Saturday, January 16, 2010

East Bay Regional Parks District

This marvelous park district began 75 years ago as an association of people wanting to protect and preserve 10,000 acres—unsecured at the time—for future generations.

The story of their accomplishments—it is now 100,000 acres—is remarkable, and reveals what can happen when people work together to build something wonderful for everyone.

Though the vehicle used by East Bay—a park district—is not as viable for our Parkway as what we suggest, a partnership between local governments working through a governing Joint Powers Authority contracting with a nonprofit organization for daily management and philanthropic supplemental fund raising; the outcome certainly could be.

An excerpt from East Bay’s website about their history.

“The Park District’s Formative Years, 1929 to 1945

“Park advocates immediately began to see the 10,000 surplus acres as a “Grand Park” stretching 22 miles from Lake Chabot in the south to Wildcat Canyon in the North. The Olmsted/Hall feasibility study was completed in 1930, and contained compelling statements about the need for parks in general along with a detailed plan for the 10,000-acre Park.

“A thousand spirited East Bay residents joined the East Bay Regional Park Association, and met at the Hotel Oakland to sponsor the park project described in the Olmsted/Hall report. They stressed that the park would be kept natural, providing recreational opportunities and employment during the depression. Since the new park would stretch along the ridgeline from San Leandro to Richmond, serving residents in two counties and nine cities, a new type of agency was needed. Legislation was quickly drafted to create a regional agency, following the water District model, that could then acquire and operate the park. In 1933, Governor James Rolph signed the bill authorizing the formation of the Park District, subject only to a vote of District residents. A massive get-out-and-vote campaign in the seven cities between San Leandro and Albany preceded the November 4, 1934 election. Richmond and El Cerrito wanted to be included, but were forced by Contra Costa County to withdraw before the election even though most of the new parkland would be in Contra Costa County. The vote to form the East Bay Regional Park District passed by a stunning 2 1/2 to 1 margin (71%) during the depth of the Great Depression.

“The newly elected park board held its first meeting on December 10, 1934. However, acquiring all of the “Grand Park’s” 10,000 acres at one time was not likely since the Water District’s asking price was $3 million dollars, and the Park District’s annual budget was only $194,000. After 18 months of unsuccessful negotiations, a three-member board of real estate experts helped establish the value and phasing of payments for the first acquisition. On June 4, 1936 the park board agreed to purchase 2,162 acres from EBMUD, at a cost of $656,000 to be paid in installments over the next five years, for what would become the District’s first three parks at Upper Wildcat Canyon (Tilden), Temescal, and Roundtop (Sibley). At the same meeting the board agreed to provide the $63,428 in local funds to qualify for $1 million in federal funding needed for park development projects.

“After working six months without pay, Elbert Vail was hired as the District’s first general manager at a monthly salary of $300. With six new park employees hired and with funding in place, work on the new parks could begin using Civilian Conservation Corp crews, Works Progress Administration crews, and private contractors. A CCC Camp at Tilden provided housing for crews working on park development, and in an amazingly short two-year period, Tilden and Temescal were ready to be opened for public use. The first acquisition of EBMUD land for Redwood Park occurred in 1939, and the District’s fourth park was developed and opened the following year.

“By early 1942, World War II emptied the park workforce when WPA, CCC workers, and park employees joined the war effort, leaving the four new parks under "caretaker" operation for the next three years. However, District parks played an important role in supporting the war effort by providing recreational facilities for the military and for residents working in local war related industries. The Army leased the Tilden CCC camp for use as a training facility. The Army Defense Command also leased 500 acres at the south end of Tilden where an early warning Regional Radar Center was constructed, with housing and support facilities for 500 soldiers, to monitor aircraft and ship movement along the central California Coast.”