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San Jose Light Tower

San Jose Parks Advocates opposes the use Arena Green Park for the Light Tower Corporation’s proposed art project.

We believe that :

  • The site analysis report ctains fatal flaws
  • The Arena Green Park site is too environmentally sensitive
  • The proposed use is not compatible with existing policies, plans, and studies of Arena Green Park and this planning area,
  • It will negatively impact the fundraising plan of a previously approved major city park redevelopment project, St. James and the Levitt Pavilion
  • The proposal is based on a flawed assumption that the Light Tower Corporation’s open, uncompensated art contest will lead to great art.
  • A “free gift” should not take park land from a park deficient area nor require the use of City Park Trust funds to produce the site analysis, provide uncompensated Senior Management time, nor should complete of the project require future park trust fund/development fees or Google Community benefit funds. We ask that the Council reject the site analysis and ask the proponents to fully fund their gift by compensating the city for all expenses and by buying a site rather than taking parkland from a park deficient area. San Jose Parks Advocates is an all-volunteer organization of neighborhood leaders and community members concerned about San Jose parks. Our mission is to bring parks into the public political consciousness, to make parks an issue in all discussions of civic priorities, neighborhood services, and community interactions with the City of San Jose. We envision a City where quality parks and trails for all of its residents is universally supported as a core City service. Civic leaders will develop, enhance, and maintain these spaces as a source of civic pride and essential to the health and quality of life of the residents, workers, and visitors.

Flawed Site Analysis—paid with City Park Trust Funds

The site analysis was incomplete and erroneous. Some attributes were not fully defined; some were misleading and made assumptions. A notable absence was what would be lost by park users and riparian fauna if the site were changed to a built environment. There was no discussion of the lost amenities and whether they would be relocated or replaced.

1. The analysis does not include full complement of city sites were not included. Why were only parks and future parks evaluated? Why not City Hall? The promontory point where the Fallon statue now sits? Bassett Park? North San Pedro Park? Or perhaps a gateway location, like Coyote Meadows. More importantly, for a project this size, why aren’t the proponents buying their own land?

2. The environment score was defined as the impact on the proposed art project with NO discussion of impacts of the new project on the environment. This is contrary to the usual meaning of environmental impacts as used in CEQA documents. It serves to hide the impacts and betrays a lack of a real process. It is not defensible in the absence of a true CEQA-like measure.

3. The riparian setback was incorrectly stated. The project cannot extend to the edge of the walking path, a built environment must be setback a minimum of 100 ft. Further, the city’s adopted riparian policy would require a 200 feet where there is active recreation, lighted areas, or mechanical equipment. The site analysis did not discuss the mention this larger setback—even though the proponents mention dreams of a decoratively lighted structure.

4. The impact of the use of large scale utilities on the park, adjacent users, or sensitive environmental receivers was not studied even though the site analysis included points based on the availability of large scale electrical utilities for this piece of art.

5. The massing score for Arena Green Park is too high. The computation was based on an incorrect riparian setback and considered the land on top of the flood bypass channel as available for construction when it is not.

6. The matrix included an undefined score for “incentives and cost offsets.” The proponents have offered a “free” gift to the City. There should not be an expectation to use Park Trust Fund fees collected from the nearby residential development or Google Community Benefits to pay for their “free” gift to the City. These monies are already tagged to acquire parkland, perform major infrastructure repairs on downtown parks, and provide a plethora of community benefits discussed by the Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG). This giant art project was not one of those benefits.

7. The transportation score is invalid. By way of example, Discovery Park scores in the lowest group with service from two LRT lines and multiple bus lines (routes 23, 81) while Park Avenue had more than double the transportation score and no public transit service.

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8. The narrative claims that Arena Green Park has the most available acreage of the sites without regard to configuration and buildable square footage. The site is bifurcated and has serious restrictions due to the underground flood control bypass channel of the Guadalupe River. The report understates the riparian setback in two ways—the minimum 100-foot setback and the 200- foot setback where there is active recreation, lighted areas, or mechanical equipment. In addition, the report does not mention the reduction in size from the future Autumn Street re-alignment nor does it include the many easements that further reduce the park’s availability for development of a built environment. Also, the possibility of a tunnel portal consuming part of Arena Green Park was never mentioned—even though the Mayor has had multiple conversations with the Boring Company over the past year.

9. Mitigation is not mentioned. The construction of a large built environment will require mitigation. There is no discussion of onsite mitigation. Many trees of Arena Green Park West would be lost and Arena Green Park East cannot accept the replacements due to flood bypass channel rules. Amenities would be displaced. The costs and relocation considerations were not evaluated.

10. Existing policies, plans, studies and master park plans were not assessed. No consideration was made as to whether this large project conformed to or was compatible with existing plans. For example, the Diridon Station Area Plan calls for art work in the northern portion to focus on environmental themes. The Arena Green Park’s role in serving 25,000 future residents was not considered.

11. There was no discussion of the coffee shop/restaurant use and its compatibility and likelihood of success at the location. The proponents talk about building some sort of food service to generate funds for maintenance. We think it is folly at Arena Green Park but might be possible at some other sites. Most restaurants fail in the first year.

12. The importance of sight lines was underestimated. The proponents have shared that it is critically important that their large public art structure be in a location where it could be photographed easily. They felt it was critical for attracting visitors. However, the site selected, Arena Green Park will have poor sight lines. Towers are planned north and south. Riparian trees will block the view from the east.

13. Pending Construction was not considered. The Arena Green Park area is poised to be a hotbed of construction with the BART construction staging area directly to the south followed by two towers. The art project is proposed to be completed just in time to be surrounded by construction impacts. That’s not the best strategy to attract visitors to a new facility. The possibility of a people mover tunnel portal within Arena Green Park was ignored even though senior staff knew about it.

14. The Parking analysis is flawed and based on currently available lots that are scheduled to disappear in the near-term. The reduction in parking is so significa t, as analyzed in the BART EIR, that the Sharks Organization is suing.

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15. Social considerations. The impact of local homeless persons in the short-term and long-term was not analyzed. Tourists and visitors tend to avoid places with large numbers of unhoused persons. For example, the impact of unhoused users was highlighted in the Arena Green Park 2015 study and their presence was cited as a barrier to use for those surveyed. Quantifying these impacts is important.

16. Analysis of Current Arena Green Park Use was incomplete. The report emphasized park permit numbers only. Residents’ use of the park and the status of amenities was not considered nor valued in the analysis.

Environmentally Sensitive

Arena Green Park is the most environmentally sensitive of all the sites. Incredibly, the site report does not address the impact of the project on the environment. The site report considers the impact of the environment on the art project. This is unbelievable for a project spearheaded by experienced construction professionals.

This site is one of the few stretches of intact riparian corridor through downtown. When the US Army Corps designed its flood control project, riparian advocates made certain that this area was left intact and deep pools remained so that migrating fish could be successful. The canopy of trees was protected so that temperatures would remain cool in that part of the creek and river system. Arena Green Park West was specifically planted heavily with trees to support birds within the riparian corridor. Community members actively negotiated with the US Army Corps to create the park as mitigation and compensation for the loss of riverine habitat and homes along River Street. A built environment would lower the quality of habitat that was specifically designed to support the riparian habitat. Such development may be in violation of the flood control project EIS mitigation agreements.

The Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek Confluence area is a critically important flyway for birds. It is the only area where there is little risk of crashing into tall structures. Lights can cause birds to become disoriented. They will circle in light beams.1 They can be blinded temporarily and forced to land if the light contains the wrong spectrum. Importantly, Arena Green Park’s current status as a park with closing shortly after sunset and minimal lighting is perfectly designed for the city’s riparian and migrating birds. Other cities have implemented darkening of their skylines for this reason.2. A tall lighted structure, as is in the minds of the proponent, would be deadly for the birds.

1 Tribute in Light 9/11 Memorial Turned Off Repeatedly As Birds Get Stuck In Soaring Beams Birds spend hours flying in circles or crash into windows. Songbirds, seabirds, all kinds. Tribute In Light 9/11 Memorial Turned Off Repeatedly As Birds Get Stuck In Soaring Beams

2 “Many North American cities—including Houston, Boston, and Atlanta—have adapted “lights out” practices, promoting the darkening of their skylines to protect the biology and ecology of local insects and animals.”

The 9/11 Tribute in Light Is Helping Us Learn About Bird Migration

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Migrating fish are also affected by night lighting. City policy 6-34 calls for a 200-foot riparian setback for active recreation, lighting, or mechanical noise generating sources.3 We also note, that there is a trend across the world to reduce night lighting to create darker skies and healthier habitats for all creatures, including humans. It is important that the park area next a riparian habitat stay dark at night.

Plans and Policies

General Plan Envision 2040

The Envision 2030 General Plan emphasizes San Jose’s unique character “Living Amid Abundant Natural Resources,” strong riparian policies, goals for parkland serving residents, both acreage and distance (PR 1.1 and PR 2.6). The Diridon Station Area/Delmas Park is park deficient. Removing park land for a large built environment violates these goals for both current residents and the anticipated 25,000 more residents expected from the Diridon Station Area growth.

Relevant General Plan Policies

(PR4.6) Public Art should reflect the surrounding community, local history or the ecology. The Light Tower Corp has not stated their artwork will conform to this goal.

(PR5.3). Adhere to Guadalupe River Park Urban Design Guidelines. A large built structure does not.
(PR 6.7). In design and construction, preserve, enhance, restore existing ecosystems/wildlife habitat A large built structure does not enhance the riparian habitat.

(PR1.14). Survey park users and surrounding communities to implement improvements. The Light Tower Corp did one public outreach meeting. Community members expressed significant concerns.. The City studied Arena Green Park in 2015 and community members were interested in keeping the trees.

We wish the Light Tower Corporation would conform to (PR8.2) “Encourage privately owned and maintained and publicly accessible recreation spaces that encourage community interaction; complement the private property uses; and, when adjacent to existing and planned parks, trails, recreation facilities, or open spaces, connect them to these facilities. This policy is particularly important in dense, urban areas.”

The Light Tower Corporation should buy land, build their project, and maintain it, just as is done with the dog parks downtown and at many sites with POPOS (privately owned, publicly open spaces).

3 Council Policy 6-34 https://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/60393

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Riparian Policy

The General Plan calls for a 100-foot setback for all but trails. The subsequently adopted Council Policy 6-34 calls a 100-foot setback, 200-foot setback for lighted structures and noise making equipment.

The use of bright colors, and glossy, reflect, see-through or glare producing building and material finishes is discouraged on Buildings and Structures. 4

Guadalupe River Park Master Plan 2002 and Urban Design Guidelines

Arena Green Park is part of the Guadalupe River Park and a large built environment as part of a public art project violates the Guadalupe River Park Master Plan. The process for public art within the park is laid out and the proposed Light Tower project violates that process.

“The park will continue to grow and change, but the vision that brought it to this point will remain: it will continue to be a natural heart for San José, providing a range of passive activities and offering habitat for wildlife.”5

“All public art should be designed to complement the vision of the park. Proposals should be related to the river or the immediate surrounding area—its history, environment, and the role they play in the city. Any proposals will be subject to the City of San José’s established procedures for the development of public art, with review by the Friends of Guadalupe River Park & Gardens, the Guadalupe River Park Task Force.”

“To preserve the open-space character of the Guadalupe River Park, new buildings in the park are discouraged.”

“New specific-use facilities such as museums or recreation centers are not part of the vision or mission of the Guadalupe River Park and should be sited elsewhere.”

Guadalupe River Flood Control Project Collaborative (1997) and Flood Control EIS

Arena Green Park was created as part of the US Army Corps Flood Control project. The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) called for mitigation measures and subsequently, additional measures were developed by the Guadalupe River Flood Control Project Collaborative. We believe the Light Tower project does not conform to these agreements.

The City of San Jose, the Redevelopment Agency, the Natural Heritage Institute, CONCUR (environmental facilitators and mediators), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met

4 Council Policy 6-34. Page 7. Item 4a.
5 Guadalupe River Master Plan 2002 https://www.grpg.org/Files/GuadalupeRiverParkMasterPlan.pdf

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in response to threatened litigation about the adequacy of the flood control mitigation measures. The group was able to reach a consensus to modify the plan and successfully addressed agency and environmental-group concerns, allowing the flood control project to proceed.

Elements of this new design included the underground floodwater bypass creating Arena Green Park East. This kept important existing riparian habitat within today’s Arena Green Park from Santa Clara Street to the north and expanded onsite and offsite mitigation, and made refinements to allowed recreation features, including their location.

Arena Green Park User Study 2015

PRNS performed outreach via two community meetings and an online survey about Arena Green Park East. Some members of the community had complained about “too many trees” and PRNS was looking for guidance. The results show that many members of the community specifically liked the trees. Complaints focused on the number of unhoused persons hanging out the park making it feel unsafe. The closed carousel and the worn and vandalized playground also attracted comments.

Arena Green Park was once more heavily used when the Carousel’s operating costs were subsidized by the Sharks, the playground was not worn, and fewer people unhoused people were residing nearby. The shaded trees and river breezes still attract many residents in the summer. The vacant lots to the north and the south combined with the intermittent nature of Arena operations contribute to low usage rates. We believe the addition of 50,000 employees nearby will increase use of the park.

BART EIR

The BART EIR addressed parking during and after construction. Importantly, the Sharks Organization believes that the analysis indicates they will have insufficient parking after development. The Light Tower Corporation wants to attract tourists so they will depend on the same parking spaces. If the Sharks Organization foresee negative impacts to events on which their fans spend significant dollars, the more passive Light Tower project will be negatively impacted too.

Diridon Station Area Plan and Midtown Specific Plan

These two specific plans called for the area around Diridon Station to be served by parks at Arena Green Park and at the Fire Station Training Center. In additional the Los Gatos Creek trail, and the Diridon Station Promenade were identified as open space.

Unfortunately, the Fire Station Training center was sold to Google. Caltrain Integrated Station Concept plans suggest taking most of the Promenade. No new park sites have been identified to serve the 25,000 new residents and 50,000 new employees. Current park acquisition ordinances prohibit transfer of parcels und 1⁄2 acre, posing an additional obstacle to creating a non- continuous chain of park and recreation facilities.

