As you may recall, the City Council has slashed park maintenance staffing dramatically during the last two years of budget cuts.
Happily, Oakland residents have stepped up in spades to pick up the slack. Thanks to the work of many dedicated volunteers, our parks, while suffering, have not yet fallen into total disarray.
For the last few years, the Oakland Parks Coalition has performed an annual survey to asses the condition of our parks. The results of this year’s survey were the subject of the aforementioned discussion at Public Works Committee.
For the survey, volunteers are sent out to City parks and other public spaces (medians, plazas, stuff like that) and asked to assess the condition based on a number of different criteria. The parks are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 in each category, with 1 being “good” and 4 being “poor.”
Compared to last year, the 117 distinct public spaces surveyed (98 parks, and 19 other types of spaces) got worse in almost every category.
Oakland Parks Coalition Chair Susan Montauk, when presenting the findings, warned the Committee that it would be seriously unwise to continue deferring much needed park repairs:
If we continue to postpone the many repairs that have been put on the back burner & worn player surfaces, broken outdoor furniture, water fountains and irrigation equipment, broken, then user safety may be threatened and repairs will be much more costly to make down the line. We must find the resources to fix these problems. A few parks are in such serious decline that Public Works may have to revisit the policy of keeping all the parks open.
Overall, Oakland’s parks received a rating of 2.18 on the survey, compared to 1.94 last year.
They broke down their ratings by Council district. District 6 fared the best, while District 7 was ranked the worst.
They also included some interesting data about historical park maintenance staffing in Oakland, showing a consistent decline in FTEs devoted to caring for our parks over the past few decades.
The Parks Coalition presentation finished with three recommendations:
- that the City hire a carefully designed volunteer coordinator to provide training and guidelines to help all the different groups who volunteer coordinate better
- that Public Works should figure out a way to allow the Business Districts who want to privately fund park maintenance services to do so
- that the City Council not cut the park maintenance budget any more than they already have, and to provide additional funding for park maintenance when and if the budget improves
There was some back and forth about the details of the volunteer coordinator position and the stuff with the Business Districts providing paid services, but for the most part, Public Works seemed to agree with their assessment.
I thought the recommendations were good as well, the first one in particular. When budget cuts come up, you inevitably get all these people talking about how the City should not cut services so much, and just save money by using volunteers.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. If residents value the City’s services and resources and want to help, we should be grateful for their generosity and taking advantage of that, not turning them away. But I also think that sometimes people don’t realize that supplementing services with volunteers is more complicated than it sounds.
See, volunteers can be a lot of work. You have to train them and you have to figure out what they’re going to do, and you have to schedule them, and when you have a lot of volunteers, it really starts to add up. So it makes sense, if we’re going to be increasing reliance on volunteers, to have that be someone’s job. I mean, it’s necessary.
Anyway. If you want to watch the whole thing yourself, here’s a video of the discussion:
How you can help
You can also learn more about ways to get involved with the Parks Coalition by attending their annual meeting. From the announcement:
Meeting program will feature:
- Oakland Tribune Columnist & volunteer advocate Dave Newhouse will serve as Master of Ceremonies
- OPC Co-Founder and Oakland Parks and Recreation Director Audree Jones-Taylor
- Selected OPC Park Stewards who will share their volunteer experiences
- A report from OPC on its 2010 activities and goals for 2011
Become a member of OPC at the event for $20 and get the spectacular OPC Tee-Shirt.
The meeting will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, January 26th from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Garden Room at the Lakeside Park Garden Center at 666 Bellevue.