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Editorial: Will parks in the region go to the sharks?

The deal is done.

County supervisors have turned over a public park to a private developer.

For a mere $1, Doug Ose will get to run Gibson Ranch for 10 years.

For weeks, it was clear there was little way of stopping supervisors from pursuing "this laboratory of experimentation." Ose is tight with several of the supervisors, and has helped fund some of their campaigns.

Ose also had the backing of a group of equestrians who – while they genuinely care for Gibson Ranch and are rightly angered by the county's neglect and mismanagement of this park – have a narrow self-interest in the outcome. They want to maintain a cheap place to board their horses.

Since Ose was willing to deliver this promise, they are willing to overlook his plans for transforming much of Gibson Ranch into profit-making ventures.

We had hoped that open space advocates who value the tradition of publicly owned parks, open to all, would press supervisors to consider other options.

Sadly, not enough did. Many are busy tending to parks in their neighborhoods, which is understandable. But when the lifeguards are missing, the sharks move in, as the cartoon on this page illustrates.

Although there is no turning back now, there is still a need for parks advocates to pay attention to Ose's ongoing plans.

For example, Ose announced on Wednesday that he intends to plant 12,000 to 15,000 trees for a "tree farm."

Supervisors asked a few questions and Supervisor Phil Serna, to his credit, suggested that this idea be more fully vetted by the parks commission and Dry Creek advisory committee.

But in the end, Ose rejected that, saying he would only informally tell those committees where the tree farm will be located.

Is that what we can expect of a review process for future proposed revenue generators at Gibson Ranch – such as canine day care, a pet motel, you name it?

No doubt Ose, a successful businessman, can make a thriving business out of Gibson Ranch. His various ventures will likely do well in any competition with private tree farms or other private businesses.

How could they not? Ose is paying only $1 a year for a 10-year lease.

Yet the bigger issue is the supervisors' commitment to the inherited assets of the county. Past and current county residents put in tax money to buy and develop Gibson Ranch. They didn't make this investment so current supervisors could turn it over to one of their benefactors. Yet supervisors have now betrayed them and the notion that public parks should be properly funded and maintained by the government.

Bobbie Sundberg, an advocate for Ose and the L&M concession that will run the equestrian center, let slip how her group now sees this arrangement: "Gibson Ranch County Park or whatever we're going to call it now – or if we even call it a county park."

That says it all.

Setting it straight: The original version of this editorial incorrectly identified Bobbie Sundberg as someone who boards horses at the park's equestrian center. Sundberg has never boarded horses at the center.

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