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This leaves only Arena Green Park to serve all 75,000 new residents and employees expected in the Diridon Station area. Perhaps, some privately owned public recreation areas will be built. Fees on residential units will be collected and a community benefits fund is suggested to meet many needs, including open space, housing, public art, road improvements, trail improvements, and much more..

The construction of a large scale art project at Arena Green Park, creating a large built environment, will take from the only open space that we know will be available to serve all these residents.

Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG)

The SAAG Group has been meeting in response to the proposed Google development proposals. They have discussed concerns and issues. Public open space was a priority and they highlighted the Diridon Station Area plan, the General Plan, and the Greenprint as their guiding principals. They felt that quality of life was dependent on the presence of green open space, not just paved plazas. They will continue to meet to make recommendations on the allocations of the Community Benefits Fund.

Project Subsidies and Costs

The Light Tower Corporation claims it wishes to offer a free gift to the City however, the Corporarion has already received significant subsidies and appear to be requesting additional subsidies. We oppose any subsidies for this project.

Subsidies already given

Site Selection Study Paid by City Park Trust Fund (PDO/PIO money) Senior Management, Park Staff Time serving as project manager and consultant

Paid by City Park Trust Fund and General Fund Senior Management, Public Works, City Manager, Airport, Office of Economic

Development, Office of Cultural Affairs. Over 50 hours to Develop Site Selection Study Paid by General Fund, Hotel Tax, and other funds

Subsidies Expected

Parkland worth millions of dollars per acre
Unspecified money from grants and other funds linked to Arena Green Park location6— this appears to be

Park Trust Fund

Community Benefits Fund
Senior Park Management Serving as project management

Art Contest Likely to Fail

The Light Tower Corp proposes an open contest for their icon. They cite only ONE example of a successful open contest leading to a public icon: the Washington DC Vietnam War Memorial. In

6 Site Selection Study. “Incentives and cost offsets.”

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contrast, when the city initiated the St. James park re-visioning project, the Office of Cultural Affairs recommended that the City proceed with soliciting qualified competitors and pay them a stipend for their submissions. The regular city process requires artists to submit their portfolios, i.e. pre-qualify.

Any large scale project will require advanced construction knowledge. Great artists with these skills are unlikely to spend time on submitting to an open art contest. If the Light Tower Corp has enough money to pay for a giant project, then they should use their money to conform to a method of soliciting ideas that the city has found to successful here.

Fundraising Competes With City Priorities

The Light Tower Corporation fundraising activities will be competing with a previously approved project—the Levitt Pavilion and St. James Park Re-visioning. Fundraising will start in earnest when the EIR is completed and certified. We do not think both projects, Light Tower and St. James Park, can compete in the philanthropic environment.

Lightning in a bottle

We believe in public art. We also believe that creating “world class, iconic art that will attract tourists” is like catching lightning in a bottle—nearly impossible. The world and our city is littered with failed and divisive art projects. We believe there are other places that are more appropriate to take the risk of an ordinary or divisive piece of art. Further, we believe that a true gift to the City would mean buying the land needed for the project rather than taking land from the park system, compelling neighborhoods of modest means to give up access to parkland in order to receive a “gift” subsidized by the city.

We urge the Council reject the site analysis and ask the proponents to fully fund their gift by compensating the City for all expenses and by buying a site rather than taking parkland from a park deficient area.

Sincerely, /s/

Jean Dresden
Coordinator
San Jose Parks Advocates jean@sjparksadvocates.org

San Jose Parks Advocates April 18, 2018

Speakers:

Mollie Tobias, Program Manager, Volunteer services, City of San Jose

Pat Pizzo, Project Manager, Native Plant Islands, Fontana Park

Greg Pizzo, Los Paseos Neighborhood Association

Marsey Kahn and Jennifer Roberts, Thousand Oaks Park

Water Troubles: Soaring Costs, Old Irrigation Equipment, Stressed Trees, Unusable Turf

The City parks are using 20% less water than before the “Big Drought” and we can see it in stressed turf and trees. This year’s water costs are budgeted at $6 Million with another major rate increase is coming. Without enough water, weeds take over the turf creating tripping hazards, ground squirrels flourish, and trees weaken and die. The city’s public face looks ragged. PRNS needs money for water. There are solutions that use less water–smart irrigation controllers that respond to the weather; updated irrigation systems, improved turf with drought tolerant varieties, and bringing recycled water service to more parks.  These improvements take money.  And that’s where you can make a difference.

Write the Mayor, Councilmembers, and City Manager’s Office about Park’s Water Troubles

  1. Ask that the PRNS water budget reflect actual costs that include the upcoming rate increases, and automatically increment each year to reflect rate increases. Tell them it is unacceptable to force PRNS to get money for water by delaying the hiring of maintenance personnel and the purchase of replacement equipment such as mowers.  Water is critical to the infrastructure of parks–the trees, the playability of turf, and its aesthetic value. Tell them a water story from your park.
  2. Ask that the proposed November 2018 bond measure and the annual Capital Budget include money to install SMART irrigation controllers, repair and replace the irrigation systems, and replace and rehabilitate turf with drought-tolerant varieties in order to save the most water and money. Give examples of bad irrigation and drought impacts from your own park experience. Mention the dead trees killed by reduced watering and drought and the replacement trees you have planted that will need water. Tell them how usage has changed after turf became weedy. Ask that a long-term plan be developed.

mayoremail@sanjoseca.gov, District1@sanjoseca.gov, District2@sanjoseca.gov, District3@sanjoseca.gov, District4@sanjoseca.gov, District5@sanjoseca.gov, DIstrict6@sanjoseca.gov, District7@sanjoseca.gov, DIstrict8@sanjoseca.gov, District9@sanjoseca.gov, District10@sanjoseca.gov, Dave.Sykes@sanjoseca.gov, Lee.Wilcox@sanjoseca.gov, Jon.Cicirelli@sanjoseca.gov, Angel.Rios@sanjoseca.gov, Matt.Cano@sanjoseca.gov, Margaret.McCahan@sanjoseca.gov, Ragan.Henninger@sanjoseca.gov

Rangers

Council heard a report on the ranger program on April 17.  PRNS is switching to central dispatch instead of fixed post. There are more classifications: Top Dog, Asst. Top Dog, 4 supervisors, senior rangers, entry level. This ladder plus better salaries attracted more applicants and there are only a few vacancies. Now they are wondering whether rangers should be armed.  Multiple letters were received from current and former rangers and loved ones as well as members of national park association. They told stories of scary encounters in SJ and elsewhere. Councilmembers discussed the idea of moving rangers to police department. No report mentioned that there used to be a POLICE PARK PATROL  in addition to rangers.  A six month study is underway with PRNS, SJPD, SJFire, Water District, Housing, Fish and Game, CA Water Board, Environmental Department.  The interdisciplinary task force appears to be designed to deal with the waterways/rivers and illegal activities in the creek beds and not problems in the neighborhoods.

The task force plans to consult with Creek Clean-up groups, but do not plan to speak with neighborhood or regional park groups or users even though there are criminal incidents and user conflicts in those parks.

