Local parks will suffer from proposed budget cuts
on June 9, 2009
In the murky darkness underneath the 24 Freeway in Rockridge is a little slice of doggie heaven.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, five or six pooches – it’s difficult to keep track – romp inside a large, caged doggie run while their owners chat. The dark, mulched run is not pretty to look at, but it’s convenient. Not far away, in a much more verdant spot, several children climb on small rocks in a shallow, plant-fringed pond or play on a jungle gym. Moms hang out by the fence, supervising.
All is as it should be in Frog Park, also known as the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt – but many here are worried that this won’t last much longer.
If Mayor Dellums’ proposed budget passes, cuts will slice the park into portions, with some parts receiving basic services, such as litter pick-up and routine maintenance and others receiving only lawn mowing.
According to a city council agenda report released by the city of Oakland, 104 parks made the ‘priority list’ for routine maintenance.
The 212 parks that failed to make the list include Hardy Dog park and Redondo park, both connected to the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt. The community will have to take on the task of picking up the slack. Despite a long history of volunteerism in this urban green space–1,300 volunteers built the city funded playground in 2001 – Rockridge residents are upset about that prospect.
“We all put a lot into this neighborhood. I think that’s one reason why these cuts have been such a slap in the face,” said Theresa Nelson of the Friends of Rockridge-Temescal Green Belt organization, a volunteer-run non-profit.
Nelson, a co-founder of the group and active in Frog park for the past 12 years, balked at the idea of making the community solely responsible for the park, which she describes as very, very well-used.
“We can only do so much. I can’t dump the trash. The idea that we as community members can replace trained city staff for things like disposal of materials and getting rid of rats that live in the ivy – it’s ridiculous,” she said.
The city’s Office of Public Works could not be reached for comment, but at a city council meeting last week, Director of Public Works Raul Godinez said that 73 full-time employees would be laid off, including half of their litter enforcement officers. “We’ve never had to do this job with so little staffing,” he told worried council members.
Godinez offered park maintenance as his first choice of things to ‘save’ if he were given the option.
Even right now, keeping Frog park beautiful is a collaborative effort. The city takes care of waste disposal. Volunteers assist the one city maintenance worker assigned to the park by doing small tasks such as painting over graffiti and cleaning the grates of waste. But that worker will “ almost certainly going to be let go of July 1,” because of the budget cuts, Nelson said.
Her organization has written letters to council member Jane Brunner and has been working with the Rockridge Community Planning council to advocate for the entire park. It’s particularly popular with families and young children, Nelson said.
This seemed to be the case on Thursday. Caren Torres, a Rockridge resident standing by the jungle gym watching her two children play, said that she visits the park occasionally. “It’s close to home, convenient. We come about one time a week,” she said. Even now, sometimes, the trash bin is overflowing, Torres added.
Not today, though a small, mud-spattered stuffed animal sat perched on top of one receptacle.
Another mother, Rockridge resident Marilu Aceves, sitting on the rocks by Temescal creek, said that she probably wouldn’t come back if the trash pick up stopped.
“No, it would be disgusting,” she said, keeping one eye on her son Charlie as he splashed water on the edge of the wading pond. “It’s a great park, and it would be a shame to let something like that go.” Aceves said that the park was almost always crowded with younger kids.
Another Rockridge resident who did not want her name used said the park was used very heavily in the afternoons by baby sitters and children as well as on the weekends.
“People tend to congregate there. It’s the premiere children’s park in Rockridge,” she said, pointing out that Colby Park, nearby, didn’t have the same play facilities. She said that ending litter pick-ups could easily create a rat problem, something volunteers have encountered in the past.
“It’s going to be tough,” she said, adding that it will put a heavy load on the community to care for the park if the city cuts maintenance services. “I’m not sure it can be done properly.”
District One council member Jane Brunner has been concerned about Frog Park, said Nelson. She said that Brunner attended many important events, such as the ground-breaking ceremonies.
Brunner’s Chief of Staff Zac Wald said that it was too early to tell how the budget cuts were going to affect the park system, as the proposal is to be finalized later this month.
“The Mayor’s proposal didn’t cut another $24 million that needed to be cut,” he said, adding that they were still working on a response to the budget. “It would be a terrible thing to reduce maintenance at that park and any other park.”
As some of the mothers round up their children to leave for the afternoon, a few butterflies flutter by on the shady green pathway. The nearby cardboard trash receptacles, at least today, look mostly empty.
To read more about this issue, check out the Friends of the Rockridge-Temescal Green Belt article here.
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