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San Mateo County Supervisors considering waiving parking fees for all county park visitors

A trail marker at Sam McDonald County Park in Loma Mar, one of seven parks in San Mateo County that charges a $6 parking fee. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is researching the possibility of waiving that fee. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

A proposal to consider waiving parking fees at San Mateo County parks for low-income households has spurred the county to consider getting rid of the fees for everyone, regardless of income.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 14 discussed a proposal by the Parks and Recreation Department to let anyone who receives Medi-Cal, CalFresh and/or San Mateo County Access and Care for Everyone (ACE) benefits to enter any of the county's parks for free.

Called the "Mariposa Program," people who show their cards for any of those benefits – which serve low-income households – would be exempted from entrance fees, without having to fill out any forms or provide additional financial documentation.

Currently, there are seven parks throughout San Mateo County that charge a $6 vehicle entrance fee: Huddart Park in Woodside, Sam McDonald Park, Memorial Park, Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Pedro Valley Park, Junipero Serra Park and San Bruno Mountain State and County Park. The county has a total of 24 parks, according to Nicholas Calderon, director of the county Parks and Recreation Department.

Throughout San Mateo County, there are 88,611 households and 157,553 individuals enrolled in Medi-Cal; 16,129 households and 26,872 individuals enrolled in CalFresh; and 25,500 members of ACE, a locally-funded health care program for low-income adults who don't qualify for other state and federal insurance programs. Calderon said he expected that there would be roughly 185,000 county residents who would be eligible for the Mariposa Program.

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Previous research by the county Parks and Recreation Department found that for many visitors, the current fees are affordable and don't impact visitors' ability to access county parks – in fact, one of the biggest barriers cited in a recent survey was that people reported feeling like they didn't have time to visit the parks, according to Calderon.

The top three barriers to park access identified in a 2015-16 study were limited awareness of the parks and where to find information about them; transportation and parking; and language barriers related to signs and printed materials. Parking and transportation appeared to be the most significant barrier, according to Calderon.

"With regards to vehicle entry fees specifically, we've proposed the Mariposa Program because we truly believe that this allows us to meet the needs of the most vulnerable residents in San Mateo County," he said.

Eliminating all parking fees?

Redwood trees line a trail at Sam McDonald County Park in Loma Mar. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

After Calderon made the case for waiving fees for the specific low-income individuals and families, supervisors seemed interested in exploring going further.

"I would like to see us not have fees to enter the park," Supervisor Carole Groom said.

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The county usually generates between $1.1 million to $1.2 million in vehicle entrance fees each fiscal year, which are used to maintain facilities like restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas and reservation sites, according to a county board memo. The county would have to figure out how to make up that funding to operate parks, and savings wouldn't necessarily come from no longer having park staffers collecting money at the entrance kiosks, Calderon said. Maintaining staff at park entrances to interact with park visitors is an important role, whether or not they're collecting fees, he said.

The supervisors agreed to look into the matter further, acting unanimously to create a subcommittee of Groom and Supervisor Don Horsley to work with parks staff to examine the fee schedule and the possibility of eliminating vehicle entry fees for all.

Supervisor Warren Slocum added that he'd like to see the subcommittee and staff also discuss how to attract a more demographically diverse set of visitors and draw in visitors who say they feel they don't have time to visit county parks. Tentatively, he suggested that the research come back to the supervisors in about six months.

San Mateo County's Parks and Recreation Department has already waived the $6 entry fee for Flood Park in Menlo Park, one of the county's more urban park locations. Slocum also suggested that the county study the impacts of waiving parking fees at Flood Park as part of a pilot initiative.

In addition, he said that he wanted further evaluation before considering ending parking fees at county parks.

"I am concerned about what happens if we move into a serious recession ... coupled with this $1 million, $2 million revenue loss," he said.

While a former county manager may have called figures like $1 million to $2 million "budget dust," Slocum noted, "It is significant for the parks department that has to withstand the vicissitudes of funding and downturns of the economy."

Eucalyptus trees tower overhead along a path at the San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, one of seven parks that charges a $6 parking fee for visitors in San Mateo County. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

The parks department has taken a series of steps in recent years to expand access for communities that have been underrepresented when it comes to outdoor recreation, including the county's "Parks Rx" program, which "prescribes" park visits to county health system users and encourage people to go outdoors. Whereas people who were prescribed park visits through this program had previously been given a day pass, the county health program now also plans to give out annual passes, according to Calderon.

Board President David Canepa also noted that park visitors tend find ways to access the parks for free where they can, such as at the San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, where many people park on the street outside the park rather than pay to park in the official parking lot.

"We want people to use our parks," he said.