The task force will be

  • Defining and clarifying the main roles of a Park Ranger;
  • Defining the types and levels of service needed in creek areas, neighborhood parks, 
regional parks, and trails;
  • Identifying and addressing community and Park Ranger safety concerns;
  • Reviewing and analyzing the need for Park Rangers to be armed, relative to the necessary 
scope of services provided by the Park Ranger classification, and respond with a 
recommendation on this issue;
  • Defining the appropriate level of safety equipment for Park Rangers;
  • Reviewing Park Ranger training needs for part-time and full-time staff;
  • Defining the funding needs for the recommended Park Ranger Service delivery model; Delineating and designating Police and Park Ranger priority responses for various types of park safety conditions and incidents;
  • Identifying alternative options to the Park Ranger service delivery model and explore how identified alternatives would impact the Park Ranger Program and the City; and
  • Conducting an examination of whether the Park Ranger Program would fit existing community needs more efficiently by being placed under the supervision of the Police Department.

More info is available at City Council Agenda for April 17, Item 5.1

https://sanjose.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3427963&GUID=5FDABF08-7A3E-4346-B20D-229997290506&Options=&Search=

Community Budget Meetings and proposed budget

There will be FIVE meetings in the neighborhoods after the draft budget is released May 1. Then all of the departments will present to council during daytime hearings.  Mayor’s budget comes out June 1.

Go to the community budget meetings and talk about PARKS. Water.  The importance of parks in daily public life of the community. Tell your park story.

All meetings are 6 to 8 pm

Thursday May 10 at Pearl Library, 4270 Pearl Avenue

Monday May 14 at Environmental Innnovation Center 1608 Las Plumas

Thursday May 17 at Bascom Community Center 1000 S Bascom

Monday May 21 at Mt. Pleasant High School 1750 S White

Wednesday May 23 at Seven Trees Community Center 3590 Cas Dr.

Amenity Fees for Urban Villages

The council will have a study session on April 26 about development fees for the urban villages—the new high density housing that is planned for housing 400,000 new residents. Developers would like low fees, but amenities, like open space cost money. Earlier this month they learned in a study session the importance of public open space and daily public life  in creating community cohesion and attachment to a city. It is linked to happiness. It is important that the council be reminded of the importance of public open space near the new residents. Ask that fees be assigned to the urban villages for open space and that Park Trust Fund fees stay in the urban villages and not be used miles away from the new residents. The final council vote will be May 1 or May 8.  WRITE

mayoremail@sanjoseca.gov, District1@sanjoseca.gov, District2@sanjoseca.gov,

District3@sanjoseca.gov ,District4@sanjoseca.gov, District5@sanjoseca.gov, DIstrict6@sanjoseca.gov, District7@sanjoseca.gov, DIstrict8@sanjoseca.gov, District9@sanjoseca.gov,  District10@sanjoseca.gov,

Rosalynn.Hughley@sanjoseca.gov, Angel.Rios@sanjoseca.gov, Matt.Cano@sanjoseca.gov, Ru.Weerakoon@sanjoseca.gov

Maintenance

PRNS took over most of the HR tasks and was able to fill 40+ open positions in fall 2017. They continue to replace workers as they leave, get promoted, or go on leave. Since PRNS is no longer dependent on HR staffing to fill the jobs, maintenance should improve. There are NINE new positions approved in June 2017.  Park conditions were assessed in July and August 2017, so this year’s report does not reflect the increased staffing. For this reason, the department did not ask for more workers this year. Park conditions will be assessed again in Summer 2018.

BOND IN FALL 2018?

Council asked staff to prepare a list of projects for a possible bond measure. The Mayor wants to projects to save money.  Among other ideas, PRNS is proposing smart irrigation controllers that are linked together so that they can be handled all at once without travelling to each site to change watering schedules for the season. WATER is key to beautiful parks. Please write.

Los Lagos Golf Course – 2018–A White Paper

by San Jose Parks Advocates – 2018 January 29

[pdf version]

During the Great Recession of 2008-09 there was significant pressure on the City’s General Fund. Some members of council actively campaigned to close the two golf courses that were funded by Lease Revenue Bonds that are repaid by the General Fund. Los Lagos golf course did not perform at the rosy level predicted by the consultants when the golf course was constructed in 2000. The General Fund covered operating losses as well as debt service. Through the years of operation, there were multiple audits of the operations and seemingly endless memos on the subject. The most recent auditor report suggests that Los Lagos could be self-supporting for operational costs, but not debt service. More details are outlined in the consultant report on Public Outreach presented to the Parks Commission in June, 2017.

In March 2017, San Jose Parks Advocates invited the City Auditor to give a presentation on Los Lagos and her department’s analyses. City Park staff attended and answered questions. Our group identified a strong preference for continued use as open space or recreation and brainstormed questions for this white paper. The key question—: “What is the best use for this property?” Results follow.

Property Ownership Constraints

The requirement to replace the park land with like park land makes it nearly impossible to develop the land as anything but park land.

The golf course is chartered park land. It appears to have been acquired mostly with 1965 city bond proceeds and possibly with funds from the 1964 State Park Bond and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) open space program.

The golf course property is part of the original “Coyote River Parkway,” a joint County-City concept running from Williams Street to Anderson Dam. Conceived in the 1950s, it was included in the County’s 1965 General Plan and was part of the City of San Jose’s park bond in 1965. In 1964, a California state park bond was passed and the City and County jointly applied for funding for Coyote River Parkway. The State’s program required a 50% match and reimbursed. At the same time, the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) was administering the Land and Water Resource grant program for open space. HUD issued a list of City of San Jose Assessor Parcel Numbers that qualified for their funding. Examining California State archives, state budget publications, and newspaper report, we determined that the County won $4.5 Million on behalf of San Jose in the first year of grants. Roughly 112 acres of Los Lagos were acquired between 1967 and 1969. We believe most acres were acquired with San Jose bond proceeds and may have been partially reimbursed by the County as the dispersing agent for the state bond and HUD monies. One of the parcels appears to be a land swap for widening of Highway 101. The land Caltrans took was a chartered park parcel.

Importantly, California’s Park Preservation Law requires that park land that is transferred to a non-park use must be replaced by parkland that is similarly developed. (Public Resources Code 5400-5409). This 1971 law cover parks acquired previously. State grants also require that parkland must be replaced if taken out of park inventory. It takes an act of the legislature and approval of the California Park system with the replacement parcel specified. We found multiple legislative examples; all replacement parcels were nearby, i.e. within a mile. Similarly, the HUD Contract for San Jose requires replacement parkland in the nexus of the original park. These requirements are in addition to San Jose’s requirement that registered voters must approve the sale of the land. For these reasons, we do not think it is possible to convert the usage of this land to non-park use.

Prior Use and Plans

Some neighbors are interested in a high quality neighborhood park and community gardens. There is a fear of negative impacts of a poorly managed property.

In 1969, the City and County re-affirmed their joint commitment with a Coyote River Parkway Policy Statement covering Williams Street to Anderson Dam. A revised joint master plan was issued in 1972. Both agencies continued to apply for outside funding and acquire properties as funding permitted. All of present-day Los Lagos properties were acquired by 1980. The 1972 plan called for Los Lagos area to be a multi-use area: a greenbelt with picnic areas, free play meadows, amphitheater and multiuse terrace. Subsequently, a boating lagoon was envisioned. A golf course was targeted for the area near Singleton Road.

