Parks Innovation by Ose

What Doug Ose has been able to accomplish at Gibson Ranch Park is exactly the type of innovation needed to be part of any discussion around other regional parks, including the American River Parkway.

His article from last year in the Sacramento Bee is a must read.

Here is the entire article as it is no longer on the Bee website.

Viewpoints: Here’s a path to help county retool its parks

By Doug Ose

Published Tuesday, Jul. 19, 2011

“For the past year, observers from the Grassroots Working Group to the editorial board of The Bee have consistently suggested that there are significant operational problems within the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks and Open Space. I couldn’t agree more.

“The primary argument has been that there is inadequate funding being allocated by the Board of Supervisors to the parks department to properly maintain the parklands under their control, and voters should therefore pass an increase in local sales taxes dedicated to parks. I couldn’t agree less.

“In my view, the essential problem is that the world has changed and the parks department hasn’t. Years ago, the department’s charter was to acquire land and provide services funded by the county’s general fund. In the last few years, it has become apparent that such an approach is not sustainable. The department has been slow to change – or actively resisted it – and now is in a financial corner. On top of that fiscal challenge, the department is saddled with work rules that constrain how it can respond to changing conditions.

“Here are the basic facts. The department controls more than 15,000 acres. Some years ago, a policy decision was made that county parklands shall not be allowed to have any commercial activities within their boundaries. Subsequent public outcry in favor of golf courses and raft rentals and the like has caused that policy to evolve over time, so we now have a hybrid policy where certain commercial activities are allowed but others aren’t.

“Why are some commercial activities allowed and others not? If a proposal to develop a portion of the 15,000 acres noted above were to generate significant net revenue to Sacramento County, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

“This is the crux of the problem.

“Somebody” determined that accumulating vast acreages of land is a good thing.

“Somebody” determined that revenue-generating enterprises located within publicly owned parklands is a bad thing.

“Now, “somebody” is struggling with how to fund the maintenance and operations of these vast acreages.

“Fortunately, there is a path out of this morass.

“First, stop making the problem larger. Place an immediate moratorium on further parkland acquisition/development or acceptances of parkland donations, which cost the county money.

“Second, decide what you want to be as a parks department. Given the long-term challenges of funding for collective bargaining agreements, health care and pensions, the department should evolve into a contract manager of partnerships with third-party operators that meet defined operating standards.

“Third, determine on a case-by-case basis which currently owned parklands are meeting a minimum level of active and passive recreational use by the public. Use actual numbers rather than estimates. Don’t game the system to favor “treasured icons.” Categorize each property as high-cost/low-use, low-cost/low-use, high-cost/high-use or low-cost/high-use. Keep the low-cost/high-use properties. If you have a property that is not meeting expectations, then get rid of it.

“Fourth, use proceeds from the sale of underutilized properties to fund the necessary repairs and/or maintenance for the retained properties. Concurrently, seek out a partner or partners who can operate the properties more efficiently – the agreement covering Effie Yeaw can serve as a model for such partnerships – and make a business deal with those partners.

“The bottom line is that the county’s bottom line has changed due to economic influences beyond its control. None of us may like that set of circumstances, but it is what it is. “Business as usual” is not a sustainable business model; so, if mistakes have been made then let’s correct them.

“The county must adapt. Rather than continue trying to be a service provider in a world that can’t afford one, the parks department should be retooled with contract managers who are each capable of managing multiple partnerships with partners who have an entrepreneurial background. The objective is to use the third-party entrepreneurial talent to create revenue streams to support programs and services that have historically been, but no longer can be, funded by the county’s general fund.

“This problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be cured overnight. And, asking voters to increase taxes so as to give more money to a department that has proved inadequate to the task is unnecessary and a sure loser at the polls.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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