Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lennie Roberts: Comments on behalf of CGF on the Draft Strategic Plan 2013 for County Parks

March 5, 2013                                                                        

San Mateo County Parks Commission
555 County Center, 5th Floor
Redwood City, CA 94063

Re:  Draft San Mateo County Strategic Plan 2013

Dear Chair Cooney and Commissioners,

On behalf of Committee for Green Foothills, I request that you adopt the following recommendations to the Board of Supervisors:

  1. The County should return the Parks Department to a stand-alone Department.  In February, 2011, as an economy measure, the Parks Department was reorganized to become a Division under the Public Works Department.  The missions and cultures of Parks and Public Works are fundamentally different.  It is very difficult to harmonize these two agencies, due to these fundamental differences.  While some efficiencies may be achieved by sharing support services, the Parks Department should be returned to a separate stand alone Department.
  2. The County should establish a new high-level position for Natural Resource Management; this position should have a strong background in biology or ecology.  This is a position of expertise that can inform and guide the natural resource management components of planning, capital projects, and maintenance and operations.  The County is mandated by federal and state laws to preserve and protect the diverse and unique natural resources in our parks, to protect air and water quality, and to restore habitats where possible.  Appendix G notes that our parks support over one hundred species of plants and animals that are recognized as sensitive, locally rare, and/or protected under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.  It is critical to have expertise and leadership within the Department to preserve and protect all of the parks important natural resources, and where possible, to restore damaged or lost habitat.
  3. The County should provide adequate new funding for field staff and supplies and services in order to provide cost-effective and safe maintenance of existing facilities, infrastructure, and trails.  Appendix B shows the dramatic loss in the level of service that has in most cases fallen from “High” to “Low”.  Appendix F lists 16 facilities that have been temporarily closed due to lack of funding.  This is not a sustainable situation.  Parks operations are barely scraping by and some are on life support.  Increased staffing, particularly with rangers in the field, is essential.  These rangers can perform multiple roles depending upon the season, the need, and other factors.  Their skills and talents are tremendously important for the smooth operation of the parks and their presence helps with law enforcement and enables quick responses in emergencies.
  4. The County should be giving strong support to Park partners.  The Parks Department  needs to increase its commitment to working as a partner with the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, Friends groups, nonprofit educational organizations, and other support groups.  These groups and their dedicated members are crucial ambassadors for parks, in addition to providing thousands of dollars worth of pro bono services including interpretation, restoration of habitats and removal of invasive species and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in private donations for specific projects and programs.  The partnership model of the GGNRA and its over 80 park partners is notable; San Mateo County Parks should be embracing and supporting its partners as well. 

The Mission and Vision of the Strategic Plan are commendable, but the Goals and Strategies appear to be more of a workplan than a means to carry out the Vision.  Some of the Goals and Strategies appear to be in conflict with each other, and priorities are not well articulated in this section.  The Appendices provide a wealth of useful data.  CGF asks that the County defer adoption of the Goals and Strategies in the Strategic Plan until the Parks Division is re-established as a separate stand-alone Department, and can engage the Friends groups and other knowledgeable park supporters and stakeholders in a broader collaborative process.

Thank you for consideration of these comments.


Lennie Roberts, San Mateo County Legislative Advocate

cc: President Don Horsley and Members of the Board of Supervisors
     Jim Porter, Director, Public Works
     Gary Lockman, Superintendent