As a first step, Senter Park, a large neighborhood park, was built on the west side near present- day holes 4 and 6. Adjacent tracts were built in the 1970s and 1980s. A community garden was built. Long-time neighbors report extensive dumping, grass fires, and transient use. They fear a return to an unmanaged open space.

The “Coyote Creek Long-Range Land Utilization Task Force” of 1990 was citizen group created by the City to evaluate the density of developments along the creek between Story Road and Shady Oaks Park. The Los Lagos area was especially contentious: the taskforce wanted to preserve the riparian (creek side) habitat and a continuous trail network, but City Staff kept insisting upon the need to accommodate a golf course – far beyond the guidelines of simply defining low- or high-density development “bubbles”. Staff pressed to eliminate the riparian habitat and trail and have the golf course play back-and-forth across the creek channel. The Taskforce resisted, earning it the nickname “the Taskforce from Hell”. Eventually, the Taskforce was reduced to writing its own report to Council – with the golf-course up one side of the creek and back down the other, while preserving the riparian corridor and trail connectivity – since Staff insisted upon the cross-channel configuration. The Parks and Recreation Commission sided with the Taskforce, and Council confirmed the Task Force view, which eventually lead to the current Los Lagos configuration.1

In 2000, construction of Holes 13 and 14 in the northernmost parcels, forced the relocation of the Wildlife Center of Santa Clara Valley and a portion of the operations of the San Jose Conservation Corps. The community garden and Senter Park were removed. An odd-shaped remnant (now Lone Bluff Park near Capitol Expressway) was offered as a Vietnamese Cultural Garden. Ultimately, it became an ordinary odd-shaped neighborhood park. In 2017, neighbors who remember Senter Park on the west side report anger at the tiny odd-shaped Lone Bluff park. One Vietnamese neighbor wondered why “her country’s” memorial was removed.

Riparian Concerns and Flood Plain

We believe that flood control capacity is important to preserve; we agree with riparian advocates that the riparian corridor must be protected.

A map of the golf course’s original master plan indicates the 100 foot riparian setback. A portion of the driving range and parts of holes 13 and 14 on the east side are within the riparian setback. The golf cart trails intrude into the setback. Portions of the Coyote Creek multi-use trail was placed deep in the riparian habitat and there was significant controversy about the placement of the trail. A final decision moved the trail away from the golf course and closer to the creek, deep within the riparian habitat. After the riparian habitat was removed, mitigation of about 5 acres was performed off-site. Riparian advocates highlight this removal as a key impetus to pursue a riparian ordinance and improved Envision 2040 General Plan language that was not in place at the time of the golf course construction.

The 100-year flood line shows on the original master plan. The 2017 floods follow this line very closely. Flood waters covered Hole 9 (east side, near club house) and the west side Holes 3, 4, 6 (part), 13 (part) and 14. Water depth varied on the course from three to five feet. Within the channel, water depth was estimated at up to 15 feet. The water drained from the course over a three-day period and the course opened thereafter. The riparian corridor is very wide at Los Lagos and the captured water helped to save the neighborhoods downstream from further damage, i.e. at Rocksprings, at 28th Street and at the Mobile Home Parks downstream near Old Oakland Road.

1 The Taskforce drafted a Riparian Corridor Setback Policy for the park chain, which served as a prototype for the subsequently improved citywide riparian policy and ordinance.

On the western side, for two thirds of the length of the course, the 100-year flood plain line leaves less than 150 feet of land beyond the flood line, severely limiting the development potential of most of the western side. Increasing the width of usable area via levees and regrading would reduce the water carrying capacity, thereby impacting other downstream areas. The eastern portion of the golf course is less constrained by the flood plain. However, a bench of the original Coyote River channel is on the eastern side; it splits the property in the southern half.

Fiscal Analysis

The cost per round includes the debt service while it does not for any other sport; we believe this is wrong. Only operating subsidies and rate of recovery of operations should be used to evaluate the program; it should match how other city sports are evaluated.

Reducing the General Fund’s burden is laudable goal. Unfortunately, the original consultant reports in 1999 set up expectations that the debt service would be paid by the golf rounds. However, the original forecasts did not include the cost of Prevailing Wage which adds annual operating cost of over $300,000.

We note that the results show that the players’ fees exceeds the PRNS voluntary goal of 40% operating cost recovery. The 2015 city auditor report indicated an operating subsidy of $6 per round, or 90% cost recovery. No other sport reaches this standard of recovery. Only a few recreation classes and camps meet this level.

In the auditor’s 2015 report, debt service costs of the lease revenue bonds are reported at $30 cost per round. We believe this number also includes the debt service for the Coyote Creek trail passing through the golf course. No other sport or community center activity is evaluated based on the debt service carried through bond measures and through commercial paper used to finance city operations. The construction of the Los Lagos Golf Course is a sunk cost. It cannot be recovered. The debt service would remain even if the land were repurposed to another recreational program.

The quality of the Los Lagos program should be evaluated on metrics that are within the control of the council and the operator—operating costs and cost recovery. The rate of cost recovery should be evaluated in light of discounts and subsidies to various groups—e.g. seniors, youth.

In addition, Los Lagos Golf Course returns other benefits to the community—open space, habitat preservation, and flood control. These benefits are difficult to quantify on an annual basis but should be acknowledged in analysis of costs. The City’s Voluntary Prevailing Wage program adds costs but provides social value by increasing wages. The impact of this cost should be acknowledged in a report of cost per round subsidy.

Demographics

We believe the Golf Course (or other proposed operations) should be evaluated by a more sophisticated demographic analysis and the needs of these various populations. Marketing opportunities exist for different demographic bands, including events other than just golf (or other proposed operation).

Reports about Los Lagos provide simple analysis of who is playing, with age and gender as the focus. Ethnicity is not recorded. We observed play on a Saturday and during a weekend afternoon. Seniors tend to be white. Middle age players tend to be evenly split among the three largest ethnic groups. Youth players from the high schools reflected the demographics of participating high schools.

Seniors reported the advantages of Los Lagos. The individual holes are shorter matching their strength. In addition, the terrain of the holes is gentle and more compatible with hip and knee replacements. Other public courses have holes that are too long and/or terrain that is difficult to navigate for those with replaced hips and knees. Retired County Planner Don Weden speaks regularly on the upcoming tidal wave of seniors. The peak of the “baby boom” is just reaching retirement age. The City’s community centers have been adding “Active Adult” options for people over 55, reflecting this growing band of active older folks. This suggests that Los Lagos is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this demographic trend.

The City has joined the 8 to 80 Cities movement—creating cities for all. Founder Gil Penalosa spoke recently at several engagements in San Jose including the San Jose Public Life Summit, sharing exciting ideas for involving more ages and abilities in the public space.

The Los Lagos Golf Course already provides opportunities for users age 8 to 80. Through creative scheduling of diverse events, the property could also attract broader demographics than a traditional golf course operation. The current operator has been experimenting with community events: holidays, National Night Out, free concerts, movie nights, and more.

We believe that an advanced demographic analysis of San Jose’s current and forecasted population would help to identify marketing opportunities.

