Op-ed: Support Measure F for care, repair of Berkeley parks

Life sometimes comes full circle. Eighteen years ago, I jumped into public service in Berkeley as a novice member of the Parks & Recreation Commission, experiencing first hand the tremendous assets we have in our parks, paths, street trees, and recreational facilities. Now, as I approach my final days serving on the City Council, one of my top priorities and personal passions is to see that we preserve these assets, well beyond my tenure.   That is why I am supporting Berkeley’s Measure F, and encourage you to vote YES on F this November 4th.

Measure F will increase an existing special parcel tax for parks, playgrounds, and urban landscaping. Berkeley has supporting such earmarked funding for our parks since the early 1980s. As a parcel tax, this increase is based on your home’s square footage, not its value, and it is estimated to cost an average homeowner (1,900 square feet) around $40 per year. The added tax income of approximately $1.7 million per year, which is an increase of 16.7%, will stabilize staffing and tackle a $25 million dollar list of identified repairs and access upgrades.

Since the 1980s, as Prop 13 made itself felt, a special funding mechanism has supported Berkeley parks. This parcel tax, similar to how we support our wonderful libraries, has been the primary way that we fund parks maintenance, operations staff, and expenses. It is truly indispensible, as are the 52 parks and 30 park buildings, ball fields and courts, 100+ paths, and 35,000 street trees that we all enjoy and that provide physical, emotional and spiritual benefits to all.

What is this specific tax increase for? The primary purpose is to address the slow deterioration of the parks and their facilities. It may not be visible to the casual passerby, but the shortfall in our current budget, set against the long list of needed repairs, has already resulted in a decision to close the Rose Garden trellis, and threatens such heavily-used sites as the community building at James Kenney Park. Measure F will provide over $1 million a year to fix indoor and outdoor facilities that are deteriorating and hazardous.

The facts speak loudly for themselves. In 1976, we had 63 park staff tending to 120 park acres. Today, we have 44 staff spread out over 247 park acres. Since 2000 Berkeley’s population has increased by nearly 15%, increasing the wear and tear on our parks. Increased use is wonderful, but parks need to be welcoming and safe, and that requires sufficient funding and staff to perform both routine and major maintenance.

Why is Measure F needed now?  First and foremost, expenses have outstripped revenues, and further facilities degradation compromises our longstanding investments in the parks and increases the risk of injury. Furthermore, when the parks tax was approved by the voters in 1997, the ‘inflator’ built into the measure did not keep up with the cost growth in the Bay Area, eroding the funding base. To correct this, the same inflation factor used by the library parcel tax is being adopted.

Over the past forty years ago, we have doubled our park acreage.   Now, we need to provide sufficient funds for the operating costs to sustain the beauty and vitality of Berkeley’s park system. Every time I experience the magnificent views at Aquatic and Cesar Chavez Parks, I feel proud that we, as a community, have put a priority on the “commons” and created great park system in Berkeley.

Please join me in voting “YES on Measure F” to provide funds for the care and repair of our parks!

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Gordon Wozniak is a retired nuclear scientist and a 12-year veteran of the Berkeley City Council. He has lived in Berkeley for 48 years