Saturday, January 17, 2009

Parks & Open Space Cash Crunch

As this article from the San Francisco Chronicle makes clear, the current period of time will be especially bad for parks and open space projects due to the shortage of cash at most local levels of government.

However, if you can see opportunity within crisis, it is an excellent time to consider a different governance and supplemental financing structure for the Parkway.

The Parkway is falling behind about $1.1 million annually just in maintenance, according to the American River Parkway Financial Needs Study Update 2006 (p. vii), so it is impossible to care for the Parkway as it was intended to be cared for, let alone to improve it by adding new land and expanding its educational and recreational assets; particularly during troubled economic times.

The solution we have proposed for stabilizing funding for the American River Parkway is to establish a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) of local government entities, to govern the Parkway and contract with a nonprofit organization to provide management and a supplemental fund raising capability through philanthropy, which you can read more about on our website’s news page in our press release from January 18, 2008.

This is the model being used by the Central Park Conservancy to manage Central Park in New York—and the Conservancy raise’s 85% of funding needed by Central Park—and the Sacramento Zoological Society to manage the Sacramento Zoo, which they have wholly done since 1997 under contract with the City of Sacramento.

Another superb example is the San Dieguito River Park in San Diego, California—an excerpt from their website:

“The San Dieguito River Valley Regional Open Space Park Joint Powers Authority, also known as the San Dieguito River Park, is the agency responsible for creating a natural open space park in the San Dieguito River Valley. The Park will someday extend from the ocean at Del Mar to Volcan Mountain, just north of Julian.

“The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority was formed as a separate agency on June 12, 1989, by the County of San Diego and the Cities of Del Mar, Escondido, Poway, San Diego and Solana Beach. It was empowered to acquire, plan, design, improve, operate and maintain the San Dieguito River Park.”

An excerpt from the SF article.

“California's fiscal crisis has derailed 4,000 conservation projects across the state, from restoration of tidal marshes on San Francisco Bay to expansion of the coastal trail, and threatens major land acquisitions on the Sonoma, Big Sur and Mendocino coasts, state officials say.

“Facing a cash crunch, state officials notified 1,100 groups last month that they were losing $647 million in environmental grants that were tied to bond funds issued under voter-approved propositions. Now most of the groups can't meet deadlines to apply for matching funds, pay contractors or fulfill obligations under purchase agreements. Many of them are laying off staff and shutting down work.

"We're very disturbed. There are projects all over the state that could be building parks, improving people's quality of life and providing jobs," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

“Goldstein, who worked to win funds to restore Yosemite Slough on Candlestick Point in San Francisco's Hunters Point, had to tell plan designers to stop work - which could delay cleanup and restoration of the 34-acre site for bayside wildlife habitat and public access.

“The California Coastal Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Board and other agencies that dole out bond money instructed land trusts, cities, resource agencies and small nonprofits to suspend all work paid from bond sales as of Dec. 17.

“Projects are expected to be halted at least until the state passes a budget and improves its financial standing enough that investors will consider California bonds a solid investment.

“Today, the State Pooled Money Investment Board, which includes the state's treasurer, controller and finance director, will meet to consider whether to ease the freeze on financing for schools, roads, levees, environmental protection, veterans homes and others. The staff has recommended releasing $500 million until the end of the fiscal year in June.”