By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ >> With talks of national monument status for Coast Dairies, Santa Cruz County exploring the establishment of an open space district and visions of a “Great Park” in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there are many parks opportunities on the table.
Adding to that bounty, the county is revitalizing its parks department.
With two decades of experience, Jeff Gaffney will head the department overseeing 1,400 acres of parkland as the new director of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services. He currently works as the state parks district superintendent for the Hollister Hills and Hungry Valley districts.
In late January, he will assume the new post and manage a $6.5 million budget and 40 permanent and 100 seasonal staff.
“I see a lot of exciting things happening in the future for the county,” Gaffney said. “I really look forward to developing a five- to 10-year plan. The department was kept alive in public works, but this is sort of a rebirth.”
To save costs in 2011, the county laid off parks employees and parks became a division of the Department of Public Works.
“It was always intended to be an interim type of a measure, and parks would separate when economic conditions improved,” said Betsey Lynberg, assistant director for public works who has overseen parks and recreation.
Gaffney graduated from San Jose State and began his career in parks in 1993 as a recreation leader helping at-risk youth in Gilroy. After working through the ranks, he assumed his current position in 2006.
He recently led the acquisition of 24,000 acres in east Kern County for California State Parks.
Gaffney said he sees new partnerships in the department’s future. With a history of working with the mountain bike community, Gaffney wants to open a new pump track.
“It’s a great tool to have kids in place where they aren’t bored, looking for other things that get them in trouble,” he said. “You have a place where they’re happy, staying physically active and you can more effectively manage any possible impacts to natural resources.”
He is eyeing a relationship with the Santa Cruz Warriors to bring facility improvements and basketball programs, and businesses. Local tech company Plantronics donated funds to a Capitola dog park.
Gaffney serves as the president of the State Park Peace Officer Management Association and is active in the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the Park Ranger associations for Santa Clara County and the State of California.
Who: Newly appointed director of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services for Santa Cruz County.
Previous jobs: District superintendent for Hollister Hills and Hungry Valley districts with California State Parks, chief ranger at Hollister Hills, a supervising park ranger at the County of Santa Clara and city of Gilroy as a recreation leader
Education: Bachelor of arts degree, San Jose State.