How Parks Became an Issue in the Mayor’s Race

Nearly two years ago, I attended the Greater & Greener Conference in New York City. Presented by the City Parks Alliance, the gathering was an eye-opener. It showed that our issues here in San Jose and Silicon Valley are very similar to those across the US and in other countries, as well.

Workshops explored common problems, and I toured parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as bicycled along the Hudson River trail. I learned of the amazing transformations, where drug dealers were driven from parks by neighborhoods coordinating with local businesses, citizen groups, nonprofit organizations and park professionals.

I had the opportunity to tour many of these parks with Leslee Hamilton, Guadalupe Conservancy’s executive director. Our conversations led to us meet when we returned to San Jose, exploring common ground and discussing how we might better advance parks, trails and open space together. These conversations led to the creation of an alliance among several groups.

Helen Chapman, a San Jose Parks Foundation trustee, brought in Committee for Green Foothills, where she is also a board member. Michele Beasley, Greenbelt Alliance’s regional director, took an active leadership role. One thing led to another and we formed an informal association that we call The Visioning Group. This group is made up of leaders from several organizations (Parks Commission, The Greenbelt Alliance, Sustainability For All, et al).

Simultaneously, Helen and I talked with Jean Dresden about forming an advocacy group for San Jose parks. Jean had been instrumental in pushing for the creation of San Jose Parks Foundation and is an expert on parks-related issues. Jean wanted a more open group that was made up of individuals who care about parks, regardless of affiliation with a formal organization. This  group has met for several months and is now known as San Jose Parks Advocates.

These two different groups provide essential advocacy on different levels. Despite being very new organizations and still establishing themselves as viable entities, each has already had a positive impact.

The Visioning Group worked to craft a statement of values and issues for distribution to San Jose mayoral candidates. The idea was to provide some guidance for policy issues to candidates. Operating by consensus, this policy statement awaits final approval of all members of the group. However, the group worked with SPUR San Jose to present a Parks & Trails forum in February, which featured park professionals from Chicago and Los Angeles, along with San Jose’s Matt Cano. It was well attended and well received.

San Jose Parks Advocates has provided education for citizen advocacy via its Facebook page, and on April 21 it presented a sold out mayoral forum focused on parks, trails and open space—the first-ever forum of its kind.

These alliances will continue to grow and change, but it looks like their influence and leadership are already yielding dividends for the community.

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