Parks make life better, providing greenspace and relief from the developed areas around town, shade trees and open spaces for those seeking solace, and amenities for recreation and activities. Many parks are the focal point or primary gathering place for a neighborhood. Many happy memories are made at parks.
But parks don’t just happen. They have to be planned for, designed and built. How many parks does a community need? Where should they be located? What amenities should they include? Park planners and landscape architects often assume the creative and construction roles, but it is up to elected officials to set the policies and guidelines that help to reflect the needs and desires of the community. Just recently, in fact, the Conejo Recreation and Park District (CRPD) Board of Directors approved the updated CRPD Master Plan to assist staff in planning for the future.
Nationally, on average, there is approximately one park for every 2,300 residents and about 10 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents. According to the Master Plan, CRPD is to provide a park acreage/population ratio of five acres for every 1,000 people, a combination of neighborhood, community, or playfield parks, and ensure there are parks within walking distance of all residents (about half a mile). At present, the CRPD has 60 park sites covering about 700 acres, which is in alignment with the Master Plan objectives. What do you think? Is the CRPD meeting the park needs of Conejo Valley residents?
The quantity of parks and the park acreage are actually not the only metrics that should be used to assess the community’s needs – the types and locations of the parks are also important considerations. While neighborhood parks are seen as the basic unit of a park system, community parks, playfields, districtwide parks and regional parks meet the community’s needs in various ways with their varieties in size, form, amenities and locations. To ensure that all Conejo Valley areas are served equitably, the District has been divided into community (six) and neighborhood (21) planning areas. Each planning area is regularly assessed and managed for its unique park needs.
To help fund parkland needs, the Quimby Act authorizes the CRPD to require residential subdivisions to either dedicate land for parks or pay fees in lieu of dedication. This Act also includes a fee calculation formula to assess the new construction of residential dwellings. Fees must be spent for the neighborhood in which they were collected; community parks have a larger sphere (hence the neighborhood and community planning areas).
The CRPD is constantly updating its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to build new parks and upgrade existing parks and facilities. As of February 2021, there are 13 CIP projects under construction and seven scheduled or in development. Current projects include upgrades to the Conejo Creek Dog Park, the Borchard Skate Park renovation, the Teen and Adult Centers renovation (a joint project with the City of Thousand Oaks), and the construction of the Conejo Creek Southwest Neighborhood Park. Plans are also underway for the redesign of the Conejo Community Center and Park.
The City of Thousand Oaks is presently finalizing plans to update the City’s General Plan, the first time since the original General Plan was approved over 50 years ago (visit www.toaks2045.org online for details). CRPD staff has been working closely with City staff in assessing potential impacts to park planning needs. Since the Thousand Oaks Blvd corridor, housing density, and employment opportunities are key considerations of the General Plan update effort, the impacts to the CRPD’s Master Plan are uncertain.
With the potential for additional residential dwelling units beyond those anticipated with the current General Plan, the CRPD wants to ensure that the community’s parkland needs are also included in the updated Plan. Therefore, it will be necessary to incorporate parkland wherever additional dwelling units are added.
The City’s General Plan update, while not solely focusing on parks, is another example of the City and District working together. CRPD has enjoyed a longtime partnership with the City, not only in planning efforts but in many park development projects as well. The relationship started in 1968 when the two agencies established an authority to build the first Civic Center at 401 West Hillcrest Drive (the current location of the CRPD administrative offices). This partnership continues to the present, evidenced by the City’s recent approval of funding for the renovation of the Teen and Adult Centers. Ultimately, the beneficiaries of this partnership are the residents of the City of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo Valley.
Is the CRPD meeting the park needs of Conejo Valley residents? By coordinating the City’s General Plan and the CRPD Master Plan, both agencies are working together to ensure these needs are met. They understand that “Parks make life better!”
Doug Nickles is a Director/Board Member for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, and the California Association of Recreation and Park Districts. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the District, Agency, or the respective Boards. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.