When voters approved the Park Charter Fund in 1972, and renewed
it six times since then, they did so because they recognize that
county parks are essential to the well being of the community.
County parks stays on its mission to expand, improve opportunities
When the Board of Supervisors receives an audit report that highlights areas of potential efficiencies and savings, it means that the County of Santa Clara’s process of checks and balances is working, precisely as intended when the systems were put in place. As a public agency, Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department welcomes review of our operation.
The recent evaluation by the County’s Management Auditor of the County Parks Department finances confirmed the level of cash reserves and recommended more aggressive spending. Unfortunately, news reports that followed may have left readers with an incomplete understanding of the plan for acquiring and developing parkland and the restrictions that govern use of reserves. Be assured, we are not at a loss for ideas. There is a plan for use of all reserve funds and Supervisors will make the final determination. Our mission is clear and consistent – to expand county parks for our community’s enjoyment and for the protection and preservation of our finest natural and cultural resources.
When voters approved the Park Charter Fund in 1972, and renewed it six times since then, they did so because they recognize that county parks are essential to the well being of the community. Currently, at least 20 percent of the Park Charter Fund must be used to acquire land for parks. These funds cannot be used for development or operations. Our community expects an expansion of parkland and county parks is actively pursuing opportunities. While money is currently available, the size of the reserve does fluctuate. Because land in our area is expensive, a single purchase could deplete the acquisition reserve. Over the years, it has been depleted many times. For instance, when we purchased the 2,940-acre Harvey Bear Ranch at Coyote Lake County Park in the east Gilroy foothills, reserves were insufficient so the county had to borrow funds.
The audit suggests that County Parks is overly conservative in managing the operational reserve and recommends spending a portion for improvements and maintaining a contingency account equivalent to three months of expenses. We believe it is more prudent to maintain a contingency account equivalent to six months of expenses because property tax allocations are made in two half-year installments. Although it may take more time and delay spending, we also feel it is important to follow a public process to determine development priorities. A great example is the plan to open the newest park in the county’s system – the 290-acre Martial Cottle Park, which is the magnanimous gift from Mr. Walter Cottle Lester.
A public master plan for the Martial Cottle Park is underway and targeted for completion in 2009. Development costs at full build-out will exceed current reserves. However, improvements will be phased to enable opening the park in four years. Many people are excited about the future of a new regional park in the heart of Silicon Valley, one that will celebrate the valley’s agricultural legacy.
During the past three years, county parks has built over 30 new miles of trails and opened new visitor facilities across the system. Major development is currently underway and more is planned for the future. Through public outreach, the Board will decide the best use of county parks assets for the growing needs of residents.
For the past 50 years, county parks has served as the chief steward of this key community resource – 28 outstanding regional parks covering nearly 45,000 acres and over 260 miles of trails. It is a trust that county parks and the Board of Supervisors take seriously.
Lisa Killough, Director of Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department