Parks measure passage will create steady funding source
Supporters of county parks breathed a sigh of relief after the votes were counted for Measure M in the Nov. 6 election. The required two-thirds threshold was surpassed, meaning there will be an increase in sales tax in Sonoma County by one-eighth of one percent over the 10-year life of the measure.
“The measure’s 70-percent approval shows just how much voters value Sonoma County’s parks,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “We definitely see the approval as a vote of confidence, a sign that voters recognize how essential parks are to our quality of life, to our health, and to our economy. We now have a stable, long-term source of funding for parks, putting us on par with other Bay Area counties that support their parks.” Until now, Regional Parks has never had its own, exclusive source of funding from the county.
Measure M’s passage comes two years after the failure of Measure J, which fell short of the two-thirds approval necessary, garnering 65.1 percent of the vote in that election. That measure proposed a half-cent sales tax that would have been applied solely to the unincorporated parts of the county.
This time, Measure M was a countywide election, with revenue promised to city park systems as well as Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Over the 10 years, county and city parks should receive an estimated $12.3 million, with Sonoma County Regional Parks, which is responsible for parks in the unincorporated areas of the county, receiving the lion’s share, $8.2 million.
The county’s nine incorporated cities (Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, etc.) will split almost $4.1 million annually based on their pro rata share of the population. Under this method, for example, the city of Santa Rosa would receive a little over $2 million a year for its parks.
The Sonoma County Regional Parks system is made up of 57 parks. In the Sonoma Valley area, that includes Hood Mountain Regional Park, Shaw Park and Plaza Park in Kenwood, Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, and North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park off of Sonoma Mountain Road.
Kenwood resident Bill Myers, who has helped lead Bill & Dave Hikes for 18 years, and has been one of the leaders of the Regional Parks’ fundraising music series Funky Fridays, was an active supporter of Measure M.
Myers said he was “pleased to have a dedicated source of funding” for parks, pointing to the many trails that need to be rebuilt, as well as the potential to address public lands that haven’t been opened to the public because of lack of funds.
Myers said he and others sat in disbelief when Measure J fell excruciatingly short in 2016, and was pleased to see that Measure M was crafted differently.
“It was smart to make this for everyone in the county,” said Myers. “Personally, I thought this measure was a much better version.”
Caryl Hart, former director of Sonoma County Regional Parks and the head of the Measure M campaign, agreed that the main difference was that M was a countywide measure.
“And we had two years to prepare for it,” said Hart. “We had huge support from volunteers and the community.”
The Measure M campaign raised close to $400,000, with nearly $300,000 of that support coming from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Whitaker said that for regional parks, the money will be put to good use.
“Measure M will help us take care of our existing parks, improve access to existing and new parks, and manage natural resources within parks. That means we plan to tackle long-overdue repairs, improve and expand trails, reduce wildfire risks, and stabilize the parks in many other ways,” said Whitaker.
Whitaker said that in the coming months, regional parks staff will work with the Board of Supervisors to identify short- and longer-term funding priorities and work plans.
Opposition to measure M came from the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association, who argued that excess pension costs need to be addressed by county supervisors. The association argues that out-of-control pension costs decrease the ability for the county to pay for important government services, resulting in numerous tax increase measures coming before voters asking for money for things like libraries, roads and parks.
Measure M requires the Board of Supervisors to create a citizens’ oversight committee to “provide transparency and ensure fiscal accountability,” according to the county’s voter information guide.
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