City Sabotages Volunteer Parks Group

Wm. Land Park

MARCH 28, 2011

With the city of Sacramento cutting Department of Parks and Recreation employees by more than 60 percent in the last two years, neighbors and city residents decided to step up and help out by volunteering to maintain the largest of the city parks. William Land Park is home to a nine-hole golf course, pony rides, Fairytale Town, Funderland and baseball diamonds — all on more than 266 acres. The Sacramento Zoo is attached on another 14 acres.

What a great idea and superb example of volunteerism by those who love the park, use it the most and live in the area.

But not everyone is happy with the arrangement. The problem? The city is now proposing to assess area homeowners another tax to support the cost of city parks maintenance — even though the city made the decision to decimate the city parks staff far beyond any other city agency or department.

Sacramento city residents are asking how an assessment will be received by the hundreds of park volunteers who stepped up in a time of crisis to fill in where the former parks workers used to work.

One Saturday each month, 60 to 80 volunteers meet in William Land Park, then set out in groups to attack areas that need maintenance, cutting, pruning, thinning or planting, and pond maintenance and cleaning. Between 180 and 340 volunteer hours are performed on these Saturdays. A great deal of work is accomplished.

By the end of last summer, with only five Saturdays of work, 1,390 volunteer hours were logged, 30 projects were completed, planting in four very large planter beds was done, 710 large trash bags were filled with gardening debris, a large-scale bush trimming generated 1,000 pounds of  loose gardening debris and the park’s ponds were skimmed and cleaned each time. The debris was stacked in very visible, massive piles around the park for pick-up by park staff.

But instead of feeling relief and being grateful for the help, the city of Sacramento is threatening residents with a tax assessment.

On Saturday, The Sacramento Bee ran an editorial supporting the assessment:

The volunteer spirit helps make Sacramento special. But it is not the entire solution. Not every neighborhood has enough residents with the time and money to care for parks.

So the City Council was wise to start a feasibility study for a citywide property tax assessment for parks maintenance that could go on the 2012 ballot.

Residents are showing how much they value their parks by volunteering. They ought to get the chance to show how much they’re willing to pay as well.

Instead of showing how much more they are willing to pay, residents stepped up and volunteered to do the work.

Where Does the Money Go?

On the Saturday work days, most of the volunteers that I spoke with said that city taxes and costs for services have increased so dramatically in the last 20 years that residents wonder where the money is going, if not to support park employees. It clearly has not gone into maintenance and upkeep of the parks. Many have wondered aloud if the recreation side of the Parks and Rec Department is siphoning funds for superfluous programs.

And now, showing incredible insensitivity to the straining budget and the termination of park maintenance workers, the city is proposing to commission a $53,000 “cultural landscape” study of William Land Park. Sacramento Parks and Recreation Director Jim Combs informed the Land Park Volunteer Corps that the city intends to tap the Land Park trust fund to pay for it. That’s money that the Land Park Community Association has requested for several years to pay for special park projects, plantings and extra maintenance and upkeep.

But I suspect this battle with the city is really about jobs. It is impossible not to notice how well the volunteers are filling in where were once were public employees. Volunteerism is making a difference and the park has never looked better.

Union Rules

The reason for the many job cuts in the parks department is thanks to the top brass at the Stationary Engineers Local 39. They chose to cut low-paying jobs and the employees without benefits, instead of cutting where the real costs hide — with well-paid middle management public employees who don’t have much responsibility, but add to the layers of bureaucracy and cost.

Adding injury to the insults, the city parks department recently informed the Land Park Volunteer Corps that the city’s tools will no longer be available to use on the Saturdays volunteers do the park maintenance. And now the city is trying to hijack the volunteer program’s success to “organize” its own volunteers and minimum-wage workers to do the park work.

One More Attempted Roadblock

The volunteers are doing the city’s work, for which no resident receives a tax break, and now the city says that it expects the volunteer group to buy thousands of dollars worth of tools. The Land Park volunteers had purchased extra tools last year, nearly two-thirds of which disappeared from the storage area shared with the city. Many of the volunteers would rather see the donated money go to plants and special projects, instead of duplicating an available tool supply.

As the city made the employee cuts, and before the volunteer group began, William Land Park looked miserable. Grass had grown to knee-height, the ponds were covered in scum and lined with garbage and debris from trees was everywhere, making walking on the grassy expanses difficult. Water fountains no longer work, nor do several of the ponds’ fountains.

Addressing the deteriorating condition, the Land Park volunteers tackled the clean-up, and then began the long-needed beautification and improvements.

But there is much more work to be done renovating an old stream, fixing the fountains in the ponds and attending to the baseball diamonds.

The volunteers have agreed to do the work, and even to raise more funds to cover the material costs.

But with the volunteer corps’ success, many volunteers feel pushback coming from the local labor union through the resistance of the city. As happens at public schools when parents try to volunteer to paint, garden or improve play areas, unions push hard to prevent the work from being done, but will not perform the work themselves.

With Sacramento running out of money, the city Parks and Recreation Department made a categorical mistake cutting a very visible part of the budget — a regional park — instead of making really effective cuts. As with schools, people care enough to volunteer to do the work needed to maintain and beautify public areas enjoyed by so many — even when the city throws up roadblocks.

Katy Grimes

Related Articles

Quantity, not quality, in Calif Assembly

Aug. 30, 2012 Katy Grimes: What do nannies, alcoholic beverages, green jobs, CalEPA, voter registration, absentee voters, manufacturers, online education,

Kamala Harris not likely to be Supreme Court nominee

While Kamala Harris has a good shot at becoming the next U.S. senator from California, she has little shot of

Cooling on Global Warming

JUNE 25, 2010 If you are still unclear about all the fuss surrounding California’s global warming initiative, AB32, it’s time