Prevailing Wage: a city invented program for service contracts

We believe that the City’s self-created Prevailing Wage Program for Services should be re- evaluated prior to releasing an RFP for a new golf course operator. When evaluating costs, the council should receive reports on the impact of the City’s self-created Prevailing Wage for services requirements in order to understand costs and social benefits of this Prevailing Wage program. Specific job titles and their rates should be re-evaluated to more accurately describe the work and reflect city and industry practices.

Prevailing Wage is the name a prior city council chose to label the city’s self-created program to mandate pay scales for operators of the golf course and some other outside vendors providing city services. This has led to confusion with the California state-mandated Prevailing Wage program for construction contracts. The California state program was designed to make construction contract bids equitable and prevent wage theft and fraudulent bidding practices. The state provides the salary/wage rate data for a variety of construction jobs.

Shortly before Los Lagos opened, the City Council invented a San Jose only “prevailing wage program” for service contracts as a method to address what the Council believed was the inadequate state minimum wage law. The city’s self-created Prevailing wage program is NOT the Living Wage policy. It is not the state’s mandated Prevailing wage program for construction contracts. The San Jose Prevailing Wage program for services was implemented prior to San Jose’s Living Wage policy.

San Jose staff created a Prevailing wage schedule for the golf course. Data from private golf courses was not available, so they depended on public course data and other methods that are not readily transparent. The city audits the compliance of the vendor.

The City Auditor’s reports highlight the impact of the city’s self-created Prevailing Wage program on Los Lagos golf course; Prevailing Wage increases the personnel operating cost by about 20%. The Auditor concluded that city’s self-created Prevailing Wage for services contributes significantly to the inability of Los Lagos Golf Course to fully cover the cost of operations. The San Jose Prevailing wage cost is between 50 and 100% of the operating subsidy, depending on the year.

The current City-created Prevailing Wage rate scale contains at least one major anomaly—the mower pay rate. The people who mow the lawn are paid $44.93 per hour. PRNS staff explained that the city’s Prevailing Wage categorizes these workers as “heavy equipment” operators, i.e. bulldozers, excavators, backhoes, cranes. At Los Lagos, there is a $18 per hour pay differential between mowers and grounds workers. At the City of San Jose and at the other CourseCo courses, there is no pay differential between mowers and course workers. At Los Lagos, the highly paid mowers are sent home as soon as mowing is complete, working only 75% of the year with very few hours during the winter. The pay differential for these two mowing jobs alone add $18,000 to the cost of operating Los Lagos.

The City’s self-created Prevailing Wage program for services turned out to be a critical problem for the new softball complex which attracted only one operator bid. The single bidder refused to pay the city’s self-created Prevailing Wage program wages. Consequently, City staff will be the operator. Vendors did not bid on the aquatic program citing the City’s self-created Prevailing Wage program. This suggests that Prevailing Wage provisions might prevent some vendors from bidding on a future golf contract—leading to city staff operating the course.

Importantly, if the city is forced to operate the golf courses as an unintended consequence of the current self-created Prevailing Wage program for services, there will be the difficulty of hiring the key personnel needed. For example, the turf and greens manager is a very specialized and highly compensated professional who is critical for the consumer perception of course maintenance. The city may find recruitment of these individuals to city employment more difficult than an industry vendor. City staff should estimate the cost of city staff operating the course prior to releasing an RFP.

Alternative Uses to Lower Impact to General Fund

The continued operation of the golf course appears to be the most viable for limiting impact to the General Fund.

Various golf course memos have suggested a variety of alternatives including, 1) sell a portion for housing and pay off debt, 2) close course and operate as open space, 3) build soccer complex, 4) build a cricket field, 5) convert to disk golf course, and 6) continue operation of the golf course, explore ways for improved profitability and community involvement.

Option 1: Sell for Residential Development

The land was acquired by park bond funds, with some a mixture of local, state and Federal monies. City requires expensive registered voter ballots to approve the sale. Further, state law requires replacement of the park with comparable land nearby, i.e. through taking other land. State legislative action is required for state-funded lands. In addition, the Park Preservation Act of 1971 severely limits sales of any parkland to public agencies, requiring replacement parkland no matter the source of funding. It appears that there would be no net cash generated by a sale to pay off the debt and the remnant and replacement lands would still have to be managed or operated.

Option 2: Operate as Open Space or Regional Natural Parkland

Some expressed interest in operating the land as a natural space with walking trails and a few picnic areas. With this option, the lease revenue debt would remain and there would be very limited income from parking revenue or picnic reservations. Some amenities could be installed that might generate some modest rental income but that would incur capital costs. City staff estimated maintenance and ranger costs at $1.5M to $1.8 M in an email to SJ Parks Advocates. This is three times the current cost of net operating loss Los Lagos Golf Course.

Option 3: Build and Operate a Soccer Complex

This option considers building a soccer complex that would be attractive for tournaments and help meet the need for additional sports fields. Tournament fees and rentals would help cover the cost of operation. Tournament fees and rentals would help cover the cost of operation. Tournaments may attract out-of-towners who rent hotel rooms. Currently, many San Jose residents attend tournaments in the Central Valley due to a lack of facilities nearby.

We investigated some popular soccer complex tournament venues. Typically, these sites have 2 or more adult sized artificial turf fields and then another 8 or more full-size turf fields that can be split for youth games. Typical size is 40 acres with adjacent parking of 10 acres. The newer complexes also include a playground/park and food service. Newer complexes are fully self- contained with single point entry. Several new complexes have been built in the Central Valley in order to attract Bay Area business. They are within day trip driving distance but also offer low cost camping and motel alternatives. Older complexes are smaller and have fewer fields. Some complexes contract with nearby schools to extend the number of fields available for tournaments, e.g. Davis.

There is some data the Morgan Hill sports complex had positive impact to their hotel industry. They have 11 fields with 325 parking spaces and 26 acres land-banked for possible future expansion. Currently, there is an RFP for operators with proposals due in mid-February, 2018.

A soccer complex at Los Lagos would require paying off the lease revenue bonds and incurring additional debt to build the complex. A future bond could shift the cost directly to the taxpayer instead of the General Fund. It is not clear whether the lease revenue bond could be paid by bond proceeds.

The east side of Los Lagos is large enough for a few fields with modest grading. However, building a complete complex would require very extensive grading due to the historic Coyote Creek bank in the terrain. The flood plain and riparian setback would complicate field arrangement. The parking lot would need to be expanded significantly to meet the needs of tournament play. The west side of Los Lagos is more narrow. Field construction would require extensive grading due to the ancient bank. The riparian setback and flood plain severely constrain the available space to generally south of the Coyote Creek crossing. Direct vehicular access to the west side is limited and through residential neighborhoods. The walking distance from the east side across the bridge over Coyote River makes locating a soccer field on the west bank unattractive to families. The appended map shows the riparian setback, floodplain, and sample fields.

Operating costs would depend on the size of the complex. For guidance, the new soccer complex is estimated to cost about $750,000 per year to operate. There would be additional costs related to managing the remnants of the golf course, whether opened as a public park or maintained as natural open space.

The benefits to the hotel industry may be limited. San Jose’s large population may fill many tournament slots. The proximity and ease of access to many Bay Area cities may encourage players to commute home rather than stay overnight.

