Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
San Diego’s 52 recreation councils will continue to operate come Jan. 1, but they won’t be in charge of their own destiny as they have been for decades.
On Dec. 13, a badly split City Council voted 5-4 to accept the new method of operation, which gives financial control of recreation centers to the city’s Park and Recreation Department.
For various reasons, Councilmembers Lori Zapf, Chris Cate, David Alvarez and Georgette Gomez voted against the proposed solution.
Heretofore, the various recreation councils have been in control of millions of dollars in fees and other sources of money to build things, to operate more or less independently of city control.
That all came to an end in the wake of City Attorney Mara Elliott’s decision that all such funds collected by the rec councils must be under the control of the Parks and Recreation Department because local laws, the city charter and state law demanded that be the case.
In a conversation before the council meeting. Elliott said this shouldn’t be looked at as winners and losers.
“The volunteer recreation councils still have a major role to play, and we hope the volunteers will be able to function under this new plan,” she said. “The new method of operation will be a lot like the old one, except that the city will be in charge of the vast majority of the money.”
Try telling that to the rec council members who spoke out against the changes at the City Council meeting.
“We’ve lost faith in the Park and Rec Department,” said David Rogers of the Adams Avenue Recreation Council. “I’ve been to seven different meetings and heard seven different plans.”
“The proper answer is right in front of you — it’s called compromise,” Tierrasanta Recreation Council member Norm Ryan said. “Table this matter now — vote no.”
All of which did little good in the end. Faced with the shutdown of the special-use permits that allowed the rec councils to operate as essentially independent entities, the council had little choice but to accept the Park and Rec battle plan.
Starting Jan. 1, 2018, all the fees collected by the various rec councils for recreation programs will go to the city, rather than to individual rec council private bank accounts.
As part of an “Interim Standard Operating Procedure” designed to make the changeover easier to tolerate, all funds collected by the city on behalf of local rec councils are guaranteed to be spent only in that rec council’s area.
The city has agreed to indemnify and protect the recreation councils against lawsuits and legal actions, and to defend them if needed.
There is a lot more to this, and all agreed this is going to take some time to shake out and settle — it’s not like flipping a switch and everything is fixed.
Councilmember Alvarez, who has been critical of this all along, sympathized with the Park and Rec staff who’ve been working on this problem.
“This is not your fault that we’re here now,” he said. “But in trying to fix this, you’ve had to create more problems than you have solutions.”
Councilman Scott Sherman isn’t any happier than anyone else about this, but said “I’m all for helping the rec councils do their work.”
Councilmember Gomez may have summed up the feelings of just about everyone involved in this.
“The lack of time we’ve had with this hasn’t helped at all,” she said.
Truer words are seldom spoken.
— Doug Curlee is Editor at Large. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.