They are some of the most iconic Sonoma County landscapes, taking in sweeping coastal vistas and oak-studded inland ridges, all of it set aside with taxpayer money. But the agency responsible for those transactions, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, has found itself owning some of those tracts for far longer than ever intended.
Fundraising to keep Annadel State Park open has reached a tipping point, with Sonoma County Regional Parks now prepared to take over operation of the sprawling east Santa Rosa park on a day-to-day basis. “We have raised the bare minimum to keep the park open,” says Caryl Hart, the county’s regional parks director.
People who care about California’s state parks met in Berkely on Thursday to imagine how new kinds of partnerships could save some of the 70 parks now marked for closure. One of those partnerships, it was announced, could involve Sonoma County Regional Parks and the conservation group LandPaths.
Over the past 30 years, the state has systematically neglected and starved its park system, former ranger Greg Hayes says. Now, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to close 70 parks to save $23 million. Instead of auctioning off parks to the highest bidder, Hayes wants lawmakers to find the money somewhere else in the budget to keep the parks open.
The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the landmark taxpayer-financed effort that’s protected more than 85,000 acres of undeveloped land, has hit financial hard times and is looking at a major strategic overhaul, including a likely slowdown in new land deals. Several county supervisors suggested the district’s woes were due to a lack of fiscal foresight.
Service reductions have become something of an annual tradition for the state park system, which has been forced to close trailheads, beach access points and campgrounds across the North Coast. With public funds increasingly scarce, LandPaths executive director Craig Anderson says we need to look for another solution to keep local parks open and cared for. He calls it “people power.” It’s a model that is gaining attention around the state.
Santa Rosa will receive $4.8 million to build a new park, part of $184 million in grants raised from a state bond sale. It will use the money to develop Bayer Park and Gardens in the Roseland area, a 5.5-acre farm the city acquired three years ago.