How do you use the East Bay’s regional parks?

Do you guys get out much to the East Bay Regional Parks?

I adore them.

I used to go to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park (formerly maintained by EBRPD, but as of January, now maintained by the Port of Oakland) all the time before the bus stopped running there. I still visit Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline fairly often.

I go up to walk in the hills parks as often as I can, although not being able to drive makes that kind of hard. Last week when I said that the main reason I want to get my driver’s license was so I could attend EBRPD Board meetings, that was only partially true. I definitely want to be able to go see their meetings. But also, I want to be able to go to the parks more often for recreation. People are always telling me how helpful being able to drive is for everyday things like grocery shopping or whatever, but I manage those tasks just fine on my feet and AC Transit. For me, wanting to drive is all about the EBPRD. I have a little dream of making a project out of visiting all the parks in the District.

Anyway. If you’re one of those people who is constantly out and about hiking in our amazing regional parks, good for you. If you have never been to one, you are missing out on a tremendous resource, and I strongly urge you to visit one soon.

EBRPD Master Plan Update

In the meantime, you can help shape the future of the East Bay Regional Park District (EPRD) right now by taking their community survey, which is being used to help craft an update of the EBRPD Master Plan:

The East Bay Regional Park District is preparing an update of the Park District’s Master Plan, a policy document that guides the District in future expansion of parks, trails, and services. The District provides and manages the regional parks for Alameda and Contra Costa counties, a 1,700 square mile area which is home to over 2.5 million people. The District manages 65 regional parks, over 108,000 acres of open space, and 1,200 miles of trails.

Its Master Plan defines the vision and mission of the Park District and sets priorities for at least the next decade. The policies set forth by the Master Plan help guide the stewardship and development of current and future parks in such a way to maintain a careful balance between the need to protect and conserve natural resources while offering recreational use of parklands for all to enjoy now and in the future. Accompanying the plan, is the Master Plan Map which was updated in 2008 and outlines several proposed new areas within the Park District’s jurisdiction.

The Survey

I took the online survey on Saturday. It was pretty long, so wait until you have like fifteen minutes to devote to it before trying to fill it out.

But it’s worth doing if you care about the future of the EBRPD. I don’t know a whole lot about the way the District is run, or what kind of issues they struggle with, so I really enjoyed completing the survey because it gave me a little insight into the types of choices they have to make about their services.

The first page asked a bunch of very general questions about people’s opinions of the regional parks and the EBRPD. Do they improve your quality of life? Is maintenance of the parks important? What about environmental maintenance? Do the parks increase your property values? Stuff like that.

I marked “strongly disagree” on only one of the questions, which was:

Social equity is a core value to the East Bay Regional Park District; clearly, the District is well known for making a concerted effort to accommodate the needs and desires of people in ALL levels of income and ALL ethnic groups who reside in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

If the EBRPD does, in fact, make such a concerted effort, it is certainly not well known by me. Access to the parks for people without an automobile is very poor.

Several years ago, I agreed to help out a friend who worked with Oakland kids in a flatland neighborhood and tag along with them on a field trip up to Redwood Regional Park. The way they reacted when we got up there, you would have thought we had taken them to Mars. It was profoundly sad to me to realize that these kids who live really only a few miles away had basically no idea that this incredibly resource even existed, and really have no opportunity in their daily lives to enjoy it.

Of course, that was just one experience, and like I said, I don’t know the details of everything the EBRPD does. Maybe they have tons of outreach programs that I am unaware of and that this particular group of kids was somehow not exposed to. I don’t know.

But from where I sit, there is no way that the EBRPD can be claim social equity as one of their core values if they are not actively working to get people, particularly children, from disadvantaged communities in the East Bay to their parks.

And the little amount I actually do know about the EBRPD’s activities and investments certainly does not suggest some strong commitment to social equity. Look at the poor Jack London Aquatic Center (JLAC). So here is this great operation that is partially funded by the City and partially funded by rent from tenants like the Oakland Strokes, a rowing team composed mostly of kids from Contra Costa County. This allowed the JLAC to provide rowing and kayaking programs for kids at Oakland public schools.

