LA WATCHDOG--Ever since Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council eviscerated the budget of our Department of Recreation and Parks in 2010 to help balance the City’s out of control budget, Rec & Parks has been on a mad dash for cash, willing to sell its soul for a few extra bucks, the hell with the neighboring communities.
Under the new “full cost recovery” program that targeted the Recreation and Parks budget, City Hall slammed the Department with $38 million in chargebacks, consisting primarily of costs for water and power ($16 million) and General Fund expenses ($17.5 million). This ding represented more than a quarter of the Department’s appropriation in the 2011 budget.
Despite the healthy increase in City revenues, this policy has only gotten worse as chargebacks for the upcoming year have ballooned to $60 million, representing more than a third of its General Fund revenue.
As a result, our parks are in disrepair and its programs gutted as the Department has eliminated more than a quarter of its worker bees.
While the commercialization of our parks is understandable, it has not been well received by Angelenos who believe our parks should be free of billboards, signage, and other forms of intrusive advertising and corporate sponsorship. And this opposition has only been fueled by the ham handed Department managers and Commissioners who have been less than transparent with the public, especially with those that live in close proximity to the parks.
A prime example is the near riot by Hollywood residents over a plan to commercialize Runyon Park by allowing Pink + Dolphin, a streetwear company, to place its controversial logo on a newly constructed basketball court in exchange for $250,000. This situation was further aggravated by Rec & Parks failure to engage the Hollywood community.
As a result of the furious backlash, Councilmember David Ryu called a halt to this deal, at least for the time being.
We are also seeing opposition to AngelFest, a new three day “family friendly music, food and cultural festival” that may be held in October in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area. And while the Department will take in an estimated $1 million over the next three years that can be reinvested in the local parks, the Department failed to engage the environmental and conservation communities who are concerned about the adverse impact on the park and its wildlife.
The Department also stirred up a hornet’s nest when it bungled the proposal to have Live Nation and Anschutz Entertainment replace Nederlander as the operator of the Greek Theatre in Griffin Park. As a result, Rec & Parks will “self-manage” the venue, a scary thought given the City’s lack of management expertise and the need for the cash strapped City to invest $20 to $40 million to upgrade the aging venue.
We are also seeing controversies where the residents of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood Land, Lake Hollywood Estates, and the Hollywood Dells are in open revolt against the Department because of the traffic and safety issues resulting from tourists flocking to see the Hollywood sign.
We also have issues involving Elysian Park and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s efforts to raid a $12.5 million fund set up by the Department of Water and Power to mitigate the impact of a covered reservoir.
Now is the time to reform our Department of Recreation and Parks.
The first step is to establish a better relationship with the public. This would include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Neighborhood Councils similar to the successful arrangement with the Department of Water and Power. This would also involve considerable outreach to the public, something the Department has not done with any consistency.
At the same time, the Department needs to develop a long range operational and financial plan that meets the goals of all Angelenos.
Once the Department gains the trust and confidence of the public, the City should place a measure on the ballot that would increase the charter mandated appropriation by $75 to $100 million over a four year period. At the same time, the Department would assume responsibility for all its direct and indirect expenses.
Importantly, this is not be a new tax, but would require the City to allocate scarce funds to the Department.
This is similar to Measure L, the March 2011 charter amendment that was approved by 63% of the voters that increased the mandated funding for the Library Department by over 70%.
The Department of Recreation and Parks has been the center of increasing controversy, in part because of its lack of funding and the failure of its management to develop an open and transparent relationship with the public.
But now is the time for the Department to develop and implement its good neighbor plan.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)