Sonoma’s regional park district is the only one in the Bay Area without its own independent source of funding. An acquisition spree by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has left the agency with land for parks, yet without funding to open them to the public or to properly maintain existing parks. So the park district is now seeking a half-cent sales tax increase in unincorporated Sonoma County to pay for development, maintenance, and management of its more than 50 units.
Measure J, which needs two-thirds approval, would provide $9.5 million a year over the next 10 years. The district has outlined priority targets for funding, including Tolay Lake (southeast of Petaluma) and Carrington Ranch (on the coast). The funds would also support improvements in existing parks, including Hood Mountain near Santa Rosa and Helen Putnam in Petaluma.
The sales tax would apply only to unincorporated parts of the county, says regional parks director Caryl Hart, as a way of placing much of the burden of the tax on visitors who are drawn to the county for its scenic beauty. “The idea that Sonoma County doesn’t have dedicated park funding is astounding when you consider every other Bay Area county has it,” Hart says. “The time is right, and we’ll make the case to the voters, and I think they’ll agree. Most of the money is going to be coming from tourists, the impact on residents is so slight, and the benefit is so massive.”