Friends of San Lorenzo Creek|
JUNE 23, 2008
More than two-thirds of Contra Costa and Alameda County voters still support a proposed $500 million regional park bond measure if the ballot language is written to list creek restoration first among its many purposes, according to a new poll commissioned by the East Bay Regional Park District.
Park system operators proposed the extension of a 1988 property tax measure for many reasons: to buy and improve park land; protect wetlands, open space and wildlife habitat; build trails; and allocate money for local and city park improvements such as playgrounds. But none seem to capture voter attention as much as restoring creeks — the water highways where fish and wildlife can thrive — and waterfront hiking trails.
When creek restoration is not expressly mentioned as a purpose of the proposed park bonds, support for the ballot measure dwindles to 66.5 percent — just short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, according to preliminary, mostly complete results of a poll of 600 voters taken in May. That result is a drop from the 72 percent support for the park measure in a February poll, and 76.5 percent support in a 2006 poll — a gradual decline that pollsters attribute to fear about the struggling economy.
However, support for the park ballot measure shoots back up to 71 percent when voters were asked about a ballot measure that mentions urban creek restoration and lists it first among the purposes.
All in all, the poll shows the park bond measure has a fair chance of passing despite voters' growing worries about the economy, the park district's chief pollster said. "I'm guardedly optimistic," said G. Gary Manross, chief executive officer of the Strategy Research Institute of Fullerton in Southern California. "If we went to the ballot today, we would win. But it's going to be a horse race. We can't say because no one knows what will be the perception of the economy in November."
The seven-member park board is scheduled to decide July 1 whether to ask voters for approval of a park bonds that would be paid for by collecting annual taxes from property owners of up to $10 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
After hearing a report from Manross, a park board committee voted 3-0 Friday to recommend that the full board place the bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot in the two counties, and modify the ballot description to list "restoring urban creeks" first. Other purposes, park officials and the poll said, are "to protect wildlife; purchase and save open space, wetlands, and bay shoreline; acquire, develop and improve local and regional parks, trails and recreational facilities."
In the May survey 77 percent of the those polled listed urban creek restoration as a high or medium-high priority for the park measure. The next most popular priorities were completing the Bay Trail and renovating East Shore State Park at 71 percent.
In response to the popularity of creek projects, the regional park board has nearly doubled the proposed bond measure spending for creek restoration from $4.6 million to $8.4 million, said Dave Collins, a park district assistant general manager for finance. Other bond money will indirectly help restore creeks by purchasing and improving land where runoff drains into creeks, he added.
Park officials said they initially were surprised that creek restoration ranked so high above voters' other priorities. In retrospect, though, they said creeks are a tangible part of the local environment near where people live. "We seem to have struck a universal chord," Collins said.
See also: Poll Shows Voters Put Creek Restoration as Highest Priority (April 7, 2008)
Source: Contra Costa Times (Denis Cuff, 925.943.8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org).