At community meetings, the soccer community did not make a showing. When the idea of soccer fields was presented, neighborhood residents reacted negatively and pointed to the problems associated with the Tully Ball fields which are nearby.

Option 4: Cricket field

A cricket field uses about 10 acres for field and parking. Grading and construction costs would be incurred. It would generate limited income and would not cover its operation cost. There would be maintenance and ranger costs for the remnant land created by carving a cricket field out of the golf course. It would exceed the current operating loss of Los Lagos. The debt service for the cricket field construction and Los Lagos would remain.

Option 5: Disk golf course

This growing low cost sport could use the golf course as is. The course could be allowed to “go wild” and O & M costs would be lowered to around $1.5M per year. There are several free courses nearby. However, it is unlikely that disk golfers would pay a fee to use this course; if a fee were implemented, it would not be anywhere near $51 per round paid by golfers.

Option 6: Golf course

Continue operation as a golf course. Increase marketing to community. Provide community- oriented events. Rent space for weddings, luncheons, events.

Elitism Argument

All kinds of sports should be available for all kinds of people. More expensive sports or activities sponsored by the city should have opportunities for discounts or scholarships.

Some materials indicate a dislike for golf as a “rich man’s” sport that the city should not subsidize. We note that the course provides discounted rates to youth and seniors. There are lower fees on select days. Public golf courses like Los Lagos allow the sport to be available to middle income residents; private courses are available to higher income persons only.

The General Plan’s housing element highlights the need for all kinds of housing. The City subsidizes the higher cost of streets, sewers and lights in order to provide the executive housing neighborhoods for its higher income residents. The original Los Lagos master plan indicated the importance of meeting the recreation needs of the managerial folks the city was trying to recruit in order to encourage businesses to relocate. The golf course was seen as one tool. We don’t know whether it is as important now as it was in 1999, but it may be.

Conclusion

We believe that the continued operation of Los Lagos Golf Course is in the best interest of the City. It provides the most revenue and lowest impact to the General Fund. It provides open space, significant flood protection and meets the needs of citizens for a life-long sport.

In addition, the social benefits of exercise for users, open space for those in surrounding neighborhoods, flood control for those downstream, and habitat preservation are all worthy and outweigh the modest operating subsidy which would be greater if Los Lagos were used for anything else. As the alternatives analysis shows, only this high fee sport allows the operation of such a large mid-city open space at such a low net operating cost.


Figure 1. Los Lagos golf course. Adapted from EIR. Red line is as built trail alignment. Blue wavy line is 100-year flood plain and conforms closely to February 2017 flood. Green lines are riparian border and setback. Soccer field dimensions are included for scale. Grey dashed line shows slope from original creek bank.

Park Impact Fees and Los Lagos Golf Course’s Future..

 

will be heard at Park Commission this week and then to Council later this month.  Lower park impact fees for high rises are triggering deep concerns.  The staff report on Los Lagos Golf Course seems to open the door to repurposing the property.

Park Impact Fees are paid by developers to compensate the community for the impact of new residents. The fees are used to buy new parkland and make major repairs–a key tool in keeping the park system afloat. For ten years, a 50% discount program for residential high-rises covered downtown. Every time the discount was renewed and expanded, the rationale was thadowntown had a high water table and was an unproven market–discounts were needed to attract developers.  Now downtown high-rises are booming. The development community convinced council to measure the number of residents in their units and Parks staff surveyed two rental high rises, finding 1.5 residents per unit, lower than the rate currently charged. The proposal includes several features we are troubled by:

1. Staff surveyed only two rental high rises in downtown. This would fix the rate at 1.5 residents for all high rises no matter what product they contain: studio or 3-bedroom.

2. The new rate is proposed for citywide–not just downtown.  All future high-rises in urban villages or along transit corridors would pay fees based on these downtown rentals–even though the areas are park deficient (unlike downtown) and may not be at all like these downtown rental high-rises.

3.  No community outreach on the lower fees was conducted. Only the development community heard about these changes.  Urban village advocates have been blindsided and worry about the future of their plans. Changes to the park impact fee structure were scheduled as part of the Greenprint Update due out in Spring 2018. Why were these accelerated?  We think it should be part of a transparent Greenprint update.

4. Diridon Station Area Plan advocates oppose the extension of the current high rise discount program into this part of downtown west of highway 87. These lands are the future “Googleville” and they wonder why the richest corporation in the world and its partners can’t afford to pay full fees to improve this former industrial area into a livable and vibrant community with walking trails, and a park for the thousands of planned residents and workers. Old Downtown has large parks but Googleville does not.

These changes were buried in a routine fee update. The Parks Commission saw through the ruse last November and rejected it all–the discount and the routine changes. Parks staff has brought the item back for this week so that the Commission can decide whether they can any of these: the routine changes, the lower high-rise fees, or the expansion of downtown discounting to the Googleville area. Here’s a link to the staff report–Item VIIA http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/73514

The Parks Commission meets on Wednesday at 5:30 pm. The Council is expected to hear the item on December 19. Email your thoughts to Parks Commission and Council.
Parks Commission
City Council


Diridon Station Area plan west of downtown showing the green walking trails. This is the site of Googleville. A pending proposal expands high-rise discounts to this area and all urban villages putting green space at risk. (Yes, this older map still shows the baseball stadium). Courtesy: SPUR


Los Lagos Golf Course

The outreach results, constraints, and options for the future of Los Lagos Golf Course will be presented this Wednesday December 6 to the Parks Commission. Council is worried about the cost of debt payment and the on-going operating cost. Generally, community meetings supported the golf course.  The land is constrained by riparian/creek setbacks, and the rules of the state grants the funded the land. The dimensions make a soccer complex infeasible. Benefits are highlighted: an enormous flood plain to catch last winter’s waters, and an operator monitor the homeless problem and keeping the area clear of dumping.  The staff suggests council could revisit the Prevailing Wage requirement (which is normally applied only to construction contracts) and look at other ways to make the destination more of a community park.  Trends in golf are summarized.  Staff is asking for direction from the council, which could include pursuing state legislative relief to sell the property.

Hearings:
Wed. Dec. 6 Parks Commission 5:30 pm
Thurs. Dec 14 Council Neighborhood Services Committee 1:30 pm
Tues. Jan 9 City Council Meeting 1:30 pm (actual item probably after 3 pm)

The staff report is attached to Item VII D of this week’s Park Commission.
http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/73514

What do you think should be done with Los Lagos Golf course?
Reach out to the Neighborhood Services Committee members before Dec. 14. Send an email.

To All Our Park Advocates–thank-you for what you do.  Please share these newsletters as appropriate and add to our email list.  Check us out on Facebook:  San Jose Parks Advocates.  There are many news updates and fine pictures.  Send pictures to share to jean@sjparksadvocates.org

Sincerely,
Jean Dresden
Coordinator

Fall Quarterly Meeting – San Jose Parks Advocates

Wednesday November 8, 2017

Calabasas Library Community Room – 7pm

1230 South Blaney Avenue near Rainbow Ave.

We’ll learn about grass root organizing from an award-winning expert, Deb Kramer of Keep Coyote Beautiful.

