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Audit Details Neglect of Parks

January 10, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The city of Los Angeles has badly neglected its parks system, with the failure to maintain the city's 54 swimming pools causing six to close and 24 to fall into serious disrepair, according to an audit released Monday by the city controller.

The audit also estimates it would cost $78 million to properly restore the city's golf courses, a challenge made more difficult by the lack of a master plan for the maintenance and renewal of park facilities.

"We are building new parks but not taking care of the ones we have," said City Controller Laura Chick. "We do breakdown maintenance. We push equipment and parks to the breaking point before we do anything."

Describing the Department of Recreation and Parks as a "small empire," with 15,700 acres of parkland, 390 parks and 13 golf courses, Chick's latest audit is the third in recent weeks to fault the agency for lax oversight. Previous audits found that recreation fees and services differ dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood.

The latest audit found that the department lacks a comprehensive inventory of its assets and a basic computer system to track maintenance.

"How can we provide the needed guidance for the future development and renovation of our many facilities without this information?" Chick wrote in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council.

Jon Mukri, general manager of the Parks Department, said he welcomed the audit for validating his concern that the investment in maintenance has been insufficient. "We need to improve," he said. "The city has not invested in 30 years in its assets."

The audit, conducted by Matrix Consulting Group for the controller, found that the department has sufficient staff to maintain the city's parks, but not enough money to preserve and rehabilitate them.

Mukri disputed the finding that he has enough maintenance staff and that the agency lacks an inventory of its facilities, but he conceded that the inventory is not detailed about the equipment at each facility.

The lack of a citywide master plan has resulted in inequities, the audit said, citing a review by USC that found nearly 32 acres of park per 1,000 residents in largely white neighborhoods, compared with less than one acre in Latino communities and not quite two acres in African American neighborhoods.

Auditors said the city still has parks that require manual watering, and they cited another study that found 30% of park facilities were in poor condition.

The cost of upgrading parks to meet minimal standards is $80 million, the audit said, but revenue for such work, including user fees, totals about $25 million annually.

The Parks Department does not have the $4 million to $6 million needed to replace each of the substandard pools, but hopes to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District to offer public use of pools at new schools, Mukri said.

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