Yes on M for our local parks

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Great news for outdoor enthusiasts in the Petaluma area: Tolay Lake Regional Park is finally set to open on Oct. 27. The largest of the Sonoma County Regional Parks, Tolay was 13 years in the making.

Petaluma residents, who have Helen Putnam as the only other regional park in the south county, have been waiting patiently for full public access to Tolay’s scenic vistas of the Bay Area wetlands and Native American sites.

The not-so-great news is that Tolay is opening with just the bare minimum of ammenities. Future plans include an expanded system of nearly 30 miles of trail, including extensive multi-use trails; a bunk house; expanded picnic grounds; and an equestrian staging area; as well as displays and interpretation dedicated to the agricultural history of the site and its ancient use by indigenous people.

But most of the park’s Master Plan is unfunded. For big projects like the development of Tolay Park, the county parks department needs a dedicated funding source.

Voters this November have an opportunity to approve such a funding source, and should support Measure M on the ballot.

An eighth-cent sales tax increase, Measure M would generate an estimated $11.5 million annually for outdoor recreation in Sonoma County. Measure M would have an outsize benefit for residents of Petaluma. Besides improvements to Tolay Park, it would provide funding to extend Helen Putnam Regional Park and contribute $700,000 annually to the city’s parks budget.

A quarter of the proceeds would go toward park maintenance, including at Tolay and Helen Putnam. Another quarter would go toward improving access to outdoor recreation. This includes developing the Petaluma-Sebastopol bike trail and improving access to the Petaluma River. Another 20 percent would be to protect natural resources, which, as we learned in the 2017 firestorm, are increasingly at risk.

The county parks budget has largely been unchanged in a decade.

All of the Measure M revenue would be dedicated to local parks. County parks would receive two-thirds of the money, with the rest divided among Sonoma County’s nine cities, based on population.

In 2016, the Measure J sales tax for parks failed by less than 1,100 votes. Measure J was a half-cent increase, while Measure M is an eighth-cent. Also, Measure J would have raised the sales tax only in unincorporated areas of the county, something many voters found confusing and unfair.

The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association opposed Measure J and opposes Measure M this year because of rising pension costs. New revenue dedicated for parks could help the county ease the pension-burdened general fund.

But the county has taken steps toward pension reform, and yet parks are still under-funded without a dedicated revenue stream. The eighth-cent sales tax increase countywide seems modest and prudent, and Petaluma city parks as well as our local regional parks stand to benefit immensely from the revenue infusion. We value our open spaces and outdoor recreation in Petaluma, and we want to see this resource enhanced.

For these reasons, the Argus-Courier recommends voting yes on Measure M for Sonoma County parks.

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