Parks to open again in middle of the week: As budget look better, board bows to public

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ulysses Torassa

Four San Mateo County parks will soon be open during the middle of the week again after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to restore $186,500 in park funding that had been cut from the budget.

This summer, the county closed the Edgewood, Junipero Serra, San Bruno Mountain and San Pedro Valley parks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as a cost-savings move. At the time, supervisors expected a $56 million shortfall in the county budget, but that estimate has shrunk to about $27 million, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill, who sponsored the measure to restore the park funding from reserves.

The weekday closures prompted a grassroots campaign by citizens and parks groups, who said the parks were treasured destinations for the community.

"It's appropriate and important for us to bring back the quality of life we enjoy and our citizens expect," Hill said. "In many cases, it's a silent majority that use the parks, enjoy the parks and support the parks, and you don't hear from them until you take the parks away or try to limit their use. Then they speak very loud and clear, and we've heard that for the last few months."

The closures also led to more vandalism and to problems for schools and other groups that use the parks, Hill said. The parks even lost out on landscaping maintenance work donated by people in the community who could not get inside during the week.

Activists who rallied to restore the funding said they were gratified by the supervisors' vote, which was unanimous.

"We're really thrilled," said Ellen Schuette, executive director of Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks, both in Woodside.

Those two parks were not among those that were closed during the week, but her group participated in the effort to get the funding restored. "To me, it means the supervisors understand the parks are truly a treasure," Schuette said.

Ed Pike of San Francisco, a former Peninsula resident and avid parks user, was a major force in drawing people and groups together to fight for more funding. The next step, he said, is to find a long-term solution for funding parks, instead of relying just on the annual county budget.

Hill agreed, saying the county was working with the local cities to develop a stable funding source. That might turn out to be a separate park agency, similar to the East Bay Regional Parks District, that relies on its own tax levies to operate and maintain their sites.

Also Tuesday, supervisors voted to restore funds for an anti-gang and street crime task force for the Sheriff's Department.

Although the county still faces a budget shortfall, it has about $120 million in reserves, Hill said. That's because county officials socked away money during the dot-com boom, knowing tougher times would inevitably return.

"We have prudent and excellent management," Hill said. "We didn't do what the state did. We saved the money just for that rainy day."

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