Maggie Guillen likes to have lunch with her girlfriends in East San Jose's tiny Fleming Park. She just wishes it was closer to her home.
"We don't have a park like this, if you want to eat or go relax or see people," said Guillen, who lives a few miles away near Alum Rock Avenue in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County.
County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., who represents Guillen's district, is trying to make that happen on Tuesday.
That's when the Board of Supervisors will decide whether a 40-year-old voter-approved fund meant to pay for regional county parks and trails can also be used to create smaller county neighborhood parks in denser, urban areas that are starved for green space.
But Shirakawa's efforts to alter the mission of the county's Park Charter Fund has created an uproar.
County park advocates understand the need for more parks in urban areas, but say the money from the county's Park Charter Fund isn't meant for small, neighborhood-serving parks, which is primarily the responsibility of cities.
Shirakawa's proposal would dilute the goal of the Park Charter Fund, they say.
"It's important to have the charter and have the restrictions and rules in place so you can accomplish these really wonderful goals for the county system, versus the city system," said Garnetta Annable, a member of the Friends of Santa Clara County Parks, Trails and Open Space, which is opposed to his proposal.
"We contribute (to the fund) just as much as everyone else in the county," Shirakawa said. "All I want is a policy that allows me to buy more land and build a park."
Passed by voters in 1972, and renewed six times since, the Park Charter Fund sets aside 1.425 cents for every $100 of property taxes to run the county parks and recreation department.
While 80 percent of the money goes to pay for the department's operations, 15 percent is restricted to park land acquisition and 5 percent to capital improvements. But the central criteria of the Park Charter Fund is to buy and maintain parks and trails that benefit the entire county.
While Shirakawa's district does include Hellyer County Park, it's not easily accessible to many in his district who live in the opposite end of the district in the Alum Rock area. Another county park, Penitencia Creek, is north of Alum Rock Avenue and just outside his district, as is San Jose's Alum Rock Park.
The supervisor's first preference for a smaller county park would be to acquire at least 10 acres of land currently leased by the federal government as a job corps center. Since it's not available at this time, Shirakawa said his second preference is for the county to buy up individual parcels for a smaller, localized county park.
Annable has no issue with the job corps site as a smaller regional park, but fears that once the Park Charter Fund is used to buy pieces of land for a neighborhood park it will change the restrictions of the Park Charter Fund forever.
County supervisors Liz Kniss and Mike Wasserman don't want to alter the voter's intent for the fund.
"The people voted on the money to be used for projects of countywide significance," said Wasserman, "and if it doesn't have countywide significance, it's going to be a hard sell."
Shirakawa is hoping for support from Supervisors Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese. After all, Yeager's Burbank area suffers the same park-hungry plight as Shirakawa's residents in Alum Rock. Yeager did not return calls seeking comment.
On Friday, Cortese issued a memo saying he would agree to fund smaller, urban county parks if San Jose would reimburse the county for the costs of building them.
Downtown San Jose resident August Patterson, who was leading a Baby Boot Camp class in Vasona Lake County Park on Friday morning, said she empathizes with Shirakawa. But, she said, he should ask voters to decide whether to change the parameters of the Park Charter Fund.
"My oldest daughter goes to pre-school on the East Side, so I do recognize the need for some love for some local parks," said Patterson, 30. "I just think it's best to put it in the voters' hands so there is a bigger say."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.