This is a Local Problem in need of a Local Solution
For 80+ years, East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) has been well known for its transparency in managing public funds by listening astutely to its taxpaying constituents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This has allowed EBRPD to successfully obtain the two-thirds votes needed for several park funding measures; we work hard to earn the voters’ trust.
Conversely, the East County Voters for Equal Protection (ECV), an anti-tax payer committee, and Assembly member Jim Frazier, (D-Discovery Bay) haven’t engaged well in East County to lead an effective campaign to raise funds within their community for their beleaguered fire protection district. Instead, they are asking communities outside their boundaries to fund their fire protection district that their own communities have voted against three times!
AB 898 authored by Assembly member Frazier suggests the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) should be funded by EBRPD from tax revenues received outside of the Fire District’s jurisdiction. They call it “reallocating” resources. We call it “theft” since EBRPD’s primary source of revenue in East Contra Costa County is a Landscape and Lighting District, and Measure WW bonds for acquisition and development of parks. Given the services EBRPD provides to East County, no proportional funding comes from ECCFPD residents. Frazier is proposing other East Bay cities like Concord, Martinez, Richmond and Antioch pay for ECCFPD’s operations instead of their Regional Parks.
Frazier’s bill is a distraction tactic to avoid telling his anti-taxpayer supporters that in fact, it is fair and appropriate to fund their own important services in East Contra Costa County, the fastest growing region in the East Bay. The arguments supporting this bill are false. Here’s how they compare to the facts:
Argument: Fire service is more important than parks.
EBRPD Fact: Pitting fire safety vs regional parks is not relevant as EBRPD funds approximately $5 million annually for fire services delivered by unionized firefighters trained as first responders to fire and medical emergencies, and to protect communities from wildfires in parklands and open spaces. As a first responder to the 1991 Oakland Hills wildland/urban interface fire, EBRPD firefighters assisted in the preservation of lives and properties. Saving lives and property is equally important to EBRPD as it is to ECCFPD.
Argument: EBRPD can do with less of its property tax growth.
EBRPD Fact: This argument is perpetuated by ECV, the same anti-taxpayer group that opposes local tax increases for essential services, but evidentially feel it is fine to raid the taxes paid by other county property owners. Their misplaced argument doesn’t consider the growing operational expenses needed to maintain the Park District’s existing parks/trails or repair over $8 million in recent flood and storm damage to our parks, lakes and 55 miles of shoreline.
This tax transfer scheme would cut 1/5 of the Park District’s budget in Contra Costa County. Should EBRPD lose funding through this Bill, services and operational impacts to parks and trails would occur including: Big Break Regional Shoreline and Visitor Center at the Delta, Contra Loma Regional Park, Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Round Valley Regional Preserve, Martinez Regional Shoreline, Briones Regional Park, and the Delta DeAnza, Iron Horse and Marsh Creek Regional Trails, to name a few. Additional reduction in funding may negatively impact the District’s ability to support planning for public access at the Concord Naval Weapons Station or new parklands in Brentwood and Oakley – including proposed new access to the Delta near Discovery Bay.
Argument: EBRPD wasn’t negatively impacted like other government agencies by a property tax shift requirement when the State needed help during fiscal crisis’ 25 years ago.
EBRPD Fact: At the time, EBRPD was one of many agencies, including police and fire districts, justly recognized by lawmakers for its responsibility and significant funding of public safety services and thus, retained local tax dollars during a State-wide budget deficit. In addition, State lawmakers also recognized EBRPD was a first responder for and funder of fire suppression in East Bay State Responsibility Areas (SRAs) where the State of California has primary responsibility for prevention and suppression of wildfires. Lawmakers also recognized EBRPD’s lead in solely funding the operations and maintenance of three State Parks. All of these services remain funded by the East Bay Regional Park District today.
Argument: EBRPD has plenty of money, $210 million annually.
EBRPD Fact: EBRPD’s annual operating budget is $127 million (2016), which includes $5 million allocation to fund three State Parks with no reimbursement. All additional funds transparently reported in our Annual Budget are voter-approved Measure WW bonds and designated grant funds for acquisition and capital development. None of these additional funds are legally transferrable.
A recent economic study found EBRPD provides $500 million annually in benefits which include the values of recreation, healthcare, property values and ecosystem services. Instead of penalizing EBRPD by stealing from its tax revenues and unfairly impacting other community’s park services, we suggest that Mr. Frazier and ECV learn from EBRPD’s prudent good governance model and adapt similar best practices within ECCFPD. We applaud Brentwood’s recent proposal to look internally to fund an ECCFPD fire station within their city limits, and we hope others follow their lead to help develop a local solution to a local problem.
The Park District’s successful funding measures show the public’s significant support for our parks. The best way to ask the public for financial help is to engage them in an open and collaborative process to build credibility and trust, then ask for money … not take it from other popular services.
Share your views and support maintaining your Contra Costa County regional parks and trails at their current funding level. Join us by contacting your local elected officials and saying no to AB 898.
General Manager of East Bay Regional Park District