Approval of Measure M brightens future for Sonoma County park upgrades
Sonoma County voters last week approved a sales tax hike that will provide the first-ever dedicated funding stream for the county’s Regional Parks system, as well as support for city parks and open space.
Now comes the step that local officials and park advocates have eagerly anticipated: setting priorities to guide how those millions of dollars will be spent each year to preserve and expand recreational opportunities countywide.
“It’s unbelievable to have the community respond to support us in this way this year — 70 percent of the voters is massive,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker said last week. “Measure M sets us on solid footing over the next decade to continue responsibly making connections to parks, trail systems and investing in our existing 57 parks.”
The countywide one-eighth cent sales tax is expected to raise $123 million over its 10-year life span to improve parks in the regional parks system and in the county’s nine cities.
The tax begins April 1, 2019, raising the cost of taxable merchandise by 3 cents for every $25 spent. Food and other nontaxable merchandise are excluded.
About $12.3 million will be available each year to tackle deferred maintenance, improve facilities, provide education, and create trails and access points to new parks. Money will also be available to develop access to public open spaces, such as the new Tolay Lake Regional Park outside Petaluma or Carrington Ranch Preserve on the Sonoma Coast, said Caryl Hart, a longtime parks advocate who co-chaired the Yes on Measure M campaign.
“We’re so thrilled,” said Hart, a former Sonoma County Regional Parks director. “We love our parks so much and yet we never had dedicated funding. We’re finally able to join the rest of the Bay Area counties in having funding directed to parks systems. It’s going to be incredible.”
The passage puts the county in the running for a portion of $40 million in one-time state money from Proposition 68, a $4.1 billion bond measure approved by voters statewide in June, Hart said.
It will also help the county and cities apply for matching grants, leveraging local dollars to secure outside funds.
About $8 million annually — roughly two-thirds of the total revenue — will be directed to the Regional Parks system, which encompasses more than 11,000 acres. A three-year work plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors next spring, Whitaker said. A citizen’s oversight committee will be established to review expenses and receipts.
In the next fiscal year, Measure M will provide funding to maintain 8 miles of new trails in Taylor Mountain Regional Park, Whitaker said. New trail markers, fencing and water for grazing and a new natural play area will also be installed. Money may also be used to help fund matching grants to acquire an additional 60 acres at Taylor Mountain, including Cooper Creek, and to create future trail connections for residents in southeast Santa Rosa, he said.
It will also fund the sewer system replacements, revamped restrooms, and the widening of the bike path at Spring Lake Regional Park, along with major renovations at Maxwell Farms Regional Park and Larson Park in Sonoma.
The rest of the nearly $4.1 million will be allocated each year to the county’s nine municipalities based on population.