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Possible sales tax increase to benefit local county parks

  • With the monies from Prop 68, the county hopes to expand Crane Creek Regional Park. Robert Grant

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
June 29, 2018

With the recent passing of Prop 68, county park officials are hopeful that the public will approve the proposed one-eighth cent sales tax which will appear on the November ballot. Not only will this provide immediate funding for desperately needed park improvements and upgrades to aging park infrastructure, but it can also put the county in the running for access to a lot more state funding which could help all county parks, including a possible expansion of Crane Creek Regional Park, as well as city parks. 

Prop 68, a state measure recently approved in the last election, authorizes $4 billion in general obligation bonds to fund parks, natural resources protection, climate adaptation, water quality and supply and flood protection throughout the state. For Sonoma County, this translates to $400,000 going to the county, a fraction of the $7 million in annual costs it takes to manage and maintain the county parks. 

“In addition to $400,000 they have a piece of that money they are making available for cities and counties that have what they call a ‘self-help clause,’” says Jim Nantell, Director of Special Projects for the Sonoma County Parks Department. “What that means is, if your voters have decided that their parks are important enough to tax themselves to support them, then there is another pot of money that we can all compete for – but only for those cities and counties that have a self-help clause, that has been approved by voters.”

As long as the local measure – one-eighth cent sales tax increase for 10 years – is approved by the end of this calendar year, the county can then have the possibility of accessing some of those additional funds which the local parks desperately need.

According to Nantell, the county parks department, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is dealing with a trifecta of issues that warrant additional funding, including having a 43 percent increase in park visitors, adding almost double the amount of land (5,500 acres to 11,000 acres) to the county parks within the last five years and aging infrastructure. Add to that damage that was inflicted from last October’s fire storm and it is clear that more monetary support is needed to ensure the public continues to benefit from the peace, joy, and tranquility our local parks provide. 

“We are one of two of the nine Bay Area counties that does not have such a measure – ourselves and Napa,” says Nantell. “We’re the only two that don’t have the voter approved additional funding source to be able to provide for county and regional parks.”

If the sales tax increase measure passes, it is projected to raise $7.5 million a year for county parks, as well as $4 million a year for cities, for their local parks. Each city receives a specific amount based on population. Rohnert Park would receive $458,542 annually, or over $4.5 million over 10 years and Cotati would receive $78,088 annually, or $780,885 over 10 years. 

So far it appears the measure to increase the sales tax will have enough support to pass the vote in November. In January 2018 the Sonoma County Parks Department conducted a survey in which 73 percent of participants indicated that they felt the parks needed additional funding, up from 68 percent in 2016. 

Locally, one project that would be expedited by the additional funding would be the development of the Copeland Creek Trail, a 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail starting at the intersection of Copeland Creek and Petaluma Hill Road and ending at Crane Creek Regional Park. The trail would provide access to the park for Sonoma State University students, as well as to the public. It would also provide connectivity to the existing network of creek trails located in the greater Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa area.

Another project that would be funded by the sales tax increase is the possible expansion of Crane Creek Regional Park. The expansion would be a partnership between Regional Parks, the City of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Currently, the park covers 128 acres. The expansion would increase the park by an additional 75-acres, providing more recreational opportunities for the community, protecting open space and natural resources and protecting the headwaters of Hinebaugh Creek, a tributary to the important Laguna de Santa Rosa. The City of Rohnert Park acquired 128-acres of land, located off Petaluma Hill Road between Sonoma State University and Crane Creek Regional Park. They will record a conservation easement over the parkland and will subdivide the property into two lots – the 75 acres to be added to Crane Creek Regional Park, and the remaining 53 acres to be developed with water tanks and future sediment ponds.

“The challenge for us if it [the measure] doesn’t pass is that the acres we have per ranger have dramatically increased over the past five years,” says Nantell. “So if it doesn’t pass we’re obviously not going to be able to make improvements to the infrastructure which is going to continue to get more deteriorated. The parks are a significant part of our watershed that keeps our water clean. The last thing you want is any of our soil coming off those properties and going down into the creeks. You have to manage these things to keep that from happening. Our ability to provide the benefits of a park system, both from an environmental and natural resources standpoint, as well as enjoyment for the public…this measure would allow us to do.”

In addition to playing a pivotal role in our open space and watershed areas, as well as providing recreational enjoyment for the public, the parks department also serves about 25,000 children annually, including many in Cotati, Penngrove and Rohnert Park, through education programs. 

“We are the biggest provider of natural resource education in this county,” says Nantell. “There is a demand for us to be able to expand those programs and be able to meet the curriculum requirements teachers have trouble teaching by themselves. They come to us to help them meet some of those requirements. We’d be able to outreach some of these public education programs to kids in these communities as well. The enormous benefit to that is you want to build stewardship for future generations. You want future generations to understand the value and importance of natural resources in the areas they live in and how vital they are and that’s what we’re able to do with these public education programs.”