So then the Oakland Strokes decide that they don’t like sharing the space and so the East Bay Regional Parks District goes and builds them their own boathouse where they’ll pay a fraction of the previous rent and maybe do some “outreach” to poor kids in Oakland. And now with the loss of the Strokes combined with the cut of City funding, goodbye JLAC and the wonderful opportunities they provide. Thanks EBRPD!

How you use the parks

The next couple of pages were devoted to how people use the parks. One asked about what kind of exercise you do and how regularly, although the options were kind of weird. (I don’t usually think of “camping” as exercise). The next wanted to know if you were aware of the EBRPD before taking the survey, and then next asked how often you visit the parks and which ones.

They also asked if you have attended any of their classes or programs, which I admit that I have not. I’ve always kind of wanted too, though. I’m always seeing programs on their Twitter that look really interesting. Someday!

Why you don’t use the parks

The next page asked about barriers to using the regional parks. They had a list of options and asked you to mark whether each one was a major barrier, minor barrier, or not a barrier. Options included distance of the parks from your home, lack of transportation to the parks, park use fees, insufficient parking, safety concerns, lack of multi-lingual signage, overcrowding, inadequate accommodations for the disabled, and so on.

Like I said before, my biggest barrier is transportation. Public transit to the regional parks was never stellar, but with the recent AC Transit service cuts, it has actually gotten really bad. Now, from AC Transit’s perspective, it makes total sense to cut lines like these, which did not get used very much. But if the EBRPD is concerned about equity and providing access for everyone, they should cough up the cash to subsidize bus lines serving their out of the way facilities.

When I’ve gotten rides to the parks, I’ve never had a problem parking. But of course my experience in that arena is somewhat limited.

The next page quizzes you on your satisfaction with various aspects of the regional parks: maintenance, safety, amenities, programs, and so on.

Adding to the EBRDP’s holdings

The next page wanted input on whether the EBRPD should be buying more land, and if so, what type:

With over 108,000 acres of land, 65 regional parks, and over 1,200 miles of trails, some people believe that the land holdings for the East Bay Regional Park District are sufficient and there is no need to purchase more land. Other people argue that there is a very real need to purchase and protect more undeveloped land and open spaces, especially since there is not a great deal of this land left in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

First, it asked whether the District should purchase more land at all, which honestly, I’m not sure about. I like the regional parks, so I like the idea of adding to them conceptually. But I think I would have to know more about what land they want to purchase before I could give an informed answer. I marked “decline to state”.

Then it asked:

Do you feel the park District should place a higher priority on the purchase and protection of undeveloped open space and wildlife areas, keeping visitor access to a minimum; or do you believe the available funds would be better spent developing and opening up more of the existing parklands for public access, thereby enhancing public visitation and recreational activities?

So I think that this gets into those mysterious politics of the EBRPD that I know nothing about. I use the parks for recreation, and so it seems natural to me that they should invest in parks that people can use. But other people think of the District’s responsibility differently, and think that use by people is a bonus, and that their value is in the preservation of undeveloped space. Obviously, in a dense urban area there will be people concerned with that .

I have heard some people complain about how the EBRPD is all corrupt and just takes public money to buy worthless grazing land so they can give sweetheart deals to their cattle friends or something. But the people who say that might be totally crazy, I have no idea. They often sound kind of crazy.

The question made me think of when I took a trip to Montana last year and paid a visit to the local public library. I was wandering around just to get a sense of the place (it appeared, happily, clean & well-used), when a prominently displayed Environmental Impact Statement report caught my eye. Of course I could not resist going to take a look.

It turned out to be about the long term plan for some kind of State forest or nature preserve or something. They had four different alternatives about what the use priorities should be for the area — recreation for people, wildlife and habitat preservation, jobs and industry…I can’t remember the last one. Maybe it was like a combination of all three or something?

