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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mayor's budget for Rec and Parks targets LA's most underprivileged

Update II:  Ron Kaye covers this issue today.

Update:   Stephen Box at CityWatch discusses the transparent diversion from any real budget conversation for the Dept. of Recreation and Parks that took place between Commission President Barry Sanders and the B&F committee. 

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Thursday morning, this author went downtown to the City's Budget and Finance Committee hearing on the Mayor's proposed budget for the Department of Recreation and Parks. I went to speak on the social injustice this budget represents, and point out some of the most questionable if not outright illegal charge-backs to the department this budget takes.

As I stood in line for my turn at the podium, I noted that perhaps only 1 or 2 of a committee of 5 were even bothering to listen to the members of the public, concerned people who had taken time from work to go downtown and testify during the public hearing. I therefore suddenly found myself compelled to alter my planned comments.

Here is the full text of what I had planned to say if the committee had actually been listening.
Honorable committee members and Chairman Parks,

During this committee’s discussion on creating an Inspector General on Monday, many of you explicitly expressed your concern that the Mayor’s office has not been doing their job with respect to making sure funds owed to this City are collected. A number of the Controller’s recent audits punctuate this fiscally damaging failure.

So if the Mayor’s office isn’t doing their job, I think it is fair to ask “what are they doing, exactly”?

Declaring outright war through this budget on those citizens in this City who are least able to fight back, that’s what.

If furloughs are now off the table, with this prejudicial budget of the Mayor’s, the Department of Recreation and Parks is left with just 56% of their total appropriation to use to provide parks services to the public – just 56%! That’s less money than Fiscal Year 2000, and since 2000, thousands of acres of parkland and numerous facilities have been added to your districts and are now the department’s responsibility.

This budget is a crime. It preferentially impacts the lower socio-economic children of Los Angeles. It’s these kids who rely on City parks the most. And the vast majority of their families have no idea this resource is under attack. After all, most of them are busy just trying to make ends meet, working blue collar jobs where they aren’t able to look at a computer for budget information or listen to Councilphone to try to keep on top of this.

This committee – especially Councilmember Parks – recently stood up for the Libraries and what they provide to some of the most underprivileged in this City. The Department of Recreation and Parks provides everything Libraries do: safe places to go after school and on weekends where kids receive educational programming. Same as Libraries.

But in addition, parks provide healthy low-cost exercise and sports in a time when childhood obesity is at epidemic levels, especially in LA City and County where in some districts it approaches 26% of our children – children who rely on the civil servants sitting here to provide subsidized, healthy physical exercise opportunities for them.

Recreation and Parks is where you get the most bang for the buck for these kids. Yet the Mayor’s office unveils this travesty of a budget directly targeting these very children.

Much of this budget crime contains some highly unethical and legally questionable “charge-backs”. Let’s talk about some of these very questionable charge-backs:

TRASH: a new charge for FY2012.

Trash is generated primarily by parks visitors exactly like trash on the streets and any other City property… Citizens bring this trash on their own onto park property. It is not generated by the Department. How can you possibly justify this charge as a department expense?

(Trash payment = $3.7 million, equivalent to ~74 employees laid off)

ERIP: Most if not all of the other City departments who offered ERIP are being made whole through borrowing. Why is RAP the only dept being forced to use their allocation to pay their ERIP costs?

(ERIP cash payment = $4.3 million, equivalent to ~86 employees laid off)

NO FURLOUGHS(+$12 million in expenses, equivalent to ~240 employees laid off)

WATER AND POWER: LADWP is a City-owned utility who uses park properties for their infrastructure (“Infra-squatting”, if you will) yet is still charging another City Department, Recreation and Parks, full price. However, they are not paying Recreation and Parks the requisite franchise fees for use of their various properties. Franchise fees are something they would have to pay to any other regular ratepayer.

Is this legal? It certainly isn’t right or fair.

What it is is a thinly veiled way to sweep charter-mandated parks funds into the General Fund, something explicitly illegal according to the City Charter.

Departments providing “critical services” don’t pay LADWP fees. With childhood obesity fees in your own districts as high as 26%, how could anyone sit there and say Rec and Parks services are not critical City services for the most underprivileged under your own stewardship?

(Utilities cost = $16 million, equivalent to ~320 employees laid off)

You know, as a volunteer I put in more than 900 hours of hard physical work for this department each year because I believe wholeheartedly in their core mission for the people of Los Angeles. All the people.

The funds permanently allocated by the City Charter to the Department of Recreation and Parks says that The People agree with me.

I need to see one of you here on this committee stand up for the most underprivileged in this City. You all need to stand up as a committee against the Mayor’s office.... For this department. For the children of this City who need you to defend them against this assault.

This is war against the citizens of Los Angeles, aimed directly at the underprivileged. End it now.

Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, when all was said and done in the hearing no one on the Budget and Fiance committee stood up for The People.

Meanwhile, in a total disconnect from what happened today, Budget and Finance chair Bernard Parks is made to look good once again by the Dept of Recreation and Parks.


Read the list of services that the Department of Recreation and Parks has already had to cut during the past three years due to the Mayor's budgeting approach.

Read the full letter and all attachments sent to the Budget and Fiance committee regarding this year's budget by Department of Recreation and Parks.