A Defining Moment for Public Parks
Voters will determine whether to fund upgrades or let facilities fall into disrepair
By Gary Walker
A parcel tax that would generate almost $94 million per year to maintain public parks and preserve open space throughout Los Angeles County, Measure A replaces existing voter-approved funding streams for parks that will dry up in three years.
If it is approved by a two-thirds margin on Nov. 8, residential and commercial property owners will pay 1.5 cents per square foot of developed land per year — an annual bill of $22.50 for a 1,500-square-foot home, for example. The tax would continue indefinitely until voters move to end it.
In addition to creating new county or city parks and upgrading current facilities, Measure A proceeds would also benefit projects to recycle rainwater and reduce the amount of runoff that winds up in local watersheds.
“Parks are a huge part of a healthy water quality resource system. These problems of stormwater runoff and conservation are so interconnected, and the more we think about this in a multi-beneficial way the healthier our region will be,” Heal the Bay Director of Programs Meredith McCarthy said. “This new measure will help parks be a partner in improving water quality.”
Tori Kjer of the Trust for Public Lands said previous parks measures have focused exclusively on amenities and open space.
“This time, Measure A offers possibilities for communities to integrate stormwater capture options into any park space. For parks that don’t have water capture features, they could do grading that could capture water onsite or retrofit the park to capture water,” Kjer said.
Los Angeles County Dept. of Parks and Recreation Chief Deputy Norma García touts Measure A as a forward-thinking approach to recreation and the environment.
“We believe that it’s a good strategy to look at water quality issues as well as create more park infrastructure,” she said.
Measure A comes to the ballot after county voters rejected an annual flat tax of $23 per parcel in 2014.
One big difference this time is that county Parks and Recreation officials have spent 18 months assessing local and regional needs to clarify spending priorities, a process that also surveyed residents’ desires for upgrades or new amenities.
In Marina del Rey, parcel tax proceeds would pay for upgrades to Burton Chace Park, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke Park, the playground area at Mother’s Beach and the pocket park at Lincoln Boulevard and Fiji Way.
García said that 40% of study participants advocated for repairs to picnic tables, playground equipment and public restrooms, with 20% calling for easier public access to beaches.
But the county’s study also enumerated a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, which could spell big trouble unless new funding replaces funds from a 1996 county parks measure that will expire in 2019.
If Measure A fails, county officials “will not have the resources to maintain our parks in order to accommodate the existing need in Los Angeles County or to meet the current infrastructure needs of the parks,” García said.
Beach infrastructure is particularly at risk.
“Many of our beach facilities — restrooms, lifeguard buildings — are worse for wear because the beach environment is so tough on structures. Currently, our department runs at $12 million in the red annually on beach maintenance,” said Los Angeles County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors spokeswoman Carol Baker.
Heal the Bay’s McCarthy said the measure won’t make the mistake of treating beach infrastructure as a one-time expense.
“The beautiful thing about Measure A is there’s built in maintenance funding budgeted in the measure. It’s very challenging to maintain these very important structures in beaches and parks,” she said.
The county’s parks study also identified where parkland or open space is lacking, concluding that more than half of L.A. County’s 10 million residents live in areas with a “high need” or “very high need” for more parks or open space.
“High need” areas have about 1.6 acres per 1,000 residents; “very high need” areas have only .6 acres. The Mar Vista, Del Rey and Palms study area calculated only .5 acres per thousand residents, while Venice had .9 and the Westchester-Playa area had .8 acres.
There is little organized opposition to Measure A, but the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce opposes it.
The chamber explains on its website that “a per square footage formula impacts business more than residential properties, and there is little nexus between property size and number of employees or profit.”
Even with a two-thirds threshold for approval, Kjer is optimistic about Measure A’s chances.
“People understand and appreciate the value of parks in Los Angeles County,” she said.