.A. where the lack of access in certain neighborhoods can only be addressed by creating small parks-neighborhood parks, some people call them pocket parks. Rather than the 10, 15, 20 acre traditional suburban style park, It might be a half an acre. If it is an acre, it is a lot, and there might not be a soccer field, but it is something. It creates breathing room. It creates public space in a neighborhood.

You mentioned that there is some funding that encourages some thinking outside the box for joint use of parks and other public facilities. Can you elaborate on that?

LK: A few years ago, Assemblymember Dario Frommer (D-Los Angeles) authored the Urban Parks Act, which is funded in the current bond act. In the Urban Park Act there are specific provisions and incentives to do joint use, as well as create new pocket parks, community gardens, and alternative stewardship models.

RD: We must look at what our park and recreation needs will be in the future and how to plan for that future today. In the past, we have created parks and open space, but the areas where we created the parks and open space on the fringe, rather than in the heart of, our communities. The result; today, we find that our children do not have access to places to play. Our communities and neighborhoods need new pocket parks, in places where the children live and play.

TPL launched a "Greenprinting" GIS project in L.A., which identified where there is little if any green space relative to population. As a result, TPL has helped fund a new Parks for People program which promises to site 25 new parks in urban Los Angeles over the next five years. Link these two initiatives to the prospects of having more resources in this new park bond.

LK: We can't yet; we can't do anything without the money. So, the link is kind of obvious. In the Parks for People program we seek private philanthropic support to give us the wherewithal we need to go out and tap into this public funding so we can do these 25 projects in the next five years. And the Parks for People is also broader because the other thing that we are doing is trying to identify other funding sources, not only private sources, but other public funding sources.

You had something in your last newsletter about the recent court ruling on benefit assessment districts, which was wonderful news for us, because we are aggressively marketing, for lack of a better word, the concept of benefit assessment districts for cities as well as the county, all across Los Angeles, as a way of generating public funding on a local level. And they fit together if a city passes a benefit assessment district. For instance, Santa Clarita has got a city-wide benefit assessment district coming up this fall, and if they pass their thing, and then the voters pass the park bond in 2006, Santa Clarita is going to be in a great position because they are going to have local funding. They are going to be able to use it to leverage state funding and do some really important conservation work up there. So it is really important that localities also step up to the plate and not just leave it up to the state to solve all of their problems.

With all of the pressing priorities for metropolitan communities of California, including traffic, crime, and public health, how do you justify putting another park bond on the ballot?

RD: The state has many infrastructure needs, of which transportation, health, public safety, education are on the leading edge. But we cannot turn our backs on our natural resources. Childhood obesity, a lack of clean water, and unhealthy air to breathe will cost our state and the citizens of this state much more than it will to prevent these problems.

LK: And in an urban environment, parks, playgrounds, community gardens, etc. are just as important to community development and community revitalization as jobs, housing, education, and public safety. They are inextricably linked. I mentioned before that people need to think outside the box. Well, one of the things that I am tired of hearing people talk about the parks as an amenity. An amenity is fake wood grain on the dashboard of your car. That is an amenity. Parks are a necessity. They are just as important to healthy communities as good housing, good jobs, places for people to buy goods and services.

That is in the urban context. As far as in the open space context, it is also just as important. For example, watershed protection is critical, and one of things that water engineers are starting to understand is that watershed protection can be a more cost-effective way of protecting the drinking water supply than building some kind of treatment plant.

RD: One thing that is often not looked at close enough is how much the protection of our natural resources enhances our economy. California's dramatic landscapes draw millions of visitors from throughout the world which helps make the tourism industry in our state one of the state's top industries. Annually, tourism and travel in California alone generates over $75 billion in direct economic activity. It supports over one million jobs, generating over $5 billion in direct state and local tax revenues. We certainly want to continue to help make the tourism industry thrive in California.

Let's conclude with this: Give us the schedule of what is going to happen over the next six to nine months as this bond measure moves along. What can our readers expect? What are the benchmarks?

RD: Passage of the bond, from what we have seen in the last four years can either occur through a legislatively approved bond measure of which Senator Chesbro is leading that effort. The bond has passed out of the Senate and is now being considered in the Assembly. With the support of all Californians we hope that legislative leadership will take this issue up early next year and decide to put it on the June or November ballot for the voters to decide. If, due to other political considerations, it is not taken up by the legislature, I imagine that a coalition of conservationists will come together to put it before the voters with a citizen initiative as they did with the last measure, Prop 50, which the voters overwhelmingly approved.


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