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Bringing Businesses More Into Play on Park Upkeep

Santa Ana seeks corporate donations to fill $600,000 gap in maintenance budget.

July 23, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

In a program akin to the state's adopt-a-highway program, Santa Ana is soliciting corporate donations to plug a $600,000 deficit in its parks maintenance budget.

A few companies are already helping maintain some of the city's 39 parks, but the effort is sporadic. A new city campaign asks companies to provide food and supplies for volunteers who will help clean and repair the parks in greatest need.

The need became more urgent after property owners this month rejected an assessment that was intended to generate $3 million for public works, including the maintenance of parks and road medians, and graffiti removal. The measure, which would have pumped $600,000 into the city's $4-million parks maintenance budget, lost by a 2-1 ratio, and the city is seeking other ways to fill the gap.

"We are looking for the private sector to do what we might traditionally do ourselves," Councilman Jose Solorio said.

Gerardo Mouet, assistant director for the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Agency, said the city would stop short of renaming parks for their beneficiaries, but would consider posting signs to thank donors.

In the coming months, the city will launch a Web site to acknowledge companies that have given to the parks and to explain how other companies can participate.

City officials are deciding which companies to approach and how best to make their pitch for help. A nonprofit fund-raising organization will be established to receive donations.

Megan Taylor, spokeswoman for the League of California Cities, said the Santa Ana campaign reflects a trend among public agencies to turn to businesses to help make ends meet.

One common tactic among cities, she said, is to sell soft-drink companies the exclusive right to sell products from vending machines at parks. In other cities, companies are contributing money and labor in exchange for public recognition.

In Lake Forest, where city officials are trying to raise $500,000 in private contributions toward the construction of a $2-million public skateboard park, Sole Technologies of Lake Forest paid $100,000 for the park to be named Etnies Skatepark, after its brand of shoes.

In Santa Ana, the push for corporate help began before the parks-assessment election, and it is starting to pay off, officials say.

Last week, Largo Concrete Construction of Tustin provided materials to build benches for a skateboard park at Centennial Park. Next month, a weeding-and-reading program at Santa Anita Park will be staged, thanks to $5,000 in corporate donations. And the annual Mother's Day Mariachi Festival, which cost $31,000, turned its first profit in May, thanks to $9,000 in ticket sales -- and $24,000 in donations from Mervyn's and several other companies.

Oregon-based Tillamook Cheese sponsored a July 12 cleanup of Madison Park, providing food and supplies for volunteers at a cost of about $17,000. Workers painted light poles and parking lot stripes, removed graffiti and cleaned bike trails.

Tillamook is returning for a similar event in September, said company spokeswoman Erika Simms.

"It makes sense to be where our products are. We knew about the lack of funding in the parks in Santa Ana," she said. "Parks are where families reside, and we feel a corporate responsibility to help when help is needed."

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