For over 35 years, I have passionately advocated for our parks as the Sierra Club leader on park and open space issues in the East Bay. The Park District faces new challenges that require a director with a proven commitment to making our park system great, and a director who has demonstrated leadership and innovative approaches to solving issues and problems. The Park District cannot afford to passively respond to the changing conditions. It must take a pro-active role in working with other agencies on issues that impact the Park District.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930’s. This fiscal crisis requires new and innovative responses from the Park District. The pandemic has also created a health crisis in both the provision of health care to Americans and how people can use and enjoy the parks in a safe and healthy manner. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others has ripped open the deep and lasting impact of slavery and racism in this country. The crisis with those experiencing homelessness is one that we have not experienced before. Climate change, and sea level rise present new challenges to the park district’s habitat and wildlife and in how it can create a resilient shoreline to protect not only our shoreline parks but the communities they are in. We need a park director who has a track record of innovation and success in meeting challenges. I am running to provide that leadership.
I see a number of issues, all of equal importance, that I believe can and must be addressed:
- First, the Park District must continue to acquire new lands and waters to be developed as parks. The key challenge is that cost of land is skyrocketing in the Bay Area. We need to identify ways to stretch our remaining dollars from 2008's Measure WW, reach new agreements with landowners over prospective donations, and also see if there are new ways to raise funds. Acquisition remains a key element for the future of the Park District. The Park District has a unique opportunity to create a new regional park at Point Molate and to expand sports fields and other recreational access to the youth and adults in the District.
- Second, with climate change and development, the Park District faces major challenges in stewardship. We need to increase the focus and funds for preserving habitat and wildlife in the parklands that we have acquired and identifying cost effective ways to restore and enhance habitat and wildlife where threatened. My advocacy for Measure FF provided additional funding for the kind of new employees with expertise to meet the challenge facing habitat and wildlife. Climate change will amplify this problem as the ecology changes with that change. The Park District has expertise on this issue but it must take a more proactive approach based on that expertise.
- Third, access issues remain a major challenge. We must allow for different types of access, and simultaneously deal with the issue of over capacity of favorited parks. There are park areas that face a similar problem as the John Muir National Park unit does with overcapacity. We must also address how we make our parks more accessible to people of color, especially programs for youth and families. As the largest park and open space agency in the East Bay the Park District must take the initiative with cities and other agencies to create the programs to make the parks more accessible.
- Fourth, we need to find ways to deal with rising sea or Bay water levels because of the impact that will have on shoreline parks that are some of the most popular and used parks. There must a coordinated State and National approach to creating resilient shorelines. The Park District must lead the way on the regional approach as a regional agency with one of the longest shorelines at risk in San Francisco Bay.
- Fifth, with the last two years of fire storm events in Northern California amd the current drought, the Park District must re-evaluate its vegetation management plan, approved some 15 years ago, and identify what needs to be changed or improved to better respond to and protect from another fire event within a regional context of a regional authority.
- Sixth, the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, following the murders of African-Americans, has opened up a long festering wound of racism and the need to create a new national culture. Parks and open space can play a vital role in creation of that new culture and in responding to what has occurred because the vast majority of people find solace and rejuvenation of their soul in our parks. The new technologies for bringing people together like Zoom must be adapted to bringing the Park District to the people in ways that then foster a desire to have a real life park experience.
- Seventh, the crisis with persons experiencing homelessness must also be addressed in innovative and responsibly humane ways. Our parks were not intended or designed for sheltering people on a long term basis and they are often far removed from the services that persons experiencing homelessness need. Yet, the Park District cannot afford to simply passively respond to this issue. We must find ways for how the Park District can work within the regional context on this issue.
- Eighth, the Park District must make its meetings and decision making more available to the public and thus improve public access to its decision making. For years, I have advocated for evening meetings so working people and Park District employees could more easily attend meetings. For years, I have called for the Park District to televise its meetings like virtually every governmental agency does. More and better accessibility to meetings is necessary for the Park District to increase public participation in the Board’s decisions. As a Board member, I will have a platform for this advocacy.
We can only solve the problems we face in this new environmental and fiscal climate with proven leadership. We must be willing to find new ways for the Park District to use its expertise to find regional approaches that meet these new challenges.
Norman La Force