By Ariel Méndez

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

A few weeks ago, a soccer parent shared with me that someone close to them had suddenly passed away, and I wondered, “If I found out I only had a short time left to live, would I continue to run for office? What is most important in my life?”

As I stood on the side of the field watching my son and his teammates pack up after practice, I thought to myself, “I would keep coaching. This is important.”

I quickly recognized that these kinds of important activities — the ones that make for good memories, make for good childhoods and bring happiness into old age — don’t happen by accident. They happen because someone volunteers and cares deeply enough to give back for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Fundamentally, I am running for the Bend Park & Recreation District board because I believe parks, trails and the programs that the district offers enrich people’s lives and support a healthy community.

The Bend Park & Recreation District is uniquely situated to help address some pressing community needs.

For example, our urban trail network has traditionally been viewed only as a means of recreation. As a member of the city’s Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee and the board president of Bend Bikes, I see value in promoting trails as a means of active transportation.

As a parks district budget committee member, I know that trails represent less than 10% of the district’s capital budget and only 7% of the maintenance budget, yet serve hundreds of thousands of people every year. Lack of transportation is the No. 1 barrier for underserved families in our community, and building this kind of connectivity will help make Bend more accessible for everyone.

In summer 2019, the district will begin construction on the Larkspur Community Center. My experience as a district budget committee member will help me provide oversight and demand accountability to keep this project — the largest in district history — on schedule and on budget. I am committed to projects with a clear public benefit

Affordable housing continues to be a major concern in Bend.

The current Bend housing market has plenty of homes available for over $750,000, but a shortage of homes affordable to the vast majority of residents. The parks district could use SDCs (the fees developers pay to cover the infrastructure costs associated with growth) to address the current imbalance by incentivizing developers to build more affordable homes.

I support the district’s current proposal to base fees on the size of the home and exempt qualifying affordable homes. I think the district also ought to consider reducing the relative rate it charges multifamily units since these tend to be more affordable homes as well.

My wife and I have three kids, two of which attend Bear Creek Elementary. Nearly half of the students are kids of color, and over 95% of the students qualify for the free or reduced price lunches. Affordability and access are some of Bend’s most pressing issues. Taking a fitness class, learning to swim or enrolling in Kids Inc. or summer programs should be affordable, accessible and welcoming to everyone in Bend. The district should continue to make the Recreational Scholarship Program easier to use and provide diversity, equity and inclusion training to its board, staff and volunteers.

With so many challenges facing people in Bend, parks, trails and the programs the district provides have the potential to make people feel like they belong, to make Bend more accessible and to give everyone a sense of ownership in the community.

As your elected Bend Park & Recreation District director, I promise to represent these values in the service of the entire community.

Let’s build trails that go where you want to go!

— Ariel Méndez is a candidate for Bend Park and Recreation Board Position 1 and an instructor at OSU-Cascades.