LARPD

Five candidates are vying for two available seats on the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District (LARPD) Board of Directors. Only one incumbent is seeking reelection.

Longtime Boardmember Beth Wilson is not applying for another term.

“I have been on the LARPD board for 13 years, and while I love all I do there, I feel it’s time for someone newer and younger and more energetic to be on the board,” Wilson said. “I will certainly miss greatly being on the board, although I look forward to relaxing a little and being able to be an LARPD volunteer.”

The contenders for the available LARPD seats are James E. Boswell, Jan Palajac, Mike Ralph, Stacey A. Swanson and Richard Tarbell.

The LARPD candidates were asked the following questions:

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the LARPD over the upcoming term, and how do you intend to address it?

Given the impact of COVID-19, what changes does the district need to make to continue to serve the community?

How would you address the financial challenges the LARPD is expected to face as a result of limitations on the district's programs?

What changes or improvements do you want to bring to the LARPD?

Do you have accomplishments that you are proud of that are relevant to a role on the LARPD board? What experience do you have that makes you a good fit for the LARPD board position?

Are LARPD parks, amenities and programs equitably distributed throughout the entire district? Do you believe the district has made sufficient efforts to be inclusive of all of the region's residents?

Do you think that LARPD should make use of solar panels on its parking lots and other properties?

JAMES E. BOSWELL

Boswell did not respond to The Independent’s request for an interview. A message on his website states, “I have an in-depth knowledge of finance, managing people, and being a steward of our land which translates directly into the parks and open spaces we use for recreation. And given the current environment, I think it’s time to rethink how we use these spaces and our programs.”

JAN PALAJAC

Palajac is the only incumbent running for the LARPD board. First elected to the board in 2016, she served as the board’s chair for the last year. She brings 17 years of experience to the role as a landscape architect responsible for the design and construction of parks and trails in San Jose.

Challenges to the district

“We need to address the maintenance of our facilities — our parks, playgrounds, pools, trails, open spaces, etc. — to ensure that they provide the level of quality the public expects,” Palajac said. “Because COVID-19 has severely limited our budget to do this type of work, we need to be prepared to use any means available such as grants, bonds, public/private partnerships, sponsorships or other innovative sources for funding to make this possible.”

Managing the impact of COVID-19

Palajac said her focus will be on encouraging new and creative ways to offer our classes and programs as the district works with the most recent health orders and guidelines to keep the community safe and healthy.

Budget challenges

“The two-month shutdown of our facilities and programs at the beginning of the pandemic and the limitations on the few programs that we can offer has had a drastic effect on our budget,” Palajac said. “In the current fiscal year, our projected deficit of $2.3 million led to the formation of an Ad Hoc Budget Committee to work with the general manager to develop a balanced budget. I have been very involved in the process along with Vice Chair Pierpont.”

How to improve LARPD

“Our communication strategy needs to change to be one that is inclusive of everyone,” Palajac said. “Our traditional methods of reaching people aren’t working anymore, so I want to find new ways to reach all the people that LARPD serves, and encourage their input so we can implement the programs and activities that they want to see.”

Accomplishments and experience

Palajac said that in her role as board chair, she has demonstrated her leadership abilities during one of the most challenging financial times of LARPD’s existence.

“At our Sept. 22 meeting, we made the difficult decisions, including employee layoffs necessary to keep LARPD financially viable,” she said. “I am proud of my part in LARPD’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and our ability to keep the parks, open spaces and trails open. We have all seen how essential they are to our community’s health and well-being.”

Equity and inclusiveness

“LARPD provides a safe and welcoming environment for all and has made a good effort to be inclusive, but we can always do more,” said Palajac. “As the demographics in our community change, LARPD needs to seek different ways to get community involvement in the decisions about what we offer to ensure that their needs continue to be met. Although not a member of the city council’s subcommittee on equity and inclusion, I plan to attend their meetings, so that I can suggest that LARPD incorporate their findings where applicable.”

Park distribution throughout the district

“The location of parks has evolved as the city has grown,” Palajac said. “LARPD has very little say about where parks are established. The majority of the parks were installed by developers as a condition of specific developments, and they are city owned and LARPD maintained. A study would need to be done, with public input, in order to determine if there are areas of the city that are underserved.”

Use of solar power on LARPD property

Palajac said that LARPD is finishing the planning stage and will be starting construction of solar panels in the Loyola Way parking lot at the Robert Livermore Community Center, LARPD’s biggest power user.

