LA kids plead with City Council to save Parks programs

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Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Jazlyn Landeverde, 10, sits smiling in the middle of her Stoner Park soccer team at Los Angeles City Hall, where she and her teammates were protesting cuts to the city's Recreation and Parks Department.

Kids and parents pleaded with the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday to prevent deep cuts to the Recreation and Parks Department. L.A. faces a deficit of more than $600 million, and the city plans to eliminate hundreds of jobs at its parks.

One by one, speakers who could hardly reach the lectern’s microphone addressed the Los Angeles City Council in its ornate chambers.

Interview with Parks Dept. child care providers from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Martha and Christina Flores are a mother-daughter team who work as child care providers for the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department. They will lose their jobs as part of a plan to eliminate more than 400 jobs at the department as the city grapples with a more than $600 million budget deficit.

”Hello. My name is Jazlyn Landaverde. I am representing Stoner Park. I’m on a soccer team with these guys."

Landaverde, 10, was surrounded by fellow members of the Morazan soccer team at Stoner in the West Adams District.

“It provides us fun. And we are doing something constructive instead of staying home doing nothing watching TV," she said.

"I’m here to save our parks," Raul Lozano told the council.

Lozano, 17, lives in one of Boyle Heights’ toughest neighborhoods. He's a member of the teen club at the Ramona Gardens Recreation Center.

“The park is where I could have fun, be safe, shoot some hoops with my friends," he said. The city recreation assistants help him with his homework too.

Parents also pleaded with the council not to impose cuts on the city’s parks.

Diane Vermillon lost her job last year. She sends her 10-year-old son to the city’s Palms child care center while she’s looking for work.

“You all have kids," she said to members of the city council. "You all should understand what we are fighting for today."

Through layoffs, early retirements and transfers, the city plans to eliminate more than 400 jobs at the Recreation and Parks Department.

No parks will close, but there’ll be fewer recreation assistants and shorter hours. The city will close all 26 of its daycare centers or transfer their operations to private contractors.

City Councilman Bernard Parks said L.A. has little choice.

“If we did everything that the public came in and asked, we'd make no changes in the budget. And we'd still be $600 million in the hole," Parks told KPCC.

"Everybody says save everything, which is impossible,” he said.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who’s opposed layoffs, offered some ideas about programs and services to cut.

“We're consistently maintaining the level of our police force, which is sort of the last line of defense. But we are looking at cutting places that keep people off the streets, keep kids out of trouble,” Koretz said.

The council’s yet to say whether it’s willing to reduce the number of police officers as it searches for more cuts in the coming year.

Recreation and Parks Department General Manager John Mukri said he’ll try to help kids when they most need it, despite the cuts.

“After school, holidays, weekends, summer. And as we go through this summer period, I’m going to burn up a lot of money and a lot of time," he said. But Mukri said that'll force other cuts later. "I’m going to go into the red real quick and we are going to have to make up that money somehow at the tail end.”

At the same time, Mukri said he’s been warned that his department could face hundreds of more layoffs as the city seeks to shed 4,000 jobs. He conceded that’s bad news for kids.

Alexandria Fisher-Collins, 11, is home schooled. She worries what will happen if some of the programs are cut back.

“I won’t have any place to socialize with people. I won’t learn how to be around other people and ya know have fun with friends and actually just be a kid and not be at home all day long," Fisher-Collins said.

Members of the city council said they heard their smallest constituents’ concerns.

They pledged to try and find money for L.A.’s parks as they address the city’s worst budget deficit ever.

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