"They say you can't fight city hall. I say why not?" said Mike Van Etten, Golden Hill Rec Center council chair.
After more than 30 years of operating within the communities they serve, city recreation-center councils will no longer have the ability to decide how to spend the funds they collect.
City attorney Mara Elliott’s office recently concluded that “all funds collected by recreation councils are City funds, and therefore subject to Charter and Municipal Code requirements governing the use of City funds.”
Chief of staff Gerry Braun of the city attorney’s office said the decision was in response to the Park and Recreation Department’s inquiry regarding the law governing recreation council funds.
Park and Rec came to us wanting to know, “whose money is this?” Braun paraphrased.
A September 8 memorandum addressed to Park and Recreation Department director Herman Parker details the attorney’s analysis. Without prior warning or discussion, Park and Recreation staff called a meeting with council chairs on September 20. Changes are planned for October.
2600 Golf Course Drive, San Diego
“They basically just told us this is how it is now, and there’s not much we can do about it,” said Michael Van Etten, chair of the Golden Hill Recreation Center council.
Recreation centers are permitted to raise money by collecting fees for facility use and holding classes that the city would otherwise not be able to offer. Councils use the money to promote activities in the community; support operations, classes, and events; enhance maintenance projects; and fund capital improvement projects at the rec centers. Of the 53 neighborhood centers, 46 of them also do their own fundraising through 501(c)3 foundations.
Since at least 1985, the practice had been to give the council at each center the ability to decide how to use the funds they collect. Under the new arrangement the money will be deposited to the city’s special revenue funds. City employees will ultimately decide how to spend it. Rec-center programming will be “consistent throughout the city.”
With the idea of “One SD; One SD Rec” (on a presentation document), the city cites improved ability to deliver citywide programs, centralized management, and increased scope for existing city contractors. The recreation councils will serve as advisory boards but will not be able to vote on how to use the money.
“It makes our offerings more ‘vanilla’ — it means we can’t decide based on what our community members want, what direction to take the rec center for the benefit of the people who come here and play here,” said Van Etten.
Adams Avenue council chair Dave Rogers said almost $20,000 is currently in the center’s coffers. He is concerned that if the city puts it in a general fund, there won’t be a guarantee that it will be used for the purpose for which it was raised: to pay for projects and activities that benefit kids.
Free or low-cost events like “Halloween Hill” in Golden Hill, with safe trick-or-treating and family fun, are hosted with rec-council funds.
“We have Halloween Hill coming up, and it might mean we won’t be able to hire the vendors — the face painters, the bounce house — because now there is a list of city-approved vendors.”
“This place has gotten as nice as it has with more community involvement,” said Van Etten of Golden Hill’s rec center, on the corner of Golf Course Drive and 26th Street.
“Rec councils provide a buffer of public approval — the community has input,” said Rogers. “The city is basically deleting that.”
Park and Recreation director Herman Parker could not be reached for comment.