Our Failing Parks

It is tragic what is happening with our local parks, but by always occupying the last spot or so in the endless queue for funding, they are the first to feel the hit when times are tough.

Our strategy for the major park in our region, the American River Parkway—embodied in several articles on our news page and further detailed on our strategy page—consists of developing supplemental funding through philanthropy, which will only work because the Parkway is a signature park that will attract substantial philanthropic help.

But it will attract this level of help only if the nonprofit organization leading the effort (and managing the Parkway) is led by an executive director hired from a national search for someone with the level of experience needed to raise substantial sums while managing an almost 5,000 acre park.

Some local parks that are in trouble—Gibson Ranch, McKinley Park and Land Park, for example—resonate strongly enough with their surrounding communities of users that this avenue of supplemental funding, along with utilizing social enterprise principles, can also be fruitful.

This recent editorial from the Sacramento Bee sums up the situation with our local parks that are failing.

An excerpt.

“Larry Hoover ticks off an inventory of neglect: weeds left to grow for weeks, trash strewn in underbrush, fallen-down fences and barren patches, especially where the weekly farmers market sets up.

“Then he points to the signs at Roosevelt Park that proclaim, “The Pride of Sacramento,” and laughs ruefully. “Is this the pride of Sacramento? It’s a dump, and it doesn’t need to be.”

“In 2002, Roosevelt won the prize as the best-maintained park in the city. These days, as for too many city parks, its upkeep has declined to a point that many loyal visitors are disgusted.

“Three years of spending cuts are taking their toll. The city has cut its budget for parks maintenance in half since 2007, to $7.3 million, and cut its number of parks employees by a similar percentage, to 77.

“The result: less frequent mowing, weeding and watering. Garbage is picked up less often. Sports fields are no longer routinely reseeded. While the city’s largest parks – Land, McKinley and Miller – have their own crews, one- or two-person crews are responsible for between nine and 14 smaller parks each.

“The city just recently launched a software system to track work orders, so it doesn’t know exactly how far behind it is on routine maintenance. (It plans about $4.3 million in major repairs and upgrades by 2014.)But with city maintenance crews stretched so thin, the potential is there for vandalism or deterioration to go unaddressed for too long.

“Since the budget constraints and staffing shortages are not going away anytime soon, the city has to be creative and open to different ways of doing business. There are talks under way with the Twin Rivers school district to have city and school crews take turns mowing neighboring school and city fields. The city should sign that agreement, talk with other school districts and also look into more coordination with Sacramento County where city parks are close to county parks. In addition, the City Council needs to be willing to explore further private maintenance contracts, beyond the ones for seven parks in North Natomas and for bike trails.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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