Anyway, I sat there reading for a while about the different impacts of the different options, and the reasons people made for and against the different options, and it was really interesting. I kept changing my mind about which was the best while I was reading it.

So this is sort of the same issue. I picked the recreational activities option, but it made me want to learn more about why the EBRPD was created and the history of the agency. I actually have a book about it, but it has been languishing alongside my book about the creation of East Bay MUD on my nightstand for months. If I ever get around to reading it, I will report back here.

Anyway. The final question on that page asked whether the District should be investing in “passive” parks, with things like hiking and walking trails, or “active” parks, with swimming and playground facilities. At first, I was going to mark passive parks, since mostly what I like to do in the regional parks is hiking and walking. But then I started thinking about the poor Jack London Aquatic Center, and the value of facilities like that in urban areas, and thought maybe the District should be investing in things like that. So I changed it to “combination of both.”

The following pages asked about global warming and something called Healthy Parks, Healthy People, which I was unfamiliar with.

How should the EBRPD spend its money?

The next page asked for input on the District’s spending priorities. There were lists of passive and active facilities and programs, and you were asked to rate each one as being either a high, medium, or low priority, or not a priority at all.

Options for passive activities included visitor centers, interpretive facilities, fitness trails, picnic areas, botanical gardens, more parking, and so on. Under active activities, they had options for hiking and jogging trails, bicycle riding, equestrian activities, dog trails, playgrounds, camping, fishing and — most bizarre to me — waterslides.

I don’t know what exactly that last option was referring to, but waterslides are fun, so I was tempted to list it as a high priority, although I ultimately went with low, since other options seemed like they probably were more important.

It went on to ask about what types of trails people prefer — dedicated to one use (bicycling or hiking) or multi-use. I had a tough time with that one. When I go hiking, I definitely prefer a trail that I don’t have to share with horses or bicycles. But on the other hand, it seems like shared trails are probably more efficient from a resource standpoint. I ended up saying both were important.

Then they asked all these really specific questions about which types of trails you prefer. I was totally out of my element on this one. I mean, the easy thing to do would be to just mark the types of trails I use right now. But of course, who knows how my habits will change in the future. It’s possible, in theory, that I might decide that I’m super into bicycles. If that happened, would I prefer dirt trails or paved trails? Or are there enough bicycle trails as is? I just don’t know. I think the most important thing is to offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities, but beyond that, I have a hard time saying.

Dogs in the Parks

One question about trail priorities that I had no trouble answering was the one about “DOG FREE trails.” I said that they are not a priority.

The trail page was followed by one about dogs in the regional parks. First it asks if the existing dog policies were adequate. There was no option for saying that the parks should be more dog friendly. You could only say that they are adequate or that there should be more restrictions on dogs.

Then it asked whether they should continue their policy of allowing people to hike with their dogs off leash on most trails. Those of you who have read previous posts I’ve written about dog parks will not be surprised to hear that I believe it should be continued. Hiking with dogs is great! Taking dogs to beautiful open wooded areas and forcing them to stay on their leash is torture. And I have never witnessed any problems with dogs on the EBRPD trails I’ve visited.

Do you trust the East Bay Regional Park District?

The final section focused on how much confidence you have in the EBRPD leadership. Like I said before, I don’t really know enough about how the District operates to answer any of those questions. I marked unsure on all of them except for the final one:

Officials of the East Bay Regional Park District never exaggerate about the need for money, therefore, I would almost always support a reasonable tax increase for the East Bay Regional Park District.

I said that I strongly disagree. I like the regional parks, and am not necessarily against voting for a tax increase for the District. But that depends on so many factors. What would the specific uses of the tax be? How much would the tax be? Without knowing those things, how could anyone say that they would “almost always” support more taxes? That seemed like a poorly phrased question to me.

Also. I really don’t know much about the East Bay Regional Park District’s finances, but the notion that any public official “never exaggerate[s] the need for money” is preposterous.

Take the survey!

Now that you know what to expect, it’s your turn. What do you want to see the East Bay Regional Park District look like in the future? What types of facilities should they invest in? Do you want to be able to hike with your dog?

Your input matters. Take the survey here, then come back and tell me what you said.

4 thoughts on “How do you use the East Bay’s regional parks?

  1. Dave C.

    Three cheers for the East Bay Regional Parks! The single worst thing (arguably the only bad thing) about being carfree is that I don’t go walking/hiking/running with my dog in the regional parks as often as I did when I owned a car. The big regional parks in Oakland (Redwood, Chabot, Sibley, MLKJr Shoreline) are totally awesome, and the smaller or more far-flung parks (Leona Canyon, Huckleberry, Point Pinole, Briones, Las Trampas, Black Diamond Mines, etc.) are also terrific and worth the trip.

    My survey answers tended to favor anything-goes trail use and a preference for expansion of less-developed parks rather than added amenities on existing lands, but one of the many great things about the Regional Parks is that there are such a wide variety of parks in so many parts of the East Bay, so most people can find something to suit their needs, whether it be a developed, family-oriented recreation area like Roberts and Lake Temescal, or a puppy paradise like Point Isabel, or a nice birding and picnicking spot like MLK Shoreline, or a dog walker, mountain biker, horseback rider, trail runner free for all like Redwood.

    I agree that they could probably do more on the outreach and accessibility front—even at MLKJr Shoreline, which is right across the freeway from some of Oakland’s most disadvantaged black and latino neighborhoods, I don’t remember ever seeing any organized groups of school-age kids there, except at the soccer fields off Oakport Street. But perhaps I’m just unaware of the extent of the Park District’s programs and activities. (Of course, the freeway itself is an accessibility problem. You’ve got a several-mile stretch of beautiful waterfront parkland, but only three points of access from the other side of 880, at High Street, 66th Ave, and Hegenberger. No wonder it’s underutilized!)

  2. QITNL

    I’m glad to see you’ve posted the EBRPD survey. These devices are one of the few means by which such agencies can gather public data and measure their allocation of funds.

    I have a lot of first hand experience with the various agencies which regulate public land in California: the EBRPD, those of other municipalities and counties, California State Parks, and the various federal concerns: National Parks/Monuments/Forests/BLM. I’m happy to find that EBRPD are one of the best, both in terms of user experience and fiscal responsibility. There are a few slackers in their office, but everyone in the field I’ve encountered has been great, they care.

    I see the EBRPD doing quite well in the area of Social Equity. The folks who hike up Mission Peak from Fremont, for instance, seem predominantly Indian and Asian (I know that’s a contradiction, you know what I mean). The people who fish along the bay seem predominantly Hispanic and Asian. There is plenty of multi-lingual signage warning “don’t eat too many fish.” I see the EBRPD doing a lot of outreach in this area and it seems to work. This concern is fairly local, mind you – go 50 miles east and you’re in a red state.

    Nor would I fault EBRPD in the area of public transportation. Some of the parks are in far-flung locations, but I happily blame geography for that. It’s nice that some parks are not surrounded by development – yet. If you want to point fingers, look at AC Transit, CCT, or whoever is cutting the budget of your local bus. Transportation options are clearly defined on EBRPD maps and at their website. With a little resourcefulness, you can get to most of them via public transportation – I have.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also been very happy with the service I’ve received in land managed by the Feds. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    The rotten elephant in the room is the State. Some of California’s most wonderful public land is currently closed, kaput. That’s a sin in my book. I’d be quite happy if the State Parks transferred control of, say, Mt. Diablo to the EBRPD and Angel Island to the Feds.

    Not to mention miles and miles of beach….

    I hope my perspective may be of use to you. Thanks.

  3. Kent L.

    Nice post, V. Reading this reminded me to take the survey, which I put on my to-dos weeks ago … hope it was not too late. I gladly submitted my opinions. I thought the survey was pretty good – seems like the park is weighing lots of options. I agree with you about the dogs. The dogs I meet in the parks are all pretty friendly. Just as are the other visitors I meet there! I am all for improving access and attractive options in the parks to get young families with kids out there, though I have none of my own.