“These solar panels will provide the power that we need,” she added. “Any other solar panel installations at LARPD’s parking lots and other properties would have to be compatible with our mission and be financially viable. I would support solar panels over our parking lots, but would not be in favor of the installation of solar farms on the ground of LARPD’s properties.

MIKE RALPH

A graduate of California State University, Chico, Ralph moved to Livermore with his family 15 years ago. He is the general manager of Superfly Wheels, a bicycle shop in Pleasanton.

Challenges to the district

“The foremost challenge for the LARPD is how to best fulfill the mission of providing recreational opportunities in the face of a pandemic, a shrinking budget, extreme weather, poor air quality and other external factors,” said Ralph. “To succeed, we need to be creative, flexible, capable and responsible to all. We need to focus on young families and have preschool, ESS and PAL programs ready as soon as possible. We need to ensure our seniors have the services they rely, on too. There will be cuts and cancellations, but our duty is to look out for those who need it most. If elected, I will do my part to make sure all voices are heard.”

Managing the impact of COVID-19

“Core revenue sources have stalled, and any reprieve is still a way off,” Ralph stated. “We are heading into some very tough waters ahead, and the board and LARPD management has some tough decisions to make. Mathew Fuzie, general manager of the LARPD, has experience in emergency control at the state level and has been a terrific leader throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I am excited to work with the LARPD team and the other board members as we navigate our way forward.”

Budget challenges

Ralph said the current board has done a great job in mitigating the financial challenges. He added, “We still have a long way to go. I will be fair to all as director and will seek out many voices to make educated decisions that affect our district. No one is looking forward to further budget cuts ahead, but we are all in this together.”

How to improve LARPD

Noting that bicycle use during the spring and summer was at an all-time high as other forms of exercise and recreation were not possible, Ralph said, “Now is the right time to extend our trail access, bicycle facilities, skate spots and other individual sports that appeal to users of all demographics and can be utilized in all conditions. I am very excited to hear from everyone on what they would like to see.”

Accomplishments and experience

“I spent the past eight years working alongside LARPD staff and management to bring a bike park to Livermore,” explained Ralph. “I started the project when I saw how popular the Sunken Gardens Skate Park was and wanted to spread things out so everyone had room to ride. We now have the location narrowed down, a professional design and builder in place, budget data, and hosted a well-attended community outreach meeting to discuss the specifics of adding a paved pump track to Sunken Gardens Park. Even though we are very close, that project is in a holding pattern now due to the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

Equity and inclusiveness

Ralph said, “I think the LARPD has done a good job in the past servicing the entire district. However, I do see some gaps. For example, there are no swim or skate park facilities on the north side. The 580 overpasses do not lend themselves to bicycle traffic. So without a car, residents stick closer to home and miss out on a lot of what the LARPD offers.”

Park distribution throughout the district

Executing the Springtown Master Plan would be the best possible scenario for advancing the recreation network in North Livermore, said Ralph. He believes the board should be working with the City of Livermore to get this project in motion.

Use of solar power on LARPD property

Ralph said, given the LARPD spends about $500,000 a year on gas and electricity and Livermore has an average of 257 sunny days annually, the addition of solar panels whenever and wherever possible is absolutely a move in the right direction.

STACEY A. SWANSON

Now retired after having run her own business for 15 years, Swanson’s interest in the LARPD started after a successful effort in 2016 to preserve 85 acres of open space after the closure of the Springtown Golf Course.

Challenges to the district

Swanson said that managing the budget will be a significant challenge for the district in the near term, but she also sees a chance to improve the district in that challenge.

“Societies change,” Swanson said. “This is a great opportunity to move along with those changes and take a look at how we can, not only ride those changes, but embrace them and move forward to make our programs fit the way the community is evolving.”

Managing the impact of COVID-19

Swanson credited the current board for keeping up to date on the evolving health code.

“I appreciate that they’ve taken the lead on things like providing child care for essential workers,” Swanson said. “To be able to provide a happy place, a safe place, a place of solace and some peace for our entire community is a pretty big ask, but I think they’ve stepped up pretty well to the task.”

Budget challenges

“We need to work actively with regional, state and national entities for funding, while working to expand our program offerings that might be lower cost and but also give good value for the community — things like ranger talks. LARPD is currently offering a science camp at a reasonable cost for kids that are doing distance learning, so that parents can get them outside every once in a while,” said Swanson. “Those are the kinds of opportunities that I’d love to expand on.”

