San Jose Parks Foundation: Part 2

San Jose Parks Foundation, as I mentioned in my first column, was born out of an enlightened look into the future by three key sectors: Parks Commissioners (led by Helen Chapman), neighborhood activists (Jean Dresden), and the city of San Jose’s department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS), then under the direction of Albert Balagso.

San Jose Parks Foundation began in a somewhat haphazard way, due to the three years of budget cuts, re-staffing and re-configuring that took place within PRNS.

We had conceived a plan and spent considerable time refining it. Then we had to wait several months for the initial funding to arrive. Due to the changes within PRNS, the delays in funding and the confusion among staff as to what role PRNS would play in assisting the new foundation, our entire plan had to be revised on the fly.

Thanks to councilmembers Nancy Pyle and Sam Liccardo, we had some immediate and significant victories, both relating to saving programs from the budget axe. But our core belief was, and remains, that ultimately San Jose Parks Foundation needs citizens to contribute in order for it to be successful. We launched a membership campaign, targeting some key areas of the community with a direct-mail effort, accompanied by a modest email blast.

San Jose Parks Foundation needs at least a few thousand people to contribute between $60 and $150 per year, which is really between $5 and $12.50 per month. So far, we have attracted about 500 total donors at various levels, with a few hundred renewing each year. We need MANY MORE DONORS in order to be successful. That’s not an alarm. It is a request for everyone reading this to consider donating. What follows below and in my upcoming columns is WHY you should join this effort.

THE VALUE OF PARKS & TRAILS: Urban and suburban parks are essential economic factors in every municipality. They often are invisible in the economic picture that most of us have. Those who live in nice, comfortable communities with spacious lawns are often casual users of parks and trails. For apartment dwellers, parks and trails are their shared spacious yards. Both groups need to care, because parks influence property values everywhere, and they are helpful to physical and mental health. Parks are gathering places for families, friends, companies and other networks.

Parks are often taken for granted, due to the fact that most of us have grown up with them as a matter of everyday life. They were always taken care of by the local, regional or state government. But that paradigm has shifted. Eeery one of us needs to be a part of an enlightened and motivated “ownership group.”

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]  / 408.893.PARK


  1. Amazing, simply amazing…!!! The residents of this City moan and complain about the pay and benefits earned by police, fire, parks dept, library and any number of other City Employees. Those who pay taxes have a right to question compensation and demand accountability for the way their tax dollars are spent.

    What is amazing to me is the deafening silence on this two part (to date) piece on the San Jose Parks Foundation (SJPF) written by its executive director James Reber. Reber’s CV details the many “non-profits” he has founded. The SJPF was established to help the City of San Jose Parks Rec and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) take care of parks and trails… Something a portion of our tax dollars are supposed to be doing!

    We learned in Part 1 of the series that the SJPF started as an “idea” that couldn’t get off the ground until the CITY donated the start-up money!(our tax dollars!)

    I tried two times to post comments to the first piece but my comments must have hit too close to the bone and are relegated to my blog and FB page. Don’t worry SJI – This will be posted there too.

    I stated that the best part about heading up “non-profits” were the salaries drawn by executives on the board. Well I wasn’t wrong.  I checked out SJPF’s financial statements. Their 2011 990ez filing to the IRS shows that the author of this article, founder and executive director James Reber was compensated by SJPF in the amount of $77,348 (of our tax dollars)  and reported total expenses of $141,746.97 (some of which were our tax dollars!). SJPF took in $121,296 in contributions, gifts and grants (some of which were our tax dollars) and another $2896.97 in “income from fund-raising.” Expenses left SJPF with a deficit of $16,197. Not too worry, SJPF had $12k in the bank and ended up only $3645 in the red!

    No wonder Mr. Reber needs the public’s help and is now using this forum to solicit donations! 

    Two other items of interest:  (1) Mr. Reber is listed as having contributed a whopping $50.00 to the Abronzino Fund set up to build a field house at Watson Park and, (2) Dan Pulcrano owner/executive editor of the Metro and SJI is a volunteer board member and PRESIDENT of SJPF! No wonder my comments were not published!

    • I’m no longer president or officer of the San Jose Parks Foundation, though I’ve stayed on the board and made some donations. Mr. Reber disclosed my involvement in his first column so that’s not a big revelation. I support SJPF because I think a strong city should have properly maintained parks, trails and recreation centers. The proportion of proceeds that goes to administration is typical of a small startup nonprofit (and better than some others) and will go down as a percentage of revenue as contributions increase. Having started in a recession, the foundation is off to a modest start and hopefully will grow into something more substantial as the community engages to support its mission.

      I did not participate (or even know about) the discussions to offer Mr. Reber a column on SJI, or in the approval of rejection of any comments in response to his column.

      San Jose Inside does reject comments that are off-topic or devolve into personal attacks. Comments that stick to issues are generally approved, consistent with the comment policy.

