Monday, March 19 , 2018, 1:42 am | Fair 43º


Local News

Santa Barbara Parks Get Boost from Rising Revenues

After years of cuts and delayed maintenance, the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department hopes to start getting back to pre-recession levels of service.

Revenues are increasing overall from more program participation and facility rentals as people are starting to resume some of their spending habits, Director Nancy Rapp told the City Council on Wednesday.

The department has a $14 million budget, and it expects revenues of just more than $5 million next year, which is an upward trend, according to Assistant Director Jill Zachary.

The department does plan to raise all its fees 1 percent to 10 percent, including facility rentals, Golf Club course fees and program fees.

The council will make final budget decisions in June, and is hearing presentations from every city department before then.

Rapp wants to add two new positions to the department — another park ranger and a park plan tech. The latter would manage capital improvement projects, help expand the park volunteer program and supervise the growing number of contracts with private companies for things such as tree trimming and median landscaping maintenance. 

The additional park ranger would address problems with the more aggressive homeless people who frequent waterfront park areas, particularly before and during events when people rent out the areas, Rapp said.

“When we talk about issues in our parks and priorities for our department, this is the biggest one,” she said. “Though we have been dealing for years with the comments and concerns from park users, now we have a worsening perception of safety in our parks that concerns us greatly. We are, as Jill Zachary referenced, experiencing more people who are choosing not to rent one of our parks or facilities and we’re concerned about how to protect that revenue.”

There have been incidents of people intruding into private events such as weddings, demanding food and “shouting and disturbing events,” she said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is happening with greater frequency.”

Parks personnel work closely with Santa Barbara police and the restorative policing officers, but having another person in uniform who is specifically assigned to parks would be the most helpful, Rapp said.

“We have talked about, whether we’re at the point where we have to have a level of security that’s present at events and charge that cost off to the events,” Rapp said. “I think we’re trying with this direction first because we think it can achieve a greater level of park safety without having to add that cost on to events, but that certainly is something we could do.

“It has a negative perception when people are pricing where to do their event with venues in town, so it has a downside.”

It’s also an issue of concern for park employee safety, she said.

The parks capital program will focus on safety needs and infrastructure, and projects underway for the next year include fencing, walkways, replacing old signage, improvements for the Cabrillo Ball Field, restoring the bathroom at Alameda Park, replacing the playground at Chase Palm Park, and making pool accessibility improvements at both Oak Park and Los Banos, Zachary said.

Many improvements and program expansions come from the department’s partnerships, like the Friends of Los Banos donating for 120 youth to get free swim lessons and the waterfront department helping to fund a lifeguard and tower for West Beach, she added.

For the next year, the department has plans to expand the neighborhood grant program, hold an Eastside Family Health Fair and add a community kitchen at the Westside Neighborhood Center so it could be used to teach nutrition classes and serve as a business incubator.

Santa Barbara police beat coordinators will also start working out of a community policing office at Franklin Neighborhood Center and hold office hours, in addition to the office being used for patrol watch briefings, Rapp said.

There are still many maintenance projects, technology needs and some program enhancements on the department’s wish list that are unfunded, and some council members expressed support for at least giving more money to the Summer Fun drop-in program so 200 more children can join, and to give more money to the Youth Job Apprentice Program, which has been losing grant sources over the last few years.

Councilman Bendy White even reached out to a funder to try to get the $37,000 to let 200 more kids into the Summer Fun program, and the department has applied for funding, Rapp said.

Given the heated discussion Monday night at City Hall about the proposed gang injunction, Mayor Helene Schneider pointed out the youth programs funded by the city during Wednesday’s workshop.

Parks & Recreation budgets about $2 million to youth activities and neighborhood outreach services, she noted, and the city also grants funding to nonprofit organizations who organize after-school and summer programs for children.

“That’s really important to emphasize in light of the recent conversations we’ve had,” she said.

Public speakers focused on the increasing fees at the Las Positas Tennis Courts at Elings Park, which were transferred to the private foundation from the city in 2010 due to rising maintenance and upkeep costs.

What was a public park has become privately controlled, less accessible and more expensive to use, and all without much outreach to the public before the city got rid of the courts, they said.

Fees were $150 per year for unlimited court use when the city managed the courts, which are on the north end of Elings Park at 1298 Las Positas Road, but now fees are set to increase to $41 per month for adults, or $492 per year.

A woman also opposed the rent increase for nonprofit offices in neighborhood centers. She said that rents have raised by more than $300 per month since 2010, and the proposed increase would be the fifth one within a three-year period.

Click here to read more about the proposed Parks & Recreation Department budget.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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