Sacramento legislator proposes American River Parkway conservancy to attract funds

Two cyclists watch an egret in a slough beside the American River Parkway bike trail June 17, 2013.
Two cyclists watch an egret in a slough beside the American River Parkway bike trail June 17, 2013. Sacramento Bee file

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty called Tuesday for the creation of an American River Parkway conservancy, expanding the recreation area’s eligibility for millions of dollars in state funds.

McCarty, D-Sacramento, made his pitch at a board meeting where Sacramento County supervisors considered options for long-standing problems at the parkway, including illegal homeless camping and wildfire problems that grew particularly severe this year.

A conservancy would have a state board, including a position for a county supervisor, responsible for administering the state funds, McCarty told supervisors. The state has given river conservancies money for water quality improvement, habitat restoration and pedestrian and bike access, among other things.

The 23-mile urban forest serves as a natural habitat and major recreation area that courses from the eastern Sacramento County suburbs to the central city. Supervisors expressed interest in the idea, noting that the county never has enough money to address the parkway’s many needs. However, supervisors said they were concerned about giving up some control over the parkway.

Supervisor Susan Peters added that Folsom and Rancho Cordova would want representation on the board, as they did when the county discussed a plan several years ago to create a “benefit assessment” district to pay for parkway services.

McCarty said the conservancy would not have any control over the day-to-day management of the parkway. It would only help decide how to spend state funding on its needs. He said he plans to introduce conservancy legislation next year.

Since 1996, $660 million of the $740 million in state funds allocated to rivers has gone to those with state conservancies, according to McCarty’s proposal.

Supervisors heard another proposal Tuesday from a new nonprofit, the American River Parkway Preservation Society, to create a new agency to take over management of the parkway. President Kris Lea spent about five minutes making the nonprofit’s presentation, which is based on a similar effort in New York City’s Central Park.

Board Chairman Phil Serna called the plan “a bit thin” and said the organization needs to make a better case for why the change is needed. A memo filed last week by Regional Parks Department Director Jeffrey R. Leatherman raised several concerns, noting that nonprofit parks authorities elsewhere still rely heavily on local government, the county would still be liable for all activities on the parkway, and a nonprofit would not be able to enforce illegal camping ordinances any differently than the county.

Lea said Tuesday that her group does not want to invest more time until it knows the county supports its efforts. She said the nonprofit could raise money in a manner the county could not.

Serna and other supervisors said they support any effort to raise more money for the parkway.