Open Space is Unfunded Stepchild
Open Space funding is 1% that of Developed Parks
If it were not for Belmont’s open space, our city would be ranked deficient in park area per capita. Master Plans cite how Belmont’s open spaces contribute to our quality of life, and how they distinguish us from surrounding communities. It’s called the “jewel of Belmont”. But in terms of funding, open space gets the short end of the stick.
An examination of expenditures for the Parks and Open Space Budget Accounts reveals that Open Space receives less than 1% the amount spent on the other city parks – less than $17,000 yearly. Belmont spends 100 times more on developed parks than on our entire 300+ acres of open spaces.
After decades without funding, our “jewel of Belmont” shows the neglect. Park Directors have reported their concerns, yet officials have not responded with meaningful action. A Nov 7, 2012 Director Report states “Trail maintenance has not been a priority for the Parks and Recreation Department due to other pressing needs. The City actually spends very little money or time on the open space and that is mainly due to needs in the developed parks and athletic fields”. The report warns that the city has come to rely upon volunteers from the biking community to maintain trails.
Trails are rutted and footbridges are unsafe, increasing City risk of liability for visitor injuries. Vegetation management is handled by untrained volunteers, causing further damage. Drainage maintenance is deferred, increasing erosion, with potential for landslides and state water quality violations. And rogue trail-building is allowed to continue unregulated.
City code assigns our Park Commissioners the responsibility to “Advise the parks and recreation department in the preparation of the annual budget and long-range recreation and park capital improvement program.” (City Code 2.166) While total park funds are finite, the funding allocation between developed parks and open space is not fixed. Our open space deserves more than the 1% it currently gets. As residents we must pressure the Commission and City Council to fairly allocate funding to our valuable open spaces. Failure to invest now risks increased liability and degradation in the long term.