Op-ed: Big vision and strict accountability required to save Berkeley parks

By Marc Beyeler

Marc Beyeler is a long-time Berkeley resident, a parent of a junior at Berkeley High School, and a member of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).

A sneaky kite. Photo: Nancy Rubin
Flying a kite in Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park. Photo: Nancy Rubin

On Tuesday, June 24, the Berkeley City Council may choose to place a combined Mello-Roos financing measure for Berkeley parks on the November ballot. It is vital for the Berkeley community — elected officials, city staff, residents and voters — to embrace this big vision for the future of Berkeley parks, playgrounds, and pools and support this “gamble” by the Council. The arguments in favor of investing in saving our parks for the future are compelling. Winning the November election will be difficult however, as a two-thirds vote is required. The City Council should be supported in embracing the larger ballot measure addressing both capital and operations, and rejecting calls for a smaller parcel tax measure providing only staff funding and very limited capital repair funds.

Strict accountability needed to ensure electoral success

A successful two-thirds approval for the parks measure will require the voters believe the funds will be well spent with a plan for strict accountability. To ensure a successful ballot measure the Council must do all in its power to assure residents and voters that they will get their money’s worth if they support this Big Vision initiative. Taking a page from the Berkeley schools local funding, when the Council finalizes the Mello-Roos ballot specifics on June 24, it should strongly consider establishing a citizen’s oversight committee to offer the best protection that the money for the parks will result in the most cost-effective repair and restoration projects. This could go a long way to assuring voters to say yes in November.

Vital community assets

Our parks “commons,” which encompass our outdoor, open space and recreational infrastructure, is a vital component in building a resilient and sustainable “Healthy Berkeley.” Climate change adaptation, healthy kids, community and social life, citywide and neighborhood inequities in facilities, and educational outcomes will all be positively affected by approving the Mello-Roos capital financing and operations funding for sustaining and improving our parks system.

A big vision is needed to address neighborhood needs and citywide equity

Now is the time for the community to speak up for a “big vision” for our parks. Deferred maintenance and needed modernization and improvements combine to create a large need for adequate financing for operations and capital investments. The proposed parks measure goes very far in addressing needs across all city neighborhoods, including those traditionally underserved, such as south Berkeley, without short-changing anyone’s neighborhoods.

Strong community support to save parks

The proposed ballot measure must achieve a two-thirds majority for passage and this very steep threshold could be a major barrier to providing the required funding. The two most recent ballot measures addressing our city pools both failed to garner the necessary two-thirds support, even while they enjoyed strong electoral strength. Measure N received 62% approval in 2012, just short of the required 66.6%. Recent polling conducted for the city by a private polling firm demonstrates community support. When informed of the current status of parks and parks funding, more than two-thirds of voters support additional funding for our parks system, as drawn from a scientifically representative sample of city residents.

Embracing big vision now required

We must now all join together to support the City Council in the proposed Mello-Roos parks measure, which addresses a great deal of the current parks needs, and is a down payment to ensure the future of Berkeley’s public outdoors and green infrastructure. Let’s all rally to SAVE OUR PARKS.  Let the Mayor and Council know that you support the combined Mello-Roos funding measure, so the Council affirms its June 10 decision in a final vote on June 24.