Election season is almost here. There is a large group of mayoral candidates and a number of City Council races that will determine the direction of San Jose’s city government for years to come. One important issue I hope every candidate addresses is the future of San Jose’s parks and trails.
Parks are an asset to our city, and every segment of the community is affected by the economic impact of a local or regional park. Parks are also essential to our environment, providing the massive “green” space that helps clean our air and cool our city. Parks and trails are essential parts of our local watershed. And they provide the healthy urban space we use for exercise, children’s play, contemplation and simple relaxation. These shared spaces host our social gatherings and celebrations.
We have made a major investment in park land and we must continue to do so. A key problem facing our city is that we have the same 2,884 acres of parkland—200-plus playgrounds, nine regional parks and 54 miles of trails—that we had in 2005. But in 2014, we have 39 percent less of a budget to maintain, protect and preserve all of it.
Something besides rhetoric has to take care of this gap. San Jose Parks Foundation, neighborhood groups and volunteers have filled part of this gap the last few years. Several other nonprofit groups were already in the field and their work has also helped to address this gap. These groups include Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Happy Hollow Foundation, Our City Forest and San Jose History Park.
As much work as these groups do, there is still much more to be done. With dynamic political leadership, San Jose can become a city that showcases its parks. An engaged, knowledgeable mayor can make a huge difference in making certain that we are stewards of our park and trail acreage. A knowledgeable, involved councilmember can also play a key role in protecting our investment.
Many cities have seen the benefit of creative private/public partnerships, where independent nonprofits, small businesses and corporations team up to fill gaps left by budget cuts. A mayor or councilmember can lead the way in bringing together such partnerships (e.g. LA’s 50 Park Initiative and New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg’s big investments in parks).
Making parks and trails a priority would set a tone for the next decade that many in the community will appreciate. Such leadership would improve overall health for all ages and increase property values throughout the city. Mayor Chuck Reed’s Green Vision has had a profound impact on our trails, and the next mayor can lead the way to completing the network, making San Jose a world leader in this area.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK