For all appearances, the Sacramento County regional parks system is in deep disarray.
The director has resigned. The budget calls for eliminating the operations chief, farming out planning to other departments and reducing the number of rangers and maintenance staff.
The park system is closer to being defunded and abolished.
Yet there is some hope on the horizon.
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Last May, the Board of Supervisors decided to explore a range of options for a different governance and financing structure with the aim of putting a measure on the November 2012 ballot. They charged a grassroots working group to identify options for securing "adequate, stable, long-term funding" for parks.
The group presented its recommendation last week (www.sara riverwatch.org/grassroots.php), after it spent a year conducting meetings, raising private funds for park consultants – including the Trust for Public Lands and Dangermond Group – to study options, and polling voters in February.
Supervisors want to know what would pass muster with voters. The poll indicated that likely voters prefer:
Sales tax over a parcel tax. That way people from outside the county who visit parks would pay, too, not putting the burden only on the county's property owners.
New revenue should not supplant existing county money that currently goes to parks. Supervisors, by contrast, hoped that they could zero out park funding and use that money for other purposes.
An independent parks district that would take over operation of all the county's parks, with its own elected board.
Funds should go to the 17 special parks districts and four city park systems, including Sacramento, Folsom, Galt and Isleton, and not just to the county's regional park system.
A sunset date. The group settled on a 20-year sunset, like the first Measure A for parks.
Now, supervisors need to shape enabling legislation, and win state legislative approval of it, to get something on the 2012 ballot. The board will need to tweak details over the next several months, and coordinate with others who may seek 2012 ballot measures.
Between 1990 and 2010, 45 of 77 parks and recreation ballot measures passed in California. This would be an uphill battle in Sacramento County, but failure means a deeper downward spiral for this once thriving park system.