William “Bill” Hill is the treasurer of the non-profit Coastside Preservation and Recreation, the organization that built the Moss Beach Park and later failed to pay its property taxes.
Since the news broke that the county had, without apparently realizing it, sold the park to a Pacifica developer, and since the county has decided to void that sale and keep the land a park, Hill has been a topic of conversation.
As the person on the largely dormant board of directors with control of the purse strings, why did he not pay the property taxes? Why did he let the PO Box of the non-profit lapse? Is there money missing from the non-profit’s banking account?
In order to give Hill a chance to have his voice heard I sent him a list of eight questions related to the Moss Beach Park crisis and promised that I would print his response verbatim.
My questions appear first followed by Hill’s unedited comments.
Questions from Montara Fog to Bill Hill:
1) Tell me about how you first got involved in the effort to build the park.
2) Tell me about your role on the board of the park. Did the board stay active after the park was built or did it go dormant?
3) Tell me about your role in trying to get a bathroom at the park. (I have the video of your presentation to the MWSD in 2009.)
4) Was it your responsibility to file the non-profit status paperwork with the IRS and to maintain a PO Box? Why didn’t that happen?
5) There have been suggestions that there was up to $50,000 in leftover funds in the parks account after the building phase was completed in 2004. Is that the right amount? How much is left now? What expenses has the park incurred since 2004?
6) Did you have any knowledge of the park being sold at auction prior to the press reports being published?
7) Have you been involved in efforts since the press announcement to challenge the auction?
8) There are suggestions that the county or another entity such as MWSD should take over the park instead of the non-profit Coastside Preservation and Recreation. What are your thoughts–who should manage this park?
Bill Hill’s response:
I was invited to join the Board of CP&R in 1995. In those days, the park was mostly an open field, with a large swing structure, half of a geodesic dome climbing structure, a very tall steel slide, and a pile of giant tires for kids to climb on. The board met monthly, and our underlying goal was always to come up with a plan to improve the park. Most of the work that we did then consisted of mowing the field with our lawn tractor, and this task was mostly done by one of the other directors and I. We held occasional fund raisers that would net us several hundred dollars, and this was mostly used to pay for the chemical toilet we rented. This was our status quo until 2001, when we received a grant to purchase some play equipment. We bought a track slide, a tire swing, and a teeter totter. As I recall, we did not understand all that would be involved in installing these items, and flailed around for the better part of a couple years, finally getting the teeter totter in the ground. At about this time, one of our more visionary board members learned of an architectural firm that had developed a very successful program of community-built playgrounds. We contracted with Leathers and Associates and we all know the incredibly successful story of our playground.
The playground was completed in October of 2004, after an enormous effort on the part of a large cast of volunteers. At the time, there were six directors on the board of CP&R, and 4 of us were heavily involved in the playground effort. One of the other directors and I served as co-general coordinators of the project, managing a steering committee of 13 volunteers that was responsible for fundraising, solicitation of materials and construction volunteers, public relations, the feeding of the construction volunteers, the childcare that we provided during construction, and a couple other functions that escape me. This was all a function of us following the minutely detailed plan provided by Leathers and Associates; there is absolutely no way that we could have pulled off the construction of the park without their roadmap.
When the playground was completed, all of the core volunteers were literally exhausted, it had been a gargantuan task. All of the other board members elected to step away from CP&R to get back to their families, careers and lives. I chose to stay involved; at that point I had been helping to take care of the park for the better part of a decade, and I was not ready to stop. I became the self-appointed park guy, I kept the fields mowed, organized periodic work days, fixed things that needed fixing, and paid the bills. We had a chemical toilet, we had rented storage containers that held tools and building materials, we had a website, we had a lawn tractor that needed maintenance, there were just ongoing costs. At the end of the playground construction, we had approximately $15,000 left from our fundraising, and there was no fundraising moving forward, so this balance was steadily drawn down. We have incurred costs of a bit more than $17,000 in the last 9 years, and I have incrementally made up that difference.
One of my intentions that I had stated on many occasions was to somehow get San Mateo County to take over ownership of the park. While the community is to be enormously commended for funding and maintaining the amazing facility that Moss Beach Park is, THAT IS THE COUNTY’S RESPONSIBILITY. They are mandated to provide recreational facilities for us, and they collect money for that specific purpose. In 2008 (I think) CP&R’s non-profit status was revoked. The board had not met for several years, and the assorted forms that non-profits are required to file had not been filed. As the last man standing, yes, I suppose that it was my responsibility to do so, and it didn’t happen. Like all of us, I had and have life issues to deal with, and in those years especially, the park was not my first order of business. The major ramification of this status change was that the County raised our property tax from $50 to $1300. I elected to not pay this, because we could not afford it, and because I saw this an opportunity to compel the county to assume ownership of the park. My mistaken assumption was that the park was zoned as public space and therefore could not be anything but a park. This was not the case. In 2011 as a minor cost saving, I let go of CP&R’s PO box, using my address instead. I notified the assessor’s office of this address change. My first knowledge of the auction sale was a phone call from a company that specializes in restoring lapsed non-profit status – they track non-profits and had seen the sale of the park. A note here: interesting that the County did not post a notice of the impending auction in the park, nor did they announce this in the local legal classifieds, and they certainly made no effort to contact an owner when the auction notice was returned.
I have been only peripherally involved with the efforts to challenge the auction.
My first choice for what happens moving forward is that the County assume ownership. It is untenable to expect private citizens to undertake the maintenance and assume the liability of a public park on a long term basis. I know that MWSD has indicated a willingness to become involved, and I have heard that the El Granada Sanitary District is also considering taking on a recreational role. While there is certainly the possibility of a volunteer-based partnership to help with maintenance, after watching Moss Beach Park for many years, it is crystal clear to me that a public agency has to be the landlord.
I made a couple of really bad decisions that were not really mine to make, and I am unspeakably sorry for the chaos that has therefore ensued. I have given a chunk of my life over the past 18 years to Moss Beach Park; my children aside, there is nothing in my life that I am prouder of. At the same time that I am chagrined at all the furor of the past days, I am also extremely gratified to see the outpouring of support for the park that has sprung up.