The Carmel Valley Recreation Council has taken a strong stance against the city’s proposed changes to recreation council operations.
The changes could come before San Diego City Council for approval as soon as Oct. 24, but the Carmel Valley Recreation Council members have requested a postponement as they said they have not had significant time to review or respond to changes in the fee schedule that they believe will eliminate their revenue source and local control.
“This has come about very quickly,” said Marilee Pacelli, chair of the Carmel Valley Recreation Council at its Oct. 3 meeting. “It seems like this is happening very, very fast without the opportunity for any of the recreational councils to weigh in on this.”
According to a document that went to the city’s Park and Recreation Board on Sept. 21, the city attorney has determined that the money in the local park and recreation councils’ accounts, about $4 million, is not the recreation councils’ money but is actually city money.
Proposed changes to the fee structure would take away the surcharge that recreation councils get, taking away Carmel Valley Recreation Council’s basic revenue. If the changes are approved, surcharges would instead be deposited into a city special revenue fund.
By January 2019, all 52 local recreation councils may cease to exist or exist only in an advisory capacity with no more revenue coming in to spend on the community, Pacelli said. Everything would be managed by a “centralized” Parks and Recreation Council downtown — “One San Diego, One San Diego Rec.” According to the report, with a centralized department, programs could also be standardized throughout the city and four full-time staff members would be hired to control programming for all centers in the city.
Currently, Carmel Valley Recreation Council has about $417,000 and is one of the top performing councils in the city, Pacelli said. The council uses those funds to keep its recreation center open longer, enhance park maintenance, fund special events and activities, and provide quality programming tailored to the community’s needs. The council also offered $12,000 in financial assistance last year.
In late September, Pacelli attended a Parks and Recreation briefing about the proposed changes with Ginny Barnes, the longtime Carmel Valley resident who founded the recreation council back in 1988.
“There were a lot of questions and a lot of angry people from a lot of other rec councils,” Pacelli said.
Pacelli said one of the frustrating things was that questions were raised and the standard answers were: “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “We don’t know yet” and “I don’t have an answer.”
Pacelli’s biggest question was what is meant by “standardizing programming” and if that meant that the same programs would be offered to every rec center. Would gymnastics be as important at other rec centers in the city as it is in Carmel Valley, where it is one of the biggest programs? Will they still be able to hold fall festivals or movie nights or is all of that money going to go to the special fund? And will it take forever to get their hands on funding for small maintenance projects?
Barnes also voiced concern that many independent contractors rely on the ability to have contractual relationships with rec councils and the changes could affect that.
“It’s a huge economic impact to independent contractors. That’s a huge piece, that this will affect people’s livelihoods,” Barnes said. “Don’t take away the funding source without understanding the consequences.”
Barnes, who spent 12 years on the city’s Park and Recreation board, said that in the past they reviewed standard operation procedures and bylaws to make sure the documents were in line with municipal codes and nothing has changed since that time.
“The bottom line is the current system is functional, it’s efficient, it works, it provides for customized activities and support in the communities where the funds are raised with programs that are wanted by the community. The ulterior motive is not efficiency, it’s not trying to make it more responsive to the communities, I think it’s another objective,” rec council member Luca Pacelli said. “There’s some things we can tweak and some things we can do to help the other rec councils in the city that don’t have the funds that others do but to dismantle the whole thing and change it totally overnight without the real understanding and reasons behind it, doesn’t make any sense.”
Steve Hadley, representative for District 1 Councilmember Barbara Bry, said that Bry is not on board with the proposed change.
“She is not happy that there has not been proper notice and an opportunity to be heard,” Hadley said, noting typically these types of changes go through a council committee. “(Councilmember Bry) wholeheartedly supports local control. We don’t do planning one-size fits all in the city, we have planning boards that reflect the character of the community.”
Hadley said Bry could be supportive of operational changes that help the city keep track of money coming in or to ensure equal opportunity contracting, but not to give up local influence in deciding what programs are offered or the discretionary authority on what money is spent on.
“To relinquish that authority to others downtown somewhere and be an advisory group that may or not be taken into account, that’s not what’s intended with our park and rec councils,” Hadley said.