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Ventura County Perspective

Assessment Would Boost Quality of Life

Proposed $25-a-year increase provides an opportunity for those in the Conejo Valley to protect their park and open space resources.

March 04, 2001|JOE GIBSON | Joe Gibson of Newbury Park is chairman of the Conejo Recreation and Park District

As chairman of the Conejo Recreation and Park District, I believe it is important for me to explain why I support the proposed park maintenance assessment district that you have read so much about lately.

As I talk to residents of the Conejo Valley, I always hear how proud we are of our parks and open space. We have one of the finest park districts in the state and we are the envy of many other communities. Together with our top-quality schools, our parks and open space are essential to the quality of life that makes many people desire to live here. I ran for a position on the park board to help ensure that we continue to provide these amenities that our residents want and deserve.

As a property owner, I believe that well-maintained parks and abundant open space help improve property values. As many real estate people know, people are often willing to pay more for a home located close to an attractive park or open space area than for a home farther away.

The Conejo Recreation and Park District manages more than 40 parks and more than 10,000 acres of open space. The district's budget has not grown to keep pace with the cost of maintaining these, let alone developing new or improving existing parks. Since 1992, the state government has shifted more than $8 million of local tax money from the district to its general fund. There are no plans to return it. In fact, Gov. Gray Davis recently shifted additional funds from the state park system to help pay for the current energy crisis.

The district has done its best and lived within its budget, but it is becoming more challenging each year to do so and live up to the expectations of those who live in the Conejo.

As we continue to mature as a community, we need to ensure that we provide the right kinds of recreational and open space amenities for our residents. We need to be sure that we have sufficient places to hike, read a book, play ball, walk a dog or ride a horse. We need to be sure that we don't have to reduce these amenities because we cannot afford to keep them open or maintained.

The proposed assessment district asks property owners to pay $25 annually to allow the park district to do what it was chartered to do. To some, this might not seem like very much; to others, it may be quite a bit to pay. The district has taken a careful look at its needs and what the community wants in establishing this amount. As part of the process, the district is required to identify each year where, specifically, the money will be spent. The public has a right to participate in this process and voice desires, concerns and priorities.

Why is this vote just for property owners and not a general election of all residents? The district is abiding by state law passed as Proposition 218, drafted by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. It requires that assessment districts be approved in this manner. It allows those who will benefit the most--property owners--to have the say in what impacts their property values. Homeowners and business owners alike have a stake in maintaining property values. Such assessments have been put forward before in Thousand Oaks and other cities to provide for street lighting and public landscaping.

Will the assessment ever end? Each year, the district's board of directors must hold a hearing and vote to continue the process. The public's input is required. A specific list of projects or expenditures that would result from that year's assessment must be determined and the dollars raised must go to those efforts. To continue or discontinue the assessment would depend on what the public wants, as conveyed to the elected board of directors.

Will the state take away this money too? Proposition 218 does not allow the state to take money generated from assessment districts and shift it to Sacramento.

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I support the assessment. I live within walking distance of a park, and my children and neighbors use it often. I also enjoy living in a community where these amenities are well-maintained, Many of our parks are in prominent locations and give a certain feel to Thousand Oaks as one travels through the community. Others are hidden away and provide a place to go and get away from the daily grind.

Our open space resources make our community attractive and provide places for us to hike, mountain bike, bird watch, horseback ride and enjoy many other activities.

Many people in our community say they are for parks and open space. Is this only rhetoric? Here is an opportunity for us all to take part in protecting these resources now and into the future.

I hope you will support our parks and open space, and vote yes when you receive your ballot.

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