Community concerned about decreased staffing
The Santa Barbara City Council accepted the Parks and Recreation Department’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year. The department addressed tight city funds by leaving positions vacant.
The parks division budget is nearly $8.5 million, and recreation requires $7.8 million. Operating the parks is the largest expense, at $6.3 million, followed by aquatics, at $1.8 million.
The department raises $1.5 million in parks revenue and $4.1 million from recreation, gathered through various fees and events.
The largest objection to the budget was not an expense but a lack thereof. Public comments and council members questioned the reduction in staffing.
Kathy McGill, vice chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, voiced concerns that youth are “being left out at a vulnerable time” because parks are not optimally staffed and funded.
Beebe Longstreet, who spent years on the commission as well as a commissioner, echoed Ms. McGill’s complaint. She noted that water and employee costs, which get more expensive yearly, have not been raised proportionally in the budget.
“We spend a lot of focus on the downtown and business sectors… but it’s only part of the picture,” she told the City Council.
She suggested reducing the city police budget in an effort to raise park and recreation funds.
“These are the programs you control, and you find. It’s not about taking money away from police, it’s about putting money where we want it,” she said. “We can’t police our way out of our youth violence problem, we have to guide them and love them.”
Darryl Scheck, executive director of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union, said existing employees are taking on extra work for every vacancy that isn’t filled.
“The budgets have primarily been balanced on the backs of existing employees,” he said.
When councilmembers inquired about the staffing, City Administrator Paul Casey shut down the possibility to fund more employees. He explained the department would have to layoff staff members if it hired new employees.
Other public comments addressed specific improvement projects.
In her presentation, Jill Zachary, parks and recreation director, suggested $1.2 billion in capital improvements be spent over the next five years. General fund and grant money would pay for the expenses.
Two projects coming up in the next two fiscal years garnered concern in public comments — primarily Ortega Park’s renovation.
The existing designs for Ortega Park include tearing down structures with murals depicting Chicano culture and history. Community members have previously addressed the City Council with their concerns in a meeting late April.
Mayor Cathy Murillo asked what it would entail to preserve the murals.
The problem with the murals is the buildings they’re on, Ms. Zachary noted. The buildings were not reinforced during construction and will worsen over time.
“Working closely with the community and the original mural artist, we hope to come to a consensus,” she said.
Another project of note is the West Beach Splash Playground, which Ms. Zachary planned for the 2023 fiscal year. Previous objections to the splash playground may have squashed the idea, but the department still hopes to install a family-friendly feature.