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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.19.06

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Parks and Libraries

City asks voters to fund two popular services.


The two most popular city services in Eugene, parks and libraries, are up for a vote Nov. 7.

The city is asking voters to pass a $27 million parks bond measure and a $2.7 million, four-year library levy. The city's parks are used by 80 percent of city residents, and the city's main and branch libraries by 71 percent of residents, according to a city survey last year.

The parks measure, Measure 20-110, would focus on acquiring park land and natural areas at risk of being lost to development or rising prices. It will cost the average home owner about $21 a year for 20 years.

The measure would buy $11 million worth of land for neighborhood and community parks. The city would buy 13 new neighborhood parks, totaling about 52 acres, mostly in west and north Eugene. The measure also includes additional funds for a larger regional park in Santa Clara and small land acquisitions around the city's historic Victorian house on Skinner Butte and the Hilyard Community Center.

About $8 million would go to acquire land for natural area parks. That includes 30 to 45 acres to extend Eugene's popular system of riverfront parks and bike trails north along the Willamette River. The measure would also fund the acquisition of about 60 to 100 acres to extend the Ridgeline Trail parks system to the east and west.

The measure includes $1.8 million to help construct a regional education center with a field science laboratory in the west Eugene wetlands in cooperation with local schools and the federal government.

The rest of the money, about $7 million, would go to park improvements. The measure includes $2 million to expand and develop Golden Gardens Park in the Bethel area of northwest Eugene (see "Compelled to Action" in the 10/12 EW). Children have drowned in the former gravel pits, and residents have organized to make the parkland more safe, usable and attractive through land acquisition and improvements.

Organized sports groups also lobbied at the last minute to include $5 million in the measure for new and resurfaced synthetic athletic fields. The new plastic fields, as well as possible light towers, bathrooms and parking, would be built at up to six local middle schools and at Willamette High School in Bethel. Part of the $5 million would go to resurface synthetic fields at four 4J high schools.

Eugene Parks Now has raised $8,640 to support the measure. The Register-Guard has publicized opposition from the Lane County Homebuilders Association. The developer group has opposed protecting natural areas from development and has opposed park systems development charges (SDCs). SDCs keep taxes lower and avoid eroding services by making developers pay for part of their demand for increased city services, so the parks measure could result in higher SDCs for developers as they have to buy into a larger parks system.

Opponents of plastic fields have also expressed some opposition. Kevin Matthews of Friends of Eugene said he was skeptical of the synthetic fields in the past but has come to understand that they can make environmental and good planning sense. Synthetic fields can be used more intensely and year round, allowing other park areas to remain in their natural state and providing for a more compact, livable city, he argues.

The council's motivation for including the synthetic fields also may have been political, as the organized sports groups said they would campaign for the measure if it included the plastic turf.

The parks measure is backed by a wide variety of groups including Kidsports, the League of Women Voters of Lane County, the 4J School District, YMCA, Friends of Eugene Springfield Habitats, Pop Warner Football and the Lane County Audubon Society.

Parks supporters point to studies showing a host of benefits from parkland including boosting the economy, reducing crime, improving physical and mental health, creating a strong sense of community, supporting overall quality of life, protecting clean air and water, preventing urban sprawl and promoting tourism.

An earlier 1998 parks bond measure passed with two-thirds in favor. That measure was about 80 percent sports and active recreation development rather than natural areas. Counting the wetlands center, about one-third of this measure is devoted to natural areas.

As for the library, Measure 20-111 has little or no organized opposition. The levy would raise $2.7 million each year, costing the average homeowner about $33 a year for four years.

The library measure renews a $5 million a year levy passed in 2002. The City Council voted to reduce the cost of this levy by funding about half of it with existing revenues in the general fund.

This levy would help fund books, programs and staff and keep the downtown library and its Bethel and Sheldon branches open six to seven days a week, including evenings.

The new downtown library and branches, well stocked and with longer hours from the previous levy, have been hugely popular. In the last five years, circulation per capita has almost doubled. A city survey last year showed 85 percent satisfaction with the library.

With an efficient automated check out and in system and 22,000 hours of volunteer work, the library has been able to meet the demands of rising circulation while keeping per-capita expenditures almost flat.

Every day, about 4,400 people visit the Eugene libraries — from seniors to job seekers to tots to teens — checking out 2.5 million items per year. In addition to books, the library provides more than 1,000 educational and cultural programs a year.   


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