A Westside Proposal

news1-1Local sports supporter proposes plan for new recreational park

Felton resident John Golder is a lifelong sports enthusiast who says his three sons benefited immensely from participating in sports when they were growing up. Throughout Golder’s own extensive participation in sports and recreation as a coach, player, and club president, he was often frustrated by a lack of playing space available. Because of this, Golder has spent the past 20 years cataloguing and seeking to combat what he calls Santa Cruz’s “parks deficit.”

Golder worked for the City of Santa Cruz as energy inspector in the ‘80s and has since made a career in construction, where he puts a strong emphasis on solar energy, sustainable design and energy conservation. However, as the city’s latest General Plan process has unfolded in recent months, much of his time has been dedicated to drawing attention to the parks issue in Santa Cruz.  

He recently wrote the “Proposal for City of Santa Cruz West Side Recreational Facilities,” which seeks to improve the sports field situation in Santa Cruz. “I’m not a guy to just gripe,” he says. “I suggest solutions.”

The proposal would transform vacant industrial lands and empty indoor facilities on the Westside into usable sports fields through the cooperation of private developers, a self-designed nonprofit, and the implementation of a new city ordinance.  

Golder has spoken with several Westside property owners who wish to remain anonymous, but have expressed interest in his plan.

James Watson, a Watsonville resident and president of the Monterey Bay Rugby Football Club, sees merit in Golder’s proposal. Watson says the rugby club was based in Santa Cruz in the 1960s, but was forced to move further and further away as the growing population impacted facilities in town.

 “Now, even though most of our players are based in Santa Cruz, we have to say we’re ‘Monterey County,’” says Watson. He adds that their league, the Northern California Rugby Union, requires teams to schedule home games on the roster. Since his team has such difficulty scheduling games in Santa Cruz they have searched for “home game” locations over the hill, and even played a “home” game on their rival team’s turf.

Golder is in the midst of founding a 501c4 nonprofit organization, the Active Recreation Coalition of Santa Cruz (ARC-SC), which will serve as a vital player in his proposed plan to transform open spaces on the Westside into usable sports facilities. The nonprofit’s mission statement will read, “A team of teams speaking for sports.”

“I am in the process of picking up many old sports team contacts and talking to potential board members—I have a long and building list of team, club and sports business contacts,” Golder writes in an email. “The main purpose [of writing the proposal] is to get the community the recreational facilities and benefits that they’ve been paying for [for] 40 years, waiting for for a half century, and [that they] are legally and ethically entitled to.”

One of Golder’s primary problems with the city’s management of the parks situation in Santa Cruz is with its use of California Quimby Act funds.

The Quimby Act, passed in 1975, requires local governments to set aside parkland and open space for recreational purposes. Under the act, cities and counties in California are authorized to pass ordinances requiring developers to set aside land, donate conservation easements, or pay fees for park improvements. The goal of the Quimby Act was to require developers to help mitigate the impacts of property developments on communities.

According to Dannettee Shoemaker, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Santa Cruz, instead of setting aside land for new parks over the last 20 to 30 years, as Santa Cruz built out much of its land, the city has used Quimby Act fees largely for the improvement of existing parks.

The Quimby Act has more than a dozen specific requirements as to how developer fees can be used, and Golder thinks the Santa Cruz “misses” many requirements in its allocation of Quimby Act funds. For one, the Quimby Act prohibits its funds from being used for regular parks maintenance. In Golder’s opinion, the city has indeed used the funds for ordinary repair and maintenance expenses.

The city and Golder disagree on this point. Shoemaker says that the city has used Quimby funds for the improvement of existing parks space, which she and the city’s attorney both consider a proper distribution of the funds.

Golder’s objection to the city’s use of these funds, along with a determination to improve the parks situation in Santa Cruz, led him to develop his proposal for Westsde facilities. On the Parks and Recreation website, Santa Cruz is listed as having 18 “neighborhood” parks, seven of which are “sports” parks. According to Golder’s calculations, the city has accrued millions of dollars since the ’70s from Quimby Act fees, but has not dedicated an equivalent amount of land to parks.

A section of his proposal entitled “Time for a Different Approach to the Problem” lists a series of ideas Golder has to sustain new facilities on the Westside’s 30-plus acres of open land.

“These will be private facilities that anybody can join,” says Golder. “Money, labor and organization/leadership will come from the individual user groups, their sponsors, charitable contributions, fundraisers, grants, and who knows—maybe some day from the city.” For now, he isn’t counting on the city to contribute.  “ARC-SC will coordinate facility scheduling and maintenance, legal contracts, permits and design,” he says. “I will play a major role in design [and] permits.”

A financial incentives program is vital to his plan, and is the only portion of the proposal in which the City of Santa Cruz’s participation would be desired.

“The city does not need to contribute anything except a one-time ordinance,” says Golder.

The proposed city ordinance would credit developers of active recreation facilities via Quimby Act funds. Golder says that the credits could be made exchangeable between the property owner who agrees to develop recreational facility on their land, and the property developer who is required to dedicate parkland or pay Quimby Act fees.

“It’s very important that the active [recreational] facility credit is exchangeable and can be valued fairly,” says Golder. “I am currently studying other cities’ ordinances who have such [recreational] facility credit provisions.”

Golder says his property management firm, RedLog Properties, and ARC-SC would co-sponsor and develop an ordinance that would define qualifications necessary for park fee credit, as well as define how their value would be determined. Once Golder finishes his research, he plans to present an ordinance draft to the city.

 Shoemaker says the proposal seems exciting on the surface, but until the city feels a stronger pull from the community for new parks, they are unlikely to get behind Golder’s proposition in any way.

“I do not hear a loud cry from people saying we need more fields, because I think people have gotten real creative,” she says. “If we had more fields, would they get used? Absolutely. And I think all we have to do is look at Depot Park, our most recent community park. How often does Depot Park get used? Every day. … What I couldn’t tell you is, is there actually more play, or are we just seeing more at Depot Park, and on the flip side of that, is there less play at other fields? I have not seen any studies that would answer that question for me.”

Shoemaker concedes that, due to lack of funds, there have been neither studies nor master plans in place regarding Santa Cruz’s parks space for 20 to 30 years.

Golder has vocally taken issue with the lack of parks studies performed by the city for years. As an experienced geophysical surveyor who worked with mine enclaves and construction surveying for several years, he has even taken it into his own hands to survey the usability of land in existing parks.

“I’ve looked at the city’s parks by looking on Google Earth, going and walking [the parks] and saying, ‘What’s usable here?’” he says. “The way they’ve been counting [the usable land] is, ‘Just count the whole damn parcel.’” Golder believes the city has overestimated its usable parks space by more than 50 percent in some instances.

In regard to the lacking studies, Shoemaker says it all boils down to budget, noting that she often receives “wonderful proposals” for new parks and recreational facilities.  She says her hope is that as the economy picks up, the city can expand its facilities.

In the meantime, although the city most likely won’t support Golder’s plan at this time, Shoemaker is open to the idea.

“When he first mentioned a proposal to me he said that it was his hope to develop world class recreational sports facility without any cost to the city, and to me that’s very intriguing,” she says. “If John can pull this off then the community will definitely benefit. 

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