Support Your Regional Parks District: The Parks, Open Space and Coastal Preservation Measure for the Monterey Peninsula needs our help, even if everyone loves it.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
Joe Donofrio, the charismatic head of the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD), can’t be blamed for hyping the fact that a spendthrift anti-tax group likes his tax assessment plan.
In the 20 or so years of its existence, the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association has rarely met a tax it could support. In recent years, the group has played Grinch with Natividad Medical Center, local School districts and many other worthy causes. But the property tax assessment being floated by Donofrio has won the association’s support. And Donofrio is quite proud of that—how could he not be?
Despite his affable demeanor, Donofrio has to be sweating the fact that his agency faces a grave threat. Under the budget axe wielded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, MPRPD could lose up to a half-million dollars a year for (at least) the next two years. That’s 25 percent of its annual revenue.
Even before this most recent blow, the district faced a significant challenge. When it was founded 32 years ago, MPRPD was promised one percent of property tax revenue from within its boundaries (which encompass the Monterey Peninsula and Big Sur). Then came Proposition 13, which hurt the district badly in two ways: first by freezing property taxes, and then by cutting the district’s share in half.
The district operates on a veritable shoestring (it manages more than 20,000 acres, a vast amount of land, with 11 employees total). It is already highly efficient, and cannot reasonably cut expenses. Its main job is to protect prime land in a place with some of the highest property values on earth; that is something that cannot be done on the cheap. Only one option remains. The Park District needs our help.
This measure would cost most single-family homeowners $19 per year, and would raise around $830,000 its first year. After that, the assesment would increase with the cost of living at a maximum of three percent. Commercial propery owners will pay more, and so the vote is weighted to give them more of a say (and many—including the Pebble Beach Company—have already indicated affection for the measure).
The Regional Park District has changed the face of the Monterey Peninsula—more importantly, it has played a crucial role in making sure the face of the Peninsula does not change too much.
Two of the Peninsula’s paramount recreation spots—the Coastal (“Rec”) Trail and Carmel Valley’s Garland Ranch park—are both MPRPD projects. So are more than a dozen smaller properties, from the Elmarie Dyke Open Space in Pacific Grove to the Frog Pond in Del Rey Oaks to Vince DiMaggio Park in Marina. Some land, like the Los Arboles Community Park—is managed for recreation, and some, like Marina Dunes, is intended primarily for open space preserves.
Just last month, MPRPD took over management of the northern section of the Palo Corona Ranch, at the mouth of Carmel Valley, the northernmost point in Big Sur. This immense piece of property will soon become home to a spectacular 4,300-acre park, complete with miles of trails, and magnificent views of Point Lobos. It will certainly become one of the best of the Peninsula’s many wonderful parks.
Palo Corona Park will also protect almost 8,000 acres of pure wildland on a series of ridges stretching 70 miles down the Big Sur coast—some of the last home on earth to condors, gray foxes, and wild rivers.
The public purchase of Palo Corona was set in motion three years ago with a pledge of money from the MPRPD, and was completed with a lot of help from the Nature Conservancy and the Big Sur Land Trust. Working with these two preservation groups, MPRPD leveraged $30 million in federal money, as well as milions of dollars in private donations. The total cost to local taxpayers was $3.2 million.
That kind of smart money-management helps explain why Donofrio’s plan has met with such broad-based support. In addition to environmental groups and general do-gooders, the Parks measure has won the support of area Chambers of Commerce, the Hospitality Association and other business interests. This is as it should be, and these groups deserve kudos for being willing to pony up some serious bucks (an estimated 23 percent of the cost of the measure will be borne by commercial property owners). They recognize, as Donofrio points out, the positive impact that parkland has on our local economy.
But even though the virtue of the Regional Parks District is practically uncontested, and everyone who’s anyone is singing its praises, it will not pass unless most of the property owners who live within the district send in the mail-in ballot with a check on the box marked yes before July 12. So do it.
For more information, contact the Friends of Parks, Recreation and Open Space at 644-6114.