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Parks Renaissance for L.A.

Rise in visitors calls for private and public teamwork

August 04, 1996

It's good news that use of Los Angeles' 365 city parks is up 5% to 10% over last year and that new and expanded recreation programs are partly responsible for the renaissance. Similar increases have occurred at the 120 county-owned parks.

The public's return to the parks carries a number of benefits. At some, young families or elderly folks looking for shade and greenery have pushed out drug dealers and gang members, who prefer to operate without an audience.

But the greater use also creates problems. Torn basketball nets, broken swings, stopped-up toilets and trampled plantings are the price of popularity at too many parks. And funds for capital improvement, staffing and maintenance are as tight as they've ever been. Tighter perhaps. A large measure of the revenue for capital projects is generated by city building-permit fees; funds from that source are down from a peak of $10 million annually in the late 1980s to just $250,000 so far this year. County parks have lost 60% of their staff positions in the last 15 years.

A major source of funding for county and city parks is Proposition A, passed by voters in 1992. This measure provides $540 million over 20 years for park improvements. But these funds alone are not enough.

Park officials, corporations and private groups and individuals are filling the gaps in creative ways. Three thousand volunteers at county parks make a difference there; city parks have their own volunteer corps. Even so, more help is needed.

Three years ago, the city launched the Recreation and Parks Income Development Program--RAPID--which solicits cash and in-kind donations from corporate sponsors. Through RAPID, for example, the Arco company and the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise have teamed to refurbish 50 outdoor basketball courts and offer clinics to young players. Similarly, Chevrolet-Geo has sponsored programs at city parks to teach outdoor camping skills to urban kids. These are but two of dozens of RAPID programs.

Neighborhood associations have helped by "adopting" their local park, or at least its playground facility, paying for maintenance and improvement. There are many ways to make a difference; summer is a great time to start.

To Take Action: Contact the director of your local park or call the resource development office of the city Recreation and Parks Department at (213) 847-2585.

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