Seniors Organize to Fight Cuts to L.A. Parks and Recreation Centers
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
Members of a local seniors’ club recently recalled how the surrounding landscape has changed, and in many cases improved.
“This building wasn’t even here when I was growing up,” said Terry Faria during a meeting at the Hazard Park Recreation Center on Feb. 12.
The seniors say they are worried about what cuts to Los Angeles’ Parks and Recreation Center programs will mean to low-income children and seniors on a fixed income. The meeting was organized by the Liberty Hill Foundation for the Los Angeles Park Alliance (L.A.P.A.).
“We all came because we want to see what’s going on—why they’re going to be closing the facilities. Where will the senior citizens go?” asked Beatrice Gonzales, retired peace officer and senior citizen club member. “And where will the kids go if they’re not in the recreation area? Are they going to go into gangs because there’s nowhere else to go?”
Rose Marie Lopez, a now retired deputy for County Supervisor Gloria Molina, jokingly said seniors have nowhere else to go but senior clubs and casinos. But seriously, seniors look forward to meetings and their special events, “It’s better than staying home and crying,” Lopez told EGP.
Gonzales, Lopez and five other members of the Rose Hills Senior Citizen’s Club where among the dozens of local residents joining L.A.P.A.’s efforts to organize opposition to more budget cuts to the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
“We need to organize and march! That’s the only way they’re going to do anything,” said Lopez.
Others suggested passing out flyers, talking to the media, going door-to-door and assigning a captain to each neighborhood to increase community involvement.
“It is often forgotten that the senior citizen programs are among the most attended, the most appreciated and again, the most useful alternative for people,” said Steve Weingarten of People for Parks.
Parks play an important part in preventing young people from joining a gang that can’t be substituted by more policing, Weingarten said.
According to L.A.P.A., the proposed cuts to city parks could send Angelenos back to the dark-ages of the 1980s when public parks were neglected, unsafe and off-limits to many children.
Low-income neighborhoods could be the most hurt by the city’s cuts to the park and rec’s budget, the group says. People in wealthier areas have resources to raise money to subsidize programs, and residents in those areas can afford to pay for private classes and activities, they added.
L.A.P.A. claims park and recreation programs are facing a $44 million budget reduction and gives the specific example of staff reductions and facility closures at Hazard Park (including the Armory), Ramona Gardens, Ascot Hills Park and Rose Hills; as well as pool closures at Lincoln and Costello recreation centers.
But the Dept. of Recreation and Parks says they don’t know where L.A.P.A. is getting their information because the mayor has not yet released any specifics on proposed cuts.
“Per the City Charter, the Mayor has until April 20 to prepare and release the budget for the next fiscal year [that ends June 30] and then the council process begins,” Regina Adams, Executive Officer for the Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks told EGP on Tuesday.
“They’re [L.A.P.A] giving out a lot of wrong information that is not true,” Adams said.
She said they given the city’s financial situation, they expect there will be “budget reductions,” but “don’t at this point in time know what they are going to be.”
“So we don’t want to make any blanket statements that our pools are going to be closed and our parks are going to be closed, that our staff aren’t going to be at certain locations, we can’t answer any of that.”
Whatever cuts are announced, Adams and Weingarten agree they will be on top of the $38 million in cuts made to the parks’ budget last year that resulted in reduced hours at recreation centers.
L.A.P.A. points out that last year’s cuts resulted in the closure of some licensed childcare centers and therapeutic recreation programs, and pushed a number of employees into early retirement.
While the L.A.P.A. organizing meetings involve local unions that represent recreation and park employees, Weingarten says the efforts are not self-serving. City parks are places for people to get exercise and they provide alternatives to gang violence and criminal activity. He says parks are an affordable recreation alternative for cash-strapped families.
“This is not self-interest. These park people [employees] have done what they can.”
Weingarten says they understand that the city has terrible budget problems, but adds that park employees have already gone years without a raise and have agreed to pay more into their pensions. “We fully believe they are trying to work with the city,” he said.
The cuts to park have been disproportionately high, he added.
“I’m told seventy-something percent of the budget is for cops. Far be it for me to say cut the cops, but I bet you, if the cops needed to, they would say ‘well, we cut this, or we could refigure that,’ they would know how but no one is asking them to.”
Adams says that layoffs and furloughs are possible but employees across the city and not just parks and rec employees.
She also says the public should expect to see changes, like reductions in services or hours because current programs are not sustainable in this economy.
“Our first priority is to make sure that the parks are available and accessible to the public,” so if there are cuts, Adams said it may be to recreational programming.
She said “access to the parks” doesn’t necessarily mean having access to a facility, but rather to all the other amenities within a park. Whether that means an “actual facility or recreation center, we don’t know.
“You can still have access but it might be fewer hours, fewer days, that type of thing… we probably won’t be offering all the services and programs that we currently do.”Print This Post
February 24, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.