October 2, 2008

Pass Measure WW, Expand Parks, Space

By Editorial

FOUR YEARS AGO, the East Bay Regional Park District and Contra Costa supervisors devised a proposal to buy undeveloped land in 13 locations in the county. It was a well-meaning plan to obtain land for parks.

Unfortunately, the method of raising funds was flawed and just this year was found to be unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court. That is why we reluctantly opposed the 2004 proposal, as did the voters.

We also urged park district officials to come back with a bond measure to raise money for the purchase of new land and to fund improvements to parks and trails. They did with Measure WW, which will be on the November ballot and deserves the enthusiastic support of voters.

Money from the 1988 regional park bond is running out, and new revenues are needed to expand and upgrade the East Bay's world- class park system.

Measure WW would authorize the park district to issue as much as $500 million in general obligation bonds, financed by an extension of the property tax similar to the one under the existing 1988 bond measure. There would be a tax ceiling of $10 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation of properties.

With all of the bad financial news, voters may be reluctant to approve a large bond measure this year, but that would be a mistake.

In fact, the park district got its start during a far more economically difficult time, the Great Depression.

That's when local leaders with vision raised funds to buy large tracts of land in what was then a sparsely populated area.

Today, the park system has more than 97,000 acres in 65 parks that offer recreation and serenity to millions of people in an urban and suburban region.

With continued population growth in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, funds from Measure WW are needed to buy and preserve open space before it is developed. Once land is in the park system, it will remain open space indefinitely.

Measure WW is a carefully thought out plan with 67 separate projects to buy land, improve facilities and expand trails throughout the East Bay.

Three-quarters of the money will be used for regional park land acquisitions, open space preservation, new parks and trails, environmental maintenance and rehabilitation of aging park facilities.

The remaining one-quarter of the money will fund city parks and recreation departments.

Among the projects that would be funded by Measure WW are: a completion of the Bay Trail from Fremont to Martinez; a new trail from the Carquinez Strait to Sunol; the acquisition and development of open space at the Concord Naval Weapons Station; expansion of the Eastshore State Park in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, Albany and Emeryville; and completion of the Bay Ridge Trail from the Carquinez Strait to Mission Peak.

There are numerous other smaller but important projects that will enhance the quality of life for millions of East Bay residents and set aside more open space for future generations.

Although $500 million is a lot of money, the benefits are well worth it. Besides, Measure WW will replace a current tax, not add a new burden to property owners.

In 1988, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure AA to expand district parkland. Two decades later, it's time to do it again by voting yes on Measure WW.

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