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San Mateo County Supervisors considering waiving parking fees for all county park visitors

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Dec 27, 2021, 10:44 am

A proposal to consider waiving parking fees at San Mateo County parks for low-income households has spurred the county to consider getting rid of the fees for everyone, regardless of income.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 14 discussed a proposal by the Parks and Recreation Department to let anyone who receives Medi-Cal, CalFresh and/or San Mateo County Access and Care for Everyone (ACE) benefits to enter any of the county's parks for free.

Called the "Mariposa Program," people who show their cards for any of those benefits – which serve low-income households – would be exempted from entrance fees, without having to fill out any forms or provide additional financial documentation.

Currently, there are seven parks throughout San Mateo County that charge a $6 vehicle entrance fee: Huddart Park in Woodside, Sam McDonald Park, Memorial Park, Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Pedro Valley Park, Junipero Serra Park and San Bruno Mountain State and County Park. The county has a total of 24 parks, according to Nicholas Calderon, director of the county Parks and Recreation Department.

Throughout San Mateo County, there are 88,611 households and 157,553 individuals enrolled in Medi-Cal; 16,129 households and 26,872 individuals enrolled in CalFresh; and 25,500 members of ACE, a locally-funded health care program for low-income adults who don't qualify for other state and federal insurance programs. Calderon said he expected that there would be roughly 185,000 county residents who would be eligible for the Mariposa Program.

Previous research by the county Parks and Recreation Department found that for many visitors, the current fees are affordable and don't impact visitors' ability to access county parks – in fact, one of the biggest barriers cited in a recent survey was that people reported feeling like they didn't have time to visit the parks, according to Calderon.

The top three barriers to park access identified in a 2015-16 study were limited awareness of the parks and where to find information about them; transportation and parking; and language barriers related to signs and printed materials. Parking and transportation appeared to be the most significant barrier, according to Calderon.

"With regards to vehicle entry fees specifically, we've proposed the Mariposa Program because we truly believe that this allows us to meet the needs of the most vulnerable residents in San Mateo County," he said.

After Calderon made the case for waiving fees for the specific low-income individuals and families, supervisors seemed interested in exploring going further.

"I would like to see us not have fees to enter the park," Supervisor Carole Groom said.

The county usually generates between $1.1 million to $1.2 million in vehicle entrance fees each fiscal year, which are used to maintain facilities like restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas and reservation sites, according to a county board memo. The county would have to figure out how to make up that funding to operate parks, and savings wouldn't necessarily come from no longer having park staffers collecting money at the entrance kiosks, Calderon said. Maintaining staff at park entrances to interact with park visitors is an important role, whether or not they're collecting fees, he said.

The supervisors agreed to look into the matter further, acting unanimously to create a subcommittee of Groom and Supervisor Don Horsley to work with parks staff to examine the fee schedule and the possibility of eliminating vehicle entry fees for all.

Supervisor Warren Slocum added that he'd like to see the subcommittee and staff also discuss how to attract a more demographically diverse set of visitors and draw in visitors who say they feel they don't have time to visit county parks. Tentatively, he suggested that the research come back to the supervisors in about six months.

San Mateo County's Parks and Recreation Department has already waived the $6 entry fee for Flood Park in Menlo Park, one of the county's more urban park locations. Slocum also suggested that the county study the impacts of waiving parking fees at Flood Park as part of a pilot initiative.

In addition, he said that he wanted further evaluation before considering ending parking fees at county parks.

"I am concerned about what happens if we move into a serious recession ... coupled with this $1 million, $2 million revenue loss," he said.

While a former county manager may have called figures like $1 million to $2 million "budget dust," Slocum noted, "It is significant for the parks department that has to withstand the vicissitudes of funding and downturns of the economy."

The parks department has taken a series of steps in recent years to expand access for communities that have been underrepresented when it comes to outdoor recreation, including the county's "Parks Rx" program, which "prescribes" park visits to county health system users and encourage people to go outdoors. Whereas people who were prescribed park visits through this program had previously been given a day pass, the county health program now also plans to give out annual passes, according to Calderon.

Board President David Canepa also noted that park visitors tend find ways to access the parks for free where they can, such as at the San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, where many people park on the street outside the park rather than pay to park in the official parking lot.

"We want people to use our parks," he said.

Comments

TR
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Dec 27, 2021 at 2:26 pm
TR, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Dec 27, 2021 at 2:26 pm

It is WAY past time to stop these county park entrance (parking) fees. They were imposed during a budget crunch decades ago and keep hanging around. These are PUBLIC parks. We should be funding them with public tax dollars. Period. Not virtue signaling by offering free/discounted access to lower income people. Just make it a public benefit (which they are)


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