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Supervisors Are Split on Park Funds

Vote is postponed on how to divide Prop. 40 money. Should it go to city facilities or regional ones -- which are mostly in the south?

October 29, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

An argument over how to disburse park money reignited Tuesday as Orange County supervisors split over whether funds should be spread throughout the county or spent on regional parks, which are concentrated in the south.

Supervisors Tom Wilson and Bill Campbell said the $14 million in state bond money should stay with the county park system for badly needed maintenance. Cities already received about $23 million from the same bond measure for local parks, apportioned by population, they argued.

Supervisors Chuck Smith and Chris Norby said the money should be evenly split among the five supervisorial districts. Voters who last year approved the bond measure, Proposition 40, expected the money to go toward creating parks near them, they said, versus maintaining parks miles away.

A decision was delayed until Nov. 18, however, because Supervisor Jim Silva had left the meeting to make a plane flight. He has favored using the money on the regional park system.

The park-money argument is an old one. In August 2002, the board wrestled with how to divvy up $16 million from a different park bond measure. Then the board voted 3 to 2 to spread the money evenly.

An even split would ensure that most of the money is spent north of the Costa Mesa Freeway, in older, more densely populated areas with far fewer parks and open areas than south Orange County.

The park disparity was caused in part by development patterns in Orange County and environmental laws in the 1970s. Much of northern and central county was developed piecemeal between the 1920s and 1970s, with little land set aside for large parks and open spaces.

South County was built up over the last 30 years by developers who forged agreements with county planners that set aside more open space and parkland.

South County has some of the area's biggest parks, including the 4,000-acre Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and the 3,100-acre O'Neill Regional Park.

Wilson, Campbell and Silva have argued that the county has an obligation to protect its investment in the regional park system. Since the county's 1994 bankruptcy, the county has taken about $4 million a year from the Harbors, Beaches and Parks budget to help pay interest on bankruptcy debt.

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