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URBAN PARKS, HEALTHY COMMUNITIES, AND INFRASTRUCTURE BONDS

NEWSLETTER FALL 2006

The failure of the negotiations over infrastructure bonds in Sacramento is bad for urban parks, for revitalizing communities, and for the children of California, but the struggle is not over. We can and will continue to build diverse alliances to fight for urban park funds to be distributed fairly among all communities.

The Senate infrastructure package that was being negotiated as of March 15, 2006, included about $2 billion for urban park type projects, and $2 billion for wilderness park type projects. We urge the Governor and legislative leadership to put together a similar package for the November 2006 ballot.

Statewide environmental groups have also put together a $5.388 billion water bond for the November 2006 ballot that would provide funds that can be used for urban parks, including about $490 million directly for urban park type projects, and another $600 million that can include urban park projects including the greening of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers. The California Department of Parks and Recreation must prioritize a fair share of its $400 million for urban parks. Another $800 million for flood control purposes can be used for urban park projects. The Sepulveda basin in Los Angeles, for example, is a park and flood control basin.

People of color were instrumental in passing Prop 40 in 2002, which included funding for urban parks. They will make a difference again in November 2006. Prop 40 passed with the support of 77% of Black voters, 74% of Latino voters, 60% of Asian voters, and 56% of non-Hispanic White voters. Seventy-five percent of voters with an annual family income below $20,000, and 61% with a high school diploma or less, supported Prop 40 – the highest among any income or education levels. Traditional environmentalists need to work with diverse communities to pass resource bonds for the good of all the people.

Regions and cities around the state reflect the need for urban parks, including Oakland and the Bay Area, and Fresno. The Los Angeles region, for example, is park poor, and there are unfair disparities in access to parks and recreation. Children of color living in poverty with no access to cars have the worst access to parks and places to play in parks and schools (see accompanying story).  Children of color disproportionately live in the state assembly districts with the highest levels of child obesity and the worst access to parks and recreation (map 601). This is the first generation in the history of the country in which children will have a lower life expectancy than their parents if present trends in obesity and other diseases related to inactivity continue.

There are unfair disparities in access to parks and recreation by Assembly District and Senate District. Thus, for example, Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s District 46 has only .51 net acres of urban parks per thousand residents, compared to 283 net acres in Assembly District 37. Senator Kevin Murray’s District 26 has only 1.18 net acres of urban parks per thousand residents, compared to 160 in Senate District 17. The disparities are even more dramatic if total acres of parks including forests and other large natural open spaces are included, as illustrated by the charts and graphs for State Assembly District and State Senate District. For example, Speaker Nuñez’s District 46 has only .51 total acres of parks per thousand residents, compared to 3,348.72 in District 37 (217A and 220A).

According to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 64% of Californians believe that poorer communities have less than their fair share of well-maintained parks and recreational facilities. [Mark Baldasare, Public Policy Institute of California Statewide Survey: Special Survey on Californians and the Environment vi (June 2002)].

State and local school bond funds can be used for the shared use of schools and parks. Schools must be built with playing fields open after school and on weekends. The same children need schools and parks for places to play and engage in physical activity to improve their health and reduce obesity and diabetes.  The same taxpayers pay for schools and parks.

California faces an historic opportunity to improve the quality of life enjoyed by our residents for generations to come. Strategic infrastructure investments will enhance the economic competitiveness of the state, increase social equity, and improve the environment. Infrastructure plans should be guided by statewide interests, but tailored by region to meet particular needs and priorities.

Infrastructure is not just concrete, steel, and transportation.  Urban parks, open space and related human health issues are a critical component of any state, regional, and local infrastructure plan for livable, just communities. Urban parks promote the core values at stake in building public infrastructure: providing children the simple joys of playing in the park; improving health and recreation; equal access to public resources; democratic participation in deciding the future of the community; economic vitality for all with increased property values, local jobs, small business contracts, and affordable housing; spiritual values in protecting people and the earth; the environmental benefits of clean air, water, and ground; and sustainable regional planning.

The City Project will continue to fight (1) for significant funding for urban parks resulting from any resource or infrastructure bonds as part of a comprehensive plan to promote economic, environmental, and equitable development for all, and (2) to make sure that underserved communities receive their fair share of public benefits.