“When we got into office, the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we’d been saying they were,” President John F. Kennedy.
Recent budgetary estimates confirm our worst fears about the fiscal year beginning in July, and we face the task of closing a $100 million deficit, primarily with service cuts and several hundred layoffs. We face a stark drop in basic municipal services—such as closing pools and shutting community centers—that will leave many residents justifiably frustrated.
Among the many paradoxes of municipal governance: while we slash services like park maintenance, the City has millions of dollars in park fees, sitting in reserves. Under state law, we charge developers these fees to enable us to build parks, pools and community centers whenever they build a new housing project. The same law — the Quimby Act — prohibits use of the money for ongoing expenses like park maintenance or community center staffing, however; the law restricts the use of the money for capital expenses, such as buying land and constructing playgrounds.
For over a decade, we have been building community-serving amenities like parks and community centers that we cannot pay to maintain or operate. It would be irresponsible to continue on this course, so in the coming fiscal year, we’re deferring the construction of about a dozen parks. In our own district, park sites like Newhall, Martin (in the McKinley neighborhood), and Pellier Park will not undergo construction for at least another year, and possibly longer. For reasons relating to shortfalls in the Redevelopment budget, we’ll also scrap plans for a multi-million dollar restoration of historic St. James Park.
Despite all of this, I will push to keep our commitment to restore Watson Park and its soccer fields with the ongoing cleanup of its toxic contamination, and we expect to celebrate a re-opening later this year. More importantly, by using our park trust funds creatively, we have options to explore. For example, we can:
• invest in the future by “land banking”: buying land while prices are low, for future parkland development. For example, we’re acquiring land near the Tamien Station now for the future creation of a park, and we’re applying for Proposition 84 grant money to help us acquire land in the park-deficient Spartan Keyes neighborhood.
• focus our capital-restricted dollars on park improvements that reduce our maintenance costs, such as installing drought-tolerant plants and artificial turf.
• build low-maintenance community amenities, such as trails. This year, we’ll expand the Guadalupe Trail from the Children’s Discovery Museum to as far south as Willow Street.
• clear existing parks of decrepit structures—such as the mold-infested, roof-failing portable buildings that comprise the St. James Senior Center—that will open the park for more recreation use.
• employ creative options for park maintenance—with the help of volunteers, unique financing arrangements with developers, and in one case, contracting with a school that will trade maintenance funding for the shared use of a new park.
I will keep pursuing all of these options, to ensure that we can provide basic community amenities even through this time of scarcity. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you are willing to volunteer to “adopt a park” in your neighborhood—we’ll need all the help we can get!
Sam Liccardo is the District 3 San Jose City Council representative. He wrote this for Downtown Neighborhood News.