Coalition: Parks funding must be priority in LA's budget

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A coalition made up of park advocates, labor leaders and council members called on the Budget and Finance Committee today to make parks funding a priority in the next fiscal year.

Led by civic leader Steve Soboroff, the Parks Save! campaign wants city leaders to preserve the Recreation and Parks budget, which would actually increase by $8.7 million under Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed budget. The problem, according to the group, is that Recreation and Parks has had to pay an increasingly burdensome amount for city services like water, electricity, sanitation and retirement benefits over the last few years. This means there is ultimately less money available for park facilities and programs.

“There is no great city in America without a great parks system – none,” said Soboroff, chair of the Friends of Expo Center.

Over the past four years, Recreation and Parks’ expenses for city services have increased from $3 million to $44 million, according to the group. The department's budget would increase from $179 million to $188 million in the next year, under the mayor's budget.

Councilman Eric Garcetti, who attended the morning news conference at City Hall, was questioned about the decision to increase the fees paid by Recreation and Parks – something he now says is unsustainable.

“We’ve had to tighten the belts in the past, but we are in a position now to be able to restore and to grow for the new parks that we have and the park services in the future,” Garcetti said. “It was the right thing to do to save us from bankruptcy.”

The councilman will introduce a motion tomorrow that asks the chief legislative analyst to research alternative ways to fund Recreation and Parks.

The city charter mandates that the Department of Recreation and Parks receive at least .0325 percent of the assessed value of all property in the city. City libraries are also carved out in the city charter. Last year, voters agreed to increase the libraries’ allocation from .0175 percent of property tax revenue to .03 percent.

Recreation and Parks is responsible for 400 parks and 180 community centers.