LA’s Neglected Parks: Another Casualty of the City’s Services Bankruptcy

LA WATCHDOG

LA WATCHDOG--On September 13, Controller Ron Galperin released a first ever Report Card for our Department of Recreation and Parks. It was based on interviews by consultants with over 3,700 park using Angelenos and onsite reviews of 40 of our 95 community parks.  (Photo above: Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin announces Rec & Parks Report Card.) 

Overall, these 40 community parks received a grade of B (an 86) based on the equal weighting of 12 measurements.  But this hides the fact that many Angelenos are concerned about their safety in the parks (46%) and the poorly maintained bathrooms (37%), especially in three of the five surveyed areas. 

Of the 40 parks that were surveyed, 16 (40%) received a D on the restroom maintenance.  But that percentage leaped to 57% (16 of the 28 parks) for the East San Fernando Valley, Metropolitan, and South LA / Harbor Areas.  On the other hand, the West San Fernando and Westside Areas had no failing restrooms and had an overall of grade of a B on restrooms. 

One the underlying reasons for the lack of safety and the foul restrooms is that the Department’s budget has been decimated by City Hall. 

Under the City’s “full cost recovery” program that was instituted in 2010 by Mayor Villaraigosa and then City Council President Eric Garcetti, $410 million has been diverted from the operating budget of the Department of Recreation and Parks.  

This year alone, Recreation & Parks is being hit up for $71 million, including $25 million for utilities (water and power), $2 million for refuse collection, and $44 million for “General Fund Reimbursement” to cover pension contributions, human resource benefits, and other related expenses. This represents 38% of the charter mandated appropriation of $186 million.  

As a result, the Department’s headcount has been reduced by almost a third, resulting in less maintenance and even fewer programs and activities. 

But the “full cost recovery” program does not apply to any City department other than the Library, whose appropriations, like those of Recreation and Parks, are mandated by the City Charter.  However, in 2011, 63% of the voters approved Measure L which increased the Library’s charter mandated appropriation by 71%.

    

And despite lip service from Garcetti, former Councilmember Tom LaBonge, and Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, nothing has been done to restore the funding for Recreation and Parks.  

Galperin has many excellent recommendations, including expanding the report card model to include all of the City’s 444 parks that cover over 16,000 acres, representing over 5.5% of the City’s 450 square miles. 

Other recommendations include developing new sources of revenue; beefing up the staffing to improve service levels; a more proactive approach to the maintenance of our parks, including its restrooms; a stronger relationship with the LAPD to ensure the actual and perceived safety of the parks; working with other City and County agencies to address the homeless who have invaded our parks and frightened the kids and their parents; and instituting a seven day schedule for our parks. 

All this assumes competent management.  In the recent past, management has done a poor job of working with the public as witnessed by the brouhahas involving Hollywood and Griffin Park, Elysian Park, the Greek Theatre, and Runyon Canyon, to name a few. 

An effective outreach program would be welcomed, including a Memorandum of Understanding with the Neighborhood Councils. 

The Department also needs to develop a robust management information system that provides timely and accurate data on the Department’s operations, facilities, and the efficient utilization of its labor force.  

There also needs to be effective oversight of the Department and its operations.  This would require appointing qualified people to the Board of Commissioners who have management, industry, and financial experience and expertise that add value to the Board’s oversight.  

Recreation and Parks also appears to be burdened by overly restrictive work rules imposed by the City’s contracts with its civilian unions.  An alternative would be to have more part time employees and to outsource selected work to third parties that have more flexibility in scheduling its workers.  

Another alternative would be to increase the utilization of the Department’s 35,000 registered volunteers. 

Unfortunately, the prospects of restoring the funding for the Department of Recreation and Parks are unlikely as the City is anticipating a budget gap next year of at least $250 million.  This, along with the failure to repair and maintain our streets and sidewalks, another example of the Service Bankruptcy plaguing Los Angeles, where City Hall robs Peter to pay Paul, where the City employees are given raises, the infrastructure is neglected, and citizens get the shaft.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw

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