City budget creates problems with community services

LOS ANGELES – This city is in financial trouble. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s new city budget plan focuses on “core” services. This means that Fire and Police and emergency response won’t be cut but parks and libraries will.

The city had developed a plan to “partner” with private non-profit corporations to provide services that were performed by city employees. For example, the Los Angeles convention Center would remain city property but would be operated by a private company.

The same scheme is being proposed to operate the city’s many parks and recreation centers. However an alliance including the Sierra Club plans to fight this because services now provided by the city’s Recreation and Parks department would not be provided for under the new agreements.

There are two types of partnerships, both of which constitute formal agreements with non-profit groups. Both agreements require payment for utilities (water, gas, and electricity), security services, general operating staff, liability insurance, and the pro-rata use of the facility. And both contain 17 pages of conditions and require legal review and execution by the City Attorney and 501 (c) 3 organization. Agreement A covers recreation programs valued below $100,000 per year, and Agreement B defines programs valued above $100,000 per year.

The problem with the proposed partnership policy is it will change the way programs are delivered. Recreation leaders have traditionally organized and delivered services, but budget cuts are changing this role. Many park programs have been provided by individuals and groups invited to work with the Director In Charge (DIC) to offer services that couldn’t otherwise be provided. The proposed partnerships will force the DIC’s to work as permit managers, not true partners. The emphasis will be on capturing costs instead of providing needed services.

Two recent actions at Fred Roberts Recreation Center in South Los Angeles illustrate the problem: A victim’s rights group asked the DIC if it could use a room for a family film night. The group periodically rents a movie and serves popcorn for families who have lost children or relatives to gang violence. The program is open to the community at no charge. Although empathetic to the cause, the DIC said she had no authority to approve the request. She explained that the new partnership policy required the group to seek a permit at a central office under Agreement A, which requires the group to enter into a formal agreement and pay for the room.

In a different scenario a group of neighborhood women organized an informal exercise program at the same center. They needed to use an electrical outlet to play music. A DIC denied them the use of the room and of an electrical outlet in an outdoor courtyard. The group was told they needed a permit.

The sad part about the partnerships is that city property owners pay a one percent tax to the city for the maintenance of parks and recreational facilities. There will be a meeting to discuss this and other park related issues October 13 at the Barlow Hospital William Hall Building located at 200 Stadium Way, Los Angeles, Calif. The meeting begins at 6pm. For more information call (213) 250-7921.

A library patron picks out a book at the Silver Lake area branch of the library in Los Angeles. Nick Ut/AP