The Board of Supervisors this week formally unveiled a comprehensive assessment of county parks and a potential parcel tax—based on square footage—to fund $190 million or more in annual parks development. Department of Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker said the parks assessment would serve as a master plan for future spending. “This unprecedented effort to document existing parks and recreational facilities in cities and unincorporated communities will serve as a detailed blueprint of where we need to be putting our future resources,” Wicker told the board. The parks assessment found that about 51 percent of county residents do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park and identified 1,800 “priority projects” estimated to cost $21.5 billion. The list includes about 200 new parks, while roughly 80 percent of the proposed projects are renovations or upgrades of existing facilities.
It’s about more than just green space, advocates said. “We hear a lot of talk about creating a sustainable, healthy Los Angeles, and local neighborhood parks play a critical role in that,” said Viviana Franco, executive director of the nonprofit organization From Lot to Spot. “Parks are a community’s social, cultural and economic center, a resource for health and way to give residents safe access to nature,” she said. “We must invest in our parks if we want our communities to thrive.” It remains to be seen how funding might be split between districts and which priority projects will actually make the cut.
Historically, dedicated parks funding generated by Proposition A was allocated evenly between the five supervisorial districts. In 2014, as the county was considering a new measure to replace Proposition A, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested that more dollars should be allocated to underserved areas.
When he failed to garner support for that idea, Ridley-Thomas joined Supervisor Michael Antonovich and voted against putting Measure P—which would have generated an estimated $54 million annually for parks—on the November 2014 ballot. The three remaining members of the board moved Measure P forward, though it ultimately failed to win over the necessary two-thirds of voters needed for approval, with 62.8 percent in support. The following year, county officials hired consultants to conduct the parks assessment and reconsider a ballot measure to replace Proposition A, the last segment of which is set to expire in 2019. The parks plan presented this week used population density and acres of parkland per 1,000 residents to help identify priorities. The question remains how the county will pay for all those priorities. A study for the county by The Trust for Public Land considered two options: a flat-rate parcel tax of $34 per lot or a square footage-based parcel tax. The flat rate tax would generate $80 million annually. If set at three cents per square foot of developed property, the sliding tax would generate roughly $190 million each year and cost the owner of a 1,500-square-foot home $45 a year. The study recommended moving forward with the sliding square-footage tax, citing “robust support” for the idea in initial polling. Supervisor Michael Antonovich questioned that finding. “The polling we get back was very, very bullish” given the number of competing November ballot measures, Antonovich said, calling for another poll.