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LA's Crown Jewel Parks Neglected Despite $278 Million Funding; Full Cost Recovery Program Blamed

Residents of a homeless encampment in MacArthur Park

LA WATCHDOG

LA WATCHDOG - The City’s 16,000 acres of parkland are one of its crown jewels.  So much so that its minimum revenue for the Department of Recreation and Parks is specified in the City’s charter in an amount equal to 0.0325% of the assessed value of property located within the City ($850 billion).  For the upcoming fiscal year, this amounts to almost $278 million. 

With this mandated funding, why are our parks and their bathrooms in such poor condition?  Why has the department cut back on its programming that serves our seniors and youth?  And why does this very important City department have capital needs that exceed $2 billion?  

The underlying cause of these issues is the “full cost recovery” program that was implemented in 2010 to close City’s budget deficit caused by decreased revenues resulting from the recession and ever-increasing compensation demands for City employees.  Under this policy, Rec & Parks, unlike any other department other than the Library, is responsible for its pension, healthcare, utility, and other costs. 

This program started out with a chargeback of $38 million in 2011, equal to 26% of its revenues.  But since then, the kickbacks have increased to $125 million in the upcoming fiscal year, a $28 million increase from this year because of the need to pay for the budget busting labor agreements.  Overall, the $125 million diversion of funds is equal to 45% of the charter mandated minimum appropriation, resulting in the cut back in programs, the opening of new parks, and overall maintenance. 

Since the implementation of this program, almost $1 billion has funneled back to the City, resulting in capital needs of $2 billion according to the City’s Official Statement. 

There has been considerable chatter in City Hall about improving our parks, ranging from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Executive Directive 31 (December 2021) calling for Park Equity to the ill-conceived, last minute ballot measure in November of 2022 that failed to raise $227 million through a controversial parcel tax to a council motion by Councilmembers Raman and Hernandez calling for the City to work with LAUSD to develop 25 community parks.  But still Rec & Parks remains underfunded. 

Rather than continuing to balance the budget on the backs of our youth, our seniors, and everyday Angelenos who rely on the open spaces of our parks for the simple pleasures of life, the City needs to endorse the concept of Park Equity and restore the funding for the Department of Recreation and Parks. 

The easiest way would be to rescind the “full cost recovery” program over a four-year period.  Alternatively, the City Council place a measure on the ballot to increase the charter mandated funding over four years to 0.05% of the City’s assessed value of the property within the City, similar to Measure L that was approved by 63% of the voters in 2011 that offset the “full cost recovery” program on the Library.  

Will the City Council continue to balance the budget on the back of ordinary Angelenos who do not have equitable access to parks?  Will Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, chair of the Neighborhood and Community Enrichment Committee, lead the charge for Park Equity in our under parked city.  Stay tuned.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  [email protected].)

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