September 23, 2008
New Belmont Parks and Recreation Director Dreams Big
By Jessica Bernstein-Wax
Belmont's new parks and recreation director has big plans for his department -- plans he says could raise property values citywide and help keep local teens out of trouble.
Jonathan Gervais took office just last month but he is already exploring how to increase his department's $5 million budget by about 50 percent over the next five years through stepped-up volunteer recruitment, donations, grants and the possible formation of a nonprofit.
"If we really do our jobs right, we should see secondary indicators like housing prices go up," Gervais said. "If you have a great parks-and-rec program, people will recognize that and want to live here."
In addition, better youth programs and an expanded teen center could reduce confrontations between the city's police force and teenagers, who "don't have much to do" once school lets out, he said.
Gervais is an eight-year veteran of the National Park Service, where he held various titles including environmental planner and senior project manager.
"Jonathan is one of those people who you would instantly hire back," said Keith Dunbar, Gervais' former supervisor at the park service. "He brings both common sense intelligence and a very personable style to anything he approaches."
The 39-year-old father of two has lived in Belmont since 2002 and served on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and Green Advisory Committee.
Adam Politzer, Gervais' predecessor and Sausalito's current city manager, described the new director as "a person with vision who cares."
"He lives there in town, which is a very rare asset to have in one of your key employees in the city," Politzer said.
And Gervais is no recent transplant to the Bay Area. Growing up across the street from San Francisco's Golden Gate Park sparked in Gervais an early sense of the need for wildlife in urban settings.
"The park to me was peace. It was a place to relax, reduce stress, engage the natural environment," Gervais said, adding that he hopes to give Belmont's youth the same appreciation of the outdoors by encouraging them to explore the city's 302 acres of open space -- and even go fishing at Water Dog Lake.
Gervais' other plans for Belmont center on getting residents more involved with his department through regular programs, community outreach and special events. That participation would make people more enthusiastic about donating their time and money to improve department offerings, he said.
Officials selected Gervais from a pool of about 40 applicants, in part because of his knowledge of the city and solid record with the park service, City Manager Jack Crist said.
"His manner is kind of low-key so people feel comfortable approaching him and talking to him," Crist added. "The guy is just really good at finding solutions to problems and challenges."
E-mail Jessica Bernstein-Wax at [email protected]
Resume: Worked for the National Park Service from 2000 to 2008.
Previously worked as an environmental consultant for various federal agencies.
Graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor's degree in political science.
Personal: Lives with his wife and two daughters in Belmont.
Grew up in San Francisco's Richmond District.
Favorite Belmont recreation area: Water Dog Lake
Originally published by Jessica Bernstein-Wax, MediaNews.
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