How to improve LARPD

“There are some small changes, things that would not be terribly expensive, that would make the parks more useful for people that actually use them,” Swanson said. “Bringing in the user groups, and I don’t mean that the LARPD has not done this in the past, but I want to get more proactive about bringing the actual user groups in before spending the money to make sure that we’re spending appropriately and spend on what works for that user group.”

Accomplishments and experience

Self-employed for the last 15 years, Swanson has experience with worker’s compensation, liability insurance, vendor management, contract negotiation and hospitality. Her love of the outdoors led to her starting a local hiking club more than 10 years ago. But saving the 85-acre Springtown Open Space from development through the formation of the North Livermore Community Alliance in 2016 is one of Swanson’s key accomplishments.

“We saved our city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, provided a new space for families, children and seniors to walk, run, bike and play,” she said. “The area is becoming more naturalized; we have great wildlife viewing opportunities, as well as lovely views.”

Equity and inclusiveness

Swanson said she believes LARPD is making slow and steady progress with regard to inclusiveness, and added, “I'd like to improve this aspect by adding more contact with our youth. LARPD's programming is heavily weighted toward youth with the ESS programs, and wonderful nature and ranger programs. I believe we could add a youth advisory board to participate with policy, inclusion and budget decisions.”

Park distribution throughout the district

“I believe there are underserved areas in the district,” Swanson said. “North Livermore and Springtown have wonderful after-school programs, and a few parks either managed by or owned by LARPD, but there is not a central gathering spot, pool, skate or bike park. There are few bike or skate facilities in the district, Sunken Gardens and the dirt track over at William Payne. And it would be helpful to have facilities less than a 45-minute bus ride or bike ride from the North side, especially given how dangerous the crossings/overpasses are at Vasco and North First Street.”

Use of solar power on LARPD property

Swanson stated that solar power should be used whenever practical and economically feasible. She also noted that the LARPD already has some solar panels installed and others in progress.

RICHARD TARBELL

A Livermore resident since 2004, Tarbell brings to the table a university degree in geography with a concentration in urban planning, plus 30 years of experience working for Alameda County Community Development Agency Planning Department as a planner. Retired for two years, he is an active swimmer and fly fisherman.

Challenges to the district

Tarbell said that district finances will certainly be one of the challenges of the upcoming term. Beyond that, balancing the program offerings with public needs, he said, is also necessary. There may be the opportunity to drop some programs while adding new ones.

Managing the impact of COVID-19

“I see everyone doing everything they can to stay involved and not drop out,” Tarbell said. “The use of some technology to provide electronic access for the public might be one way,” he said. “Schools are online, so maybe using something like that to provide those services would be an option.”

Budget challenges

“Budgets are a challenge at any time, but more so now,” Tarbell said. “I don’t know if I have an immediate answer for that, but it may mean bringing in consultants to see what they might offer.”

How to improve LARPD

Noting that there are experienced members serving on the board now, Tarbell said he’d opt to observe the operation of the district for a while before recommending any changes.

Accomplishments and experience

Tarbell pointed to his three decades of experience in city planning as qualification for the board seat. He said that much of his work involved planning the creation or expansion of parks. That work included performing the analysis of the project’s impact on both the park users and the community in which a park is located.

Equity and inclusiveness

“I haven’t done a survey, nor am I familiar enough with the distribution,” Tarbell said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I would talk with other board members and members of the public to see what information they have before making that determination. The catalog is huge and has every opportunity for a lot of people, so from that perspective, I’d say they’ve made efforts.”

Park distribution throughout the district

“Parks in the city depend upon the property being available and the land use designation,” explained Tarbell. “So I would say that best efforts have been made.”

Continuing, Tarbell stated he believes there is opportunity for expanding recreation opportunities in the north by offering equestrian trails, akin to the way that the East Bay Regional Park District does in many of their parks.

Use of solar power on LARPD property

“Solar panels save energy, but they’re also a math problem. In other words, is there a need for solar panels and is the cost savings appropriate for the application. It’s the math that determines whether parking lots or other properties should make use of solar.”

The stated mission of the district is “to provide the people of the Livermore area with outstanding recreation programs and a system of parks, trails, recreation areas, and facilities that promote enjoyment, lifelong learning, and healthy, active lifestyles.”