PD Editorial: Yes on 68: An investment in parks, water

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Take a walk beneath the canopy of ancient giants at Armstrong Redwoods north of Guerneville, stand atop Bodega Head and watch migrating whales, or take a lesson in California history at Fort Ross or Mission Sonoma.

These diverse sites are four of 11 state parks in Sonoma County, where outdoor recreation is a pastime for residents and a lure for visitors.

California’s state park system hosts more visitors than any other state park system — 74 million people in 2015-16, the most recent figures available.

These parks provide open space and preserve California’s heritage. They’re also a potent economic engine for surrounding communities. But with heavy use, they can get run down. And it has been 12 years since the last major investment in maintenance and facilities in the state park system.

Proposition 68 on the June 5 ballot is $4.1 billion bond act for state and local parks and water resources.

If it is approved by the voters, about two-thirds of the money would be earmarked for refurbishing parks, adding hiking trails and preserving coastal access. The other third would be spent on groundwater recharge projects, flood protection and ensuring the quality of drinking water.

The annual cost would be about $200 million, according to analysis by the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst’s report.

That’s less than one-fifth of one percent of the $125 billion general fund — barely a rounding error in the state budget. But it would go a long toward sprucing up state parks. And, as the legislative analyst’s report points out, the availability of state bond funds could produce savings for cities and counties “averaging tens of millions of dollars annually for the next several decades.”

For the Bay Area, Prop. 68 includes $20 million to augment funding from 2016’s Regional Measure AA for restoration of San Francisco and San Pablo Bay wetlands. Also included is $290 million for local park projects in the Bay Area, including at least $200,000 for each local city and at least $400,000 for Sonoma County, and $3 million for a Russian River watershed management plan.

Money from Prop. 68 also could be available to help with restoring state and regional parks damaged in last year’s fire and maintaining wildlife corridors. And Santa Rosa could compete for funding for park-poor areas to improve facilities in the newly annexed Roseland and southwest neighborhoods.

“We all want to see the natural heritage in our county preserved,” said David Koehler, the executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust, one of the many organizations, ranging from conservation groups to chambers of commerce, that support Prop. 68.

Opponents, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, are generally supportive of park and water quality improvements. However, they contend that they should be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis to avoid the borrowing costs that accompany bond acts.

The legislative analyst estimates that it would cost about $7 billion over 40 years to pay off the Prop. 68 bonds. But these are major capital investments that would take far longer to complete — if they were even attempted — without bonds, which are akin taking out a mortgage to buy a house.

California’s last park bond act was Proposition 84 in 2006. Almost all of that money is now gone, but parks and water sources need ongoing maintenance and upgrades. Prop. 68 would keep that work going. The Press Democrat recommends a yes vote.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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