Parks Should be a Priority in San Jose

by Helen Chapman

With all of the new worries we’ve had in San Jose in recent years…the police exodus, the rise in crime, the poor relationships between city employees and their bosses…it’s easy to lose sight of other “quality of life” issues that are really just as important.  In fact, some of the issues that are getting left on the back burner, cold and unattended, are the reason so many people love San Jose and strive to make their home here, and we need to heat those issues up once again.

Someone asked me the other day – “We were promised a park in our neighborhood years ago, why is it taking so long to get a park built?”  I wish there was an easy answer.  As usual, it comes down to funding and priorities.  The primary funding mechanism to build parks, trails and adding capital improvement to existing parks is from the Parkland Dedication Ordinance (PDO).  The Ordinance requires developers of new residential sub-divisions to provide land or pay a parkland fee in lieu of land or do both, to acquire, develop or renovate neighborhood and community serving parks to serve the new residents of the sub division(s).  The PDO was enacted by the City in 1988 and is consistent with the State’s Quimby Act.  The fees paid in lieu of land dedication are deposited into the Park Trust Fund.

The problem is that money is accumulating into the Park Trust Fund faster than land is being acquired.  The City of San Jose’s General Plan calls for 3.5 acres of neighborhood/community-serving parkland per 1000 residents. In a city many refer to as suburban sprawl, San Jose ranks lower than the urban cities of San Francisco and Oakland in access to parks by low-income and senior populations.  Simply put, one third of our population does not have access to a park within a ten-minute walk.


In April, San Jose Parks Advocates held a mayoral candidate forum on the subject of parks. Although all the candidates for mayor participated, few solutions to the current state of parks were provided. With the mayoral race now narrowed down to a contest between Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo, will these two candidates step up with a real plan to rescue the city’s parks?

A recent proposal by Councilmember Liccardo calls for diverting at least $13M in downtown high-rise and midrise park fees to operating and maintaining downtown parks because apparently parks space is unavailable in the downtown area and major downtown parks need attention.  A recent conversation with Supervisor Dave Cortese revealed that he is concerned about a generation of children missing the opportunity to explore and play in a park close to home.  I have higher hopes for what he’ll be able to accomplish to address the issue.

What needs to happen is a real conversation and acknowledgement that the quality of life we’ve come to expect here in San Jose encompasses more than just the number of police.  Community provided input on budget priorities for potential future funding, showed that funding for parks and park rangers was ranked among the highest priorities for San Jose residents. In spite of this feedback from the community, the city leaders could not agree to move forward a general sales tax measure so that both maintenance and new construction could be funded. We need leadership and a solid commitment to advance acquisition plans that the people who live and work in San Jose need.

We can’t afford to keep waiting.

Helen Chapman is Vice President of the San Jose Parks Foundation .