Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Voters to get final say on $500 million parks bond

The East Bay Regional Park Board agreed Tuesday to seek voter approval in November in Contra Costa and Alameda counties for a $500 million bond measure to create, expand and develop regional parks, and fund projects to improve city and local parks.

The largest share of the money — $281 million — would be spent on buying and preserving land for parks and trails in shoreline areas such as Oakland and Richmond, and inland valley territory in Dublin, Martinez, Antioch and Pleasanton.

The ballot measure — an extension of a 1988 property tax for regional parks — needs two-thirds approval at a time when polls show voters are worried about the economy.

Despite that, park officials say they believe they have a good chance of winning approval for the biggest investments in two decades in regional parks, which are mostly natural, undeveloped areas popular for hiking, jogging, picnicking and dog walking, and swimming in lakes and San Francisco Bay.

"We're going back to our roots in 1934 when the park district was formed in the Great Depression," said Ted Radke, a regional park board member from Martinez. "People appreciated the value of open space and natural areas in close-in areas. With our regional parks, you don't have to fill your gas tank to have a quality outdoor experience."

The park board voted 7-0 Tuesday afternoon to give initial approval to an ordinance to place the bond measure on the ballot in almost Advertisementall of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

"We need to provide more access to our national shoreline areas to more people," said Allan Maris of Albany, who appeared before the board to urge passage of the ordinance. "These natural areas improve the quality of life."

Only the greater Livermore area, referred to as the Murray Township, is excluded from the November vote because it was not part of the regional park district in 1988 when district voters approved a $225 million bond measure. Park officials say they want the November ballot measure to be an extension of an existing tax, and the tax would be new in Livermore if that area were included in the vote.

The park board has pledged that property owners will not pay more taxes for the new measure than they do for the 1988 bond, which is no more than $10 annually per $100,000 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a $400,000 house would pay as much as $40 per year in property taxes for the regional park bond measure.

The two most expensive projects proposed for the bond measure are the $27 million plan to finish the East Shore State Park stretching from the Bay Bridge to Richmond and $16 million to establish a new regional park in part of the old Concord Naval Weapons Station.

The park district also proposed to spend $10.8 million to develop a series of mini-parks providing access to the Bay Shoreline in Oakland. Also, the Oakland Zoo would get a $4 million allocation for capital improvements or land purchases.

An additional $12.3 million is set aside to plug gaps in the Bay Trail running from Martinez to Fremont.

An additional $11 million would be spent for land and trails to connect four regional parks between Sunol and the Carquinez Strait near Martinez.

Park supporters say the bond measure is needed to protect open space that otherwise would be developed or, in time, become too expensive for a public agency to buy. Some anti-tax leaders say the bond measure is too expensive, especially at time when many families are struggling to get by in a poor economy.

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