Helping Parks

In this story from the Sacramento Bee about the grocery chain that has stepped up to keep public swimming pools open, is the larger realization that bringing the private sector—forprofit and nonprofit corporations—into the arena to help with public facilities that can no longer be adequately supported with taxes on an already over-burdened public, is smart public policy.

It is the strategy our organization—American River Parkway Preservation Society—has been advocating for the American River Parkway since our inception in 2003, and with the slowly decreasing ability of Sacramento County to provide even the basic services associated with public safety and facility maintenance, it is even more urgent that it become a reality sooner rather than later.

An excerpt from the Sacramento Bee article.

“If Sacramento youngsters have pools to splash in this summer, they likely will have a grocery store chain to thank rather than their city government.

“Save Mart Supermarket officials are scheduled to announce today a fund-raising campaign to generate $1 million – enough to open half the city’s 12 swimming pools and all of its wading pools this summer.

“It’s the latest and largest example of businesses and neighborhood groups bailing out a cash-starved city unable to keep pools open, parks maintained and community centers operating.

“With Sacramento entering its sixth straight year of large budget deficits, officials are asking those groups to fund – and in some cases operate – amenities once taken for granted.

“Five years from now we may look back and say this was a temporary thing,” said Councilman Steve Cohn. “But I think we have to figure that for the foreseeable future, this is the new normal.”…

“Other partnerships have emerged in the city’s tough budget cycle.

“In east Sacramento, where the historic Clunie Community Center in McKinley Park serves 100,000 people each year, neighborhood activists raised $45,000 to keep the facility open for the next year. Neighbors are forming a nonprofit organization to run the facility after that.

“Most other community centers and clubhouses are fully or partially leased to nonprofit groups. And after the doors were nearly shut at centers during last year’s budget talks, city officials are working with other community organizations to take on the full operation of those facilities.

“If it wasn’t for volunteerism, our city would be completely untenable,” said resident Jeff Harris. He headed the River Park Neighborhood Association when it raised money in 2009 to keep the pool open in Glenn Hall Park.

“Sacramento County has entered into similar partnerships, turning over operation of several parks to nonprofit groups or other governments.

“Ceding control to the private sector isn’t always smooth. In some cases, private groups have changed the rules for public assets.

“A spat last month between the Sacramento United Soccer Club and the Sacramento Valley Rugby Foundation led to a massive rugby tournament abruptly being relocated to Rancho Cordova from Sacramento’s Granite Regional Park. Sacramento United now maintains and runs the playing fields for the city, and it said the rugby tournament left those fields a mess last year. The rugby tournament was denied access to Granite fields, leaving event organizers surprised that the city did not control its own park.

“Such hiccups aside, city officials seem convinced they have a new model for keeping their parks and pools open.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to need a lot more of this in the future because of our budget,” Cohn said. “I’d like to think it’s just temporary, but this may be something we’re looking at for the long term.”

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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