Followed by an introduction to POPOs—privately owned public open spaces. Then we’ll set this year’s advocacy agenda.

[Click here for Flyer]

Positive Budget News

Park Advocates efforts paid off this year as the City Council approved this 2017-18 budget.  Nine new “boots on the ground” positions were added to the maintenance division. With new hiring procedures led by Park staff, the backlog of 41 vacancies is disappearing quickly.  It’s not clear how the new positions will be allocated–staff memos to council emphasized poor park conditions data driving the need for additional staff. The Friends of the Rosegarden revealed in July that their garden is getting one of these new positions full-time.  This was surprising since this park is in pretty good shape, receives extra staffing as a regional park and the Mayor turned down a budget request in June for additional Rosegarden staffing. Park Director Angel Rios declined to provide a written statement about how the department will allocate these new maintenance positions.  Continuing concerns about equity of resource distribution are amplified. The Greenprint Steering Committee made extensive suggestions in their second meeting on how to improve the park conditions report and how to take into account the usage levels some parks receive.  All parks deserve to be safe and clean–not just famous parks. 

Soccer Fields–will they ever be built?

Plans for a Guadalupe Gardens soccer complex appear to be on hold.  Because the site is an airport safety zone, Caltrans Airport Division issued a letter of opposition last spring which was announced at an Airport Commission meeting. Work on the first steps of an EIR has stopped. No public status report has gone to council.

The alternate site on Coleman Ave is still available, but the favorable construction bid has expired and

Parks Department does not have enough money to build it with remaining bond money.

The Memoranda of Understanding with the Quakes included making good any shortfall if the Guadalupe Gardens site fell through. Park staff says negotiations are underway and a memo to council will come out this fall. The Guadalupe proposal included Avaya Stadium parking and practice fields for the Quakes.The Park Bond was approved in 2000.

Yes, it makes a difference…

Last June, a volunteer complained that going to meetings didn’t matter and refused to ask others to come to a final budget meeting. At that final meeting, some passionate supporters of another program made a last-ditch plea for funding–they won $150,000 which came partially from taking away a position from Parks.  Yes, it makes a difference whether Parks Advocates go to council budget meetings.  On any given Tuesday, the council gives and the council takes away.

Wow! Emma Prusch Farm Partnerships

A recent trip to Prusch Park revealed many public-private partnerships. Veggielution runs a farm and teaches healthy nutrition. The UC Master Gardeners have fruit orchards. The Rare Fruit society has a tree collection. 4-H has youth programs. Horseback riding is offered; it’s wildly popular.  There’s a preschool that involves the children with farm animals and plants. The Friendship Forest has collection of trees that celebrate international sister cities. The Prusch Foundation helps fund the park.  There’s lots going on.  Here’s a link to the Master Gardener’s page about Prusch. http://mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu/demonstration-gardens/emma-prusch-farm-park-gardens/

Upcoming event: Bio-Blitz in Overfelt Gardens

Join us for a free, family oriented nature exploration event in Overfelt Gardens Park – children ages 4 and up are welcome. Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society staff and volunteers will show you how to use a smart phone app (iNaturalist). Enjoy birds, flowers, butterflies, more. Co-sponsored by Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco, San Jose Parks Advocates and Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

 

Capital Budget FY 2017-18

San Jose Parks Advocates offers these comments on the proposed operating and capital budgets for FY 2017-18. Thank-you for the transparency and prompt posting of all proposals. Members of our group attended many of the budget meetings throughout the City and asked and received answers to their questions.

[Entire Letter to the Mayor & City Council]

City Parks Need More LOVE – “Show me the money”

Fed up with broken sprinkers? Plugged up water fountains? Vandalized play equipment?  Tired of hearing “We have no money.”

Now is the time to make a difference.  It’s budget season when money is allocated for next year.

First step: Register for the Mayor’s Budget Prior setting session on Feb 20.

Register Here

Next, contact your councilmember.

Third, attend the budget meetings in your district. Write emails. Tell your neighbors to write or phone, too.

Here are a couple of informational pages that give background on the budget and the needs for parks.  There are links to resources, too.

Advocates Handout Jan 19, 2016 Budget Process

Advocates Handout Fact Sheet Jan19, 2016

San Jose’s Shell Game with Park Money is Wrong

Let your council member know what you think. The hearing is Tuesday November 10, 2015 Item 5.2.

http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_29070996/jean-dresden-san-joses-shell-game-park-money

Jean Dresden: San Jose’s shell game with park money is wrong
By Jean DresdenSpecial to the Mercury News
POSTED: 11/04/2015 12:45:39 PM PST0 COMMENTS
UPDATED: 11/04/2015 03:34:15 PM PST
What’s a city to do when civic leaders express embarrassment at the number of homeless in downtown’s St. James Park?

San Jose proposes taking $9 million of park development money and using it to “activate” the park for the next 10 years.

A Knight Foundation grant paid for activities for the past two summers. Park staff suggests using the money for concerts, food trucks, family-friendly activities and more ranger hours — all to attract people other than transients to St. James Park. Others suggest using the money for housing or social workers.

The City Council will decide Tuesday.

There’s just one problem: The funding would come from an accounting sleight of hand that prevents the money from entering the Park Trust Fund.

The fund is a state-authorized method for park and trail acquisition, major rehab and major repairs near the housing developments contributing to the fund. Under the proposal, developers near St. James Park would pay a discounted Park Trust Fund fee and a “voluntary” amount to a different account that could be expended on anything, depending on a sitting council’s whim.

If all the money went to the Park Trust Fund, it would help complete four trails near enough to the St. James Park area to be eligible for the money. Progress on them has been stalled for lack of money after a decade of allowing developers to pay discounted park fees for downtown development, which the city wanted to stimulate.

San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan calls for a mode shift away from cars, and trails are a key component. The city’s Green Vision to reduce greenhouse gasses calls for 100 miles of trails by 2022, and only 56 miles have been built. Park Trust Fund fees are needed to acquire and construct these long-planned trails and match state and Federal grants.

In addition, other projects such as the long-planned Roosevelt gym depend on Park Trust Fund dollars from the St. James area. If these monies are diverted to activities, the publicly vetted and approved plans for parks are thwarted.

Little outreach has been done on this plan to divert Park Trust Fund money. There’s been no city outreach to the people who use and care about trails, nor to the residents of District 3 who won’t be seeing their promised projects anytime soon. The proposal specifics didn’t surface until last Friday.

Homeless activists vocally remind the city that the homeless are residents and have a right to be in St. James Park. And no one is talking about what to do about parks such as McLaughlin and Lone Bluff Park, where homeless encampments have recently sprung up — rangers, police and park maintenance staff don’t go there frequently.

Parks all over the city need more attention — not just downtown’s St. James Park. The city needs are greater than that. If activation and a higher level of maintenance is good for St. James Park, then it is good throughout the city.

Part of the park department staff proposal for St. James long term is establishing a park district to provide more flexible funding. San Jose needs to look at this citywide. The park department staff is recommending moving in this direction. This is the visionary solution to all of our park needs. Diverting Park Trust funds for St. James Park is a shortsighted band-aid.

Jean Dresden is the founder of San Jose Parks Advocates. She wrote this for this newspaper.