Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Beating Back Prop 13

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Beating Back Prop 13

Article excerpt

In Monterey County more was better than less.

It was 1978, and California had just passed Proposition 13, the initiative that severely cut and limited local property taxes. This dramatically reduced funding to local agencies and many parks departments faced cutbacks, service reductions, and park closures.

Monterey County Parks Department chose to meet the fiscal crisis through an approach of its own design. Rather than cutting services and costs, it chose to increase services to generate more park visitation, increase revenues, and reduce subsidies. Simultaneously, costs were aggressively contained and, where possible, transferred to nonprofit corporations and volunteers. This was accomplished without compromising the department's mission or public service philosophy.

The authors of this rather contrarian concept were Pete Dangermond, the county parks director, and his assistant director, Pete Soderberg. They had relocated to Monterey, coming from the Riverside County Parks Department where they had spent three years developing these program concepts. In Riverside they developed a systemwide plan entitled "Target Zero," which involved the upgrading and re-development of eight regional parks in the 20park system in order to increase public service, achieve financial self-sufficiency, and stimulate private enterprise jobs. Implementing the plan was costly and the board of supervisors was reluctant, so Dangermond took the concept to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, whose parks director and assistant director had both recently retired. They approved the concept as a positive way of dealing with Proposition 13.

The Monterey County Park System

In 1978, the Monterey County Park System included 13 park units encompassing 20,000 acres of land and 10,000 acres of water. There were two public 5,000-surface-acre reservoirs in South Monterey County, an unimproved automobile raceway near Monterey, a natural area preserve overlooking Monterey Bay, three large day-use parks, a landbanked future park site, and five small undeveloped sites.

After some review of potentials, Dangermond developed draft concepts of what the park system could look like if upgraded for enhanced service and revenue generation, while simultaneously preserving community cultural values. These concepts were then reviewed with individual board members, park commissioners, community opinion leaders, and department staff. As concepts were refined and strategies developed, the public service and financial potential of the park system emerged and the detailed concepts gained broad citizen and political support. This participatory approach to system-wide and individual park planning became a most important component of the overall program.

The system-wide program that emerged included upgrading the two reservoirs, the automobile racetrack, and one of the regional parks with visitor serving/revenue generating facilities and programs. The two other large dayuse parks were maintained as is, along with the natural area preserve. A youth sports complex was joint-ventured with a nonprofit who then took over operations. The five small undeveloped sites were transferred to other entities.

Eleven planning-related self-sufficiency principles and concepts were applied to the system. Seven examples are illustrated at San Lorenzo Park. (Please see companion article on page 16.)

* Create recreation destination facilities, themed upon community and regional values.

* Expand and enhance revenue-generating facilities.

* Create a balance between programs/ projects that generate net income (income centers) or net costs (cost centers).

* Create settings for private enterprise development and operations. …

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