Ron Gonzales: Latinos should lead effort for accessible parks
by RON GONZALES
This year, Latinos across the Bay Area and California have a unique opportunity to become leading voices for accessible parks and open space.
By speaking out now, we can improve the health of Hispanic Californians in nearly every corner of the state. We can secure safe places for our kids to play and socialize and permanently alter the landscape of Latino neighborhoods. We can expand access to healthy-living resources, which is crucial for fostering healthy communities and helping people live successful lives.
For these reasons and many more, providing equitable access to safe, well-maintained and innovative parks is a critical equal rights issue of our time. With the recent release of the Parks Forward recommendations for improving California parks, the time has arrived to elevate a health-driven and equity-focused agenda that ensures all Californians can access this vital resource.
That's why I'm excited to be a member of Parks Now, a new coalition that has come together to highlight these critical issues and advocate for fundamental, lasting change to the parks in our communities.
Parks Now is a diverse group from all walks of life: doctors, environmentalists, students, and more. We will engage on a broad range of park issues, beginning with the Parks Forward recommendations.
All Californians gain from parks that are inclusive and well maintained. Unfortunately, our experience at the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley has taught me that this is not currently the situation in many of our Latino communities, particularly those in the South Bay.
At the foundation, we are focused on improving the quality of life for Latino families through educational access, leadership development and civic engagement. In 2007, we found that 61 percent of Silicon Valley Latinos were "very concerned about the quality of parks and open space in their area." More troubling is the fact that only 40 percent of Latinos "strongly agreed" that a nearby park or playground was safe during the day.
Since then, continued strain on public budgets has led to the deterioration of state and regional parks across the Bay Area. Sadly, this results in a dangerous feedback loop: if Latino families visit a park with old, splintered benches or no clean restrooms, they are less likely to use or advocate for accessible, quality parks in the future. Despite their importance, therefore, parks might continue to deteriorate for lack of willpower.
Now is the time for action. We need accessible, well maintained, and safe parks in all underserved Silicon Valley neighborhoods.
The Parks Forward Commission, created two years ago by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature, just released its final recommendations to address the long-term sustainability of California state parks as well as an ambitious, modern vision for parks throughout the state. As the committee challenged, if we truly want to effect the necessary change, me must all do our part to ensure the commission's recommendations do not fall on deaf ears.
Parks Now is eager to see the California Department of Parks and Recreation -- and our political leaders -- move the Parks Forward recommendations swiftly into action and advance a bold new vision of equitable access in their upcoming policy decisions regarding parks across the state.
Our children -- the future leaders of California -- deserve a safe place to play, grow and build healthy habits. Now is the time for Latinos to advocate, so the parks of the future reflect our communities' needs.
Ron Gonzales is president and CEO of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley and former mayor of San Jose. He wrote this article for this newspaper.