I believe that of all the aspects of city government that people encounter most frequently in their daily lives, parks top the list. We benefit from police and fire, but many citizens never directly encounter either. All of us at some time walk, run, ride, skate or hike through a city park. Many of us encounter parks or trails daily.
The health of our parks system is vital to our existence. The care, maintenance, access, and safety of our parks is hugely important to the overall health of our city. The economic and environmental well-being of our parks is a key issue for all of us.
It is especially important this year when we are electing a new mayor of San Jose and a few new councilmembers. In a previous column I wrote about the importance of having a mayor who actively supports a city’s parks and trails. In cities as diverse as Pittsburgh, Seattle, New York, San Antonio, San Diego and Chicago it was a forward-looking mayor who helped lead them in protecting, rebuilding and expanding the respective parks system.
I am suggesting basic questions for the next mayor. Ideally, the next mayor will answer these questions during the campaign, so we have an opportunity to know if he or she has a grasp on the key challenges that face our parks now and in the years ahead.
The big questions for each candidate, with prefaces, are as follows:
Question 1: I don’t want to hear “I love our parks” or some simplistic platitude, but a well-conceived understanding of the economic, environmental, health and social value of parks. “What role(s) do parks and trails play in the life and health of our city?”
Question 2: Over the last five years, San Jose’s department of Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Services has sustained a 39 percent cut in budget. “How will you, as mayor, address this in real, practical terms so that our community investment in parks and trails is maintained, improved and expanded?”
Question 3: It would be nice to know that our next mayor has actually learned through personal experience why parks mean so much to San Jose residents. “What experience(s) have you had with San Jose’s parks or trails that informs your vision and attitude about them?”
Question 4: Many cities have faced budget cuts but have developed creative solutions. “In lieu of budget restoration, what will you do to lead the community toward long-term solutions for the maintenance and improvement of our parks?”
The opportunities to ask our mayoral candidates are upon us. There are events, fundraisers and public appearances. Approach them.
Even better, San Jose Parks Advocates is hosting a mayoral forum focused on parks at 7pm Monday, April 21 at San Jose Stage Company.
Let’s make certain that candidates tell us what they’ll do and how they’ll do it. Our parks depend on it.