      • Thank you for your response. I am sure that many people donate with the best intentions. I don’t think my unpublished post violated the comment policy in anyway.

        While the foundation may be off to a modest start only salaried employee is Mr Reber and he was compensated very well. He earned $72k to fund three SJPF projects totalling $53,250 in 2011. $1.35 for every $1 donated? 

        I hope you donated more than Licacardo or at least retain enough influence to decorate the park he championed in front of your HQ to your liking (that is of course if SJPF is involved in that project).

    • The receipts and filings tell a partial story. What isn’t shown is the net effect of the work we do, such as helping neighborhood groups raise their own funds, accomplish their own objectives, etc.

      While I admire your expertise in getting the financial data, I wonder if you fully understand what it takes to launch a nonprofit corporation. It isn’t much different than a “for profit” corporation. We are still trying to achieve fiscal viability in a difficult economy. We expect to grow and put significantly more funding into the community than we have been granted.

      All of SJPF’s board members have contributed and still do. My donation to Abronzino was to test to see if the online interface was working.

      I’d be happy to meet with any reasonable individual to discuss what we do and how we do it and I (and the Board) welcome all of the help we can get. If you have a better idea on how to do something, we await your suggestions.

      And I certainly welcome your contributions to the Abronzino Fund or any other fund we support. Feel free to match what I’ve done. It might make you feel better.

      James P. Reber

      • Mr. Reber, I don’t begrudge your entrepreneurial skills at setting up, funding and running non-profits. Non profits can do some amazing things when they provide funding for projects undertaken by civic minded and charitable volunteers.  The problem I have with SJPF is that it is doing things that the City should be held accountable to accomplish.

        I get the “can-do/will-do” spirit of the Martin-Fontana group and so many others and their frustration with the need for their efforts due to the lack of fiscal responsibility and accountability of San Jose’s City Government.

        I am disgusted with this Mayor and majority of the Council who have mislead the community into believing that the City’s inability to care for its parks and other infrastructure is due to greedy public employee’s pay and benefits.  I get a little ticked off when the same City that says it has a structural deficit (due to its greedy employees) donates seed money ( my tax dollars ) to a non-profit that establishes itself to fund volunteers who feel compelled to pick up the City’s slack and care for the parks but for some odd reason don’t want hold the City accountable for the situation it created.

        I know quite a bit about non-profits and for-profits having been on BOD’s for both. Many are more alike than they are dissimilar in the respect that those at the top always profit. I know that government at all levels is a major contributor to many non-profits. Without government money (tax-dollars) most non-profits would have rely on contributions from motivated citizens and the private sector. That means that they guys running the many non-profits (guys like you) make a pretty good living off of our tax dollars that have been diverted (all legally to be sure) from government to the non-profit.

        Looking at the 2010 and 2011 990’s SJPF paid about 54% in salaries/benefits/contract fees ($140k ) of its revenue ($256k). The 990’s doesn’t itemize and I am not going to scour the City Budget to find the amount of revenue that came from tax dollars but it must have been substantial. The City well may be running dry hence the solicitation of donations from the general public?

        I am impressed when I read your bio and see how many non-profits you started and chaired and the amount of money you have raised. You are very good at what you do. You provide a service and people are free to engage you or not.  I don’t have the time to research the financial for all of them but I think it is safe to say that your services have resulted and a substantial amount of public money (my tax-dollars) being moved into non-profit’s coffers and a portion of that money helps you make a pretty good living doing what you do.

        The number of events you have founded, organized and produced for the City is equally impressive.  Grand Openings for City Hall/convention center, State of the City events, dinners, festivals Mayor and Council Inaugurations … I know some of the money for these things came from tax-dollars and others corporate sponsorships and other donations. I am sure that you / your company was compensated for your services. That means (again) that some of your fee was paid with my tax dollars. Heck you could have the title of “honorary City Employee” bestowed on you!

        What really concerns me is that you list “fund raising for Chuck Reed for Mayor Campaign” as a client/project. I know your legacy goes back 30 years, well before Reed, but the perception that the relationships you have established with politicians in this City over the last 30 years has lead to a significant amount of tax-dollars funding your non-profits and paying you and your company for event planning/production on so many occasions is hard to ignore.  Especially when hard working career employees who have been portrayed as greedy have lost their homes and families while others are having to leave City employment so they can support themselves.  Esprcially when your client is threatening to layoff more City Employees if Measure B is invalidated.

      • Ya I used the total compensation from page 1 ( not sure why it is different – it might include benefits in addition to pay? amateur error on my part…) where you are using the $72k number from the Board of Director’s page.

        • I just used the number in PART IV.

          I agree that a lot of what’s wrong with San Jose is that the good intentions of residents has been taken advantage of to promote the interests of others that aren’t high minded.

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