Editorials

One way to balance Sacramento parks funding

City Parks Director Chris Conlin stands at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, one of several regional parks that would get a boost from a shift in developer fees.
City Parks Director Chris Conlin stands at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, one of several regional parks that would get a boost from a shift in developer fees. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The way the city of Sacramento pays for its parks should be flexible and aimed at creating recreational opportunities for as many residents as possible.

So a proposed shift of some developer fees from building small parks to larger regional ones makes a lot of sense.

Under a decades-old funding setup, developers of new homes and commercial buildings must pay fees to support 5 acres of neighborhood parkland for every 1,000 residents in that area. But as The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak explains, there’s no similar dedicated revenue source for regional parks.

City Parks Director Chris Conlin will ask the City Council as soon as January to change the system so that one-third of those fees – about $3 million a year – would go to develop larger parks, community centers, pools and parkways.

While that sum isn’t nearly enough, it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, the city relies on special funding agreements, grants and partnerships with private companies and nonprofits to develop individual regional parks.

Parks without any of those sources are out of luck, like North Natomas Regional Park. In 2000, the city planned an amphitheater, botanical garden, a lakeside boathouse, a dog park and other features. But today most of the 200 acres is undeveloped and weeded over. That’s a disservice to the residents of North Natomas, who also want an aquatic center and community center.

The proposed funding shift also could benefit Del Paso Regional Park, Miller Regional Park on the Sacramento River and Sutter’s Landing Regional Park on the American River – all of which are nowhere near their full potential.

City Hall has been trying to get it right on parks for years.

During the Great Recession, maintenance was slashed and parks fell into disrepair. It would have been much worse had volunteers and neighborhood groups not stepped up to help. Pools almost closed, as well, only kept open in the summer of 2012 by a private fundraising campaign led by Save Mart supermarkets.

After voters approved the Measure U half-cent sales tax in November 2012, the parks department received an infusion of cash to open the pools and restore upkeep. A parks department report last year, however, pointed out that staffing had not kept pace with growing acreage.

Sacramento bills itself as a city of trees. It’s also a city of parks, but it needs a better balance between neighborhood and regional ones. Fixing the funding would be a big help.

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