County park users upset by three-day-per-week closures

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Emily Francher

SAN BRUNO -- Under a bright blue sky, Otaviano Junior stood beneath a stand of eucalyptus trees in Junipero Serra County Park on Monday, having just finished his daily wanderings in the woods here.

Junior comes to this 108-acre park every day, but starting today he'll face a locked gate at the entrance if he tries to stroll in for a daily shot of fresh air and Bay views.

"I come here to pray, to walk, to read," said Junior, who lives in San Bruno. "I like the place."

Junipero Serra and three other County parks -- San Pedro Valley in Pacifica, Edgewood in Redwood City and San Bruno Mountain near Daly City -- will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for an indefinite period, casualties of the County's shrinking parks budget.

"People are calling us and are really upset about it," said Philip Batchelder of San Bruno Mountain Watch.

San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Division targeted these four parks because they're lesser-used, but that's no consolation to those shut out of their stomping grounds. The department estimates that the closures will affect just 5 percent of visitors -- roughly 100,000 people a year.

The closures will save money in staff time spent opening the gates and cleaning bathrooms and will enable the department to keep open more heavily used parks.

The department had its budget cut 42 percent over the past three years, leaving it with $7 million to manage 16 parks spread over 15,000 acres, said Superintendent Gary Lockman. That's not nearly enough money, park advocates say. That's why they're working on creating a Countywide parks district that would fund ongoing maintenance and operations, if approved by the voters.

Lockman said the department appreciates calls from volunteers who have offered to help out, but that rangers are needed to keep these areas safe and sanitary.

"We're going to ask people to respect the closure signs," Park Ranger and volunteer coordinator Nick Ramirez said, adding that visitors will be asked to leave on affected days. "If people are repeat offenders, they could be subject to a citation."

But some are concerned that people won't respect the signs.

Bruce Grosjean, who likes to walk daily in San Bruno Mountain County Park, said he's worried that people will walk their dogs, which is forbidden, when the park is closed.

Batchelder is fearful that with fewer eyes watching, more bicyclists, motorcycles and illegal dumping will hit the mountain.

Bill Korbholz, a board member of the Friends of Edgewood Park, said his organization supports the County's decision but is saddened by it. He encourages residents to let the County know how the closures affect them.

Julia Bott of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, which raises money to help fund the parks, said many people want to know what they can do to help the parks crisis.

"Everybody's heartbroken by it," said Bott. "People are interested in ways to address the problem."

Chris Hunter of the Pacifica Tribune contributed to this article.

Staff writer Emily Fancher covers Daly City, South San Francisco, Colma and Brisbane. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or .