Few parks, but city sits on a pile of green
In a city widely acknowledged to be woefully short of parks, Los Angeles has about $77.5 million in fees it has collected from developers for outdoor improvements but has yet to spend, a city report says.
The report, issued by city parks chief Jon Kirk Mukri, contains noteworthy passages despite its bureaucratic prose:
“While . . . fee collections have grown rapidly, the necessary Department staff and infrastructure for the proper accounting, tracking, and distribution of these funds have never been acquired,” wrote Mukri.
Nor, he added, does the city have a comprehensive plan for matching the money with the needs around the city.
The parks issue came to a head recently, with some downtown developers expressing anger over the city’s proposed elimination of a fee discount. The so-called Quimby fees, named for the 1975 law that created them, range from about $3,000 to $10,000 per new residential unit.
Developers who have been wanting to know how the city accounts for and spends those fees are particularly peeved by Mukri’s acknowledgment that his department doesn’t have the answers.
“In a city that cries poverty every 20 minutes, it’s amazing there’s that kind of money waiting to be spent on the thing that people want the most,” said Tom Gilmore, who has been developing apartments and lofts downtown for the last decade.
“I’m not complaining about paying the fees, I’m just saying, ‘Show me some results,’ ” he added. “I want to see green space -- and not just the green space outside City Hall.”
Gilmore has filed an appeal to the proposed elimination of the discount. He said he may drop it if the city can demonstrate where the Quimby fees are going.
Carl Schatz, president of the Central City Assn., which represents downtown developers, was more scathing. “The report from the city was just one excuse after another. We’ve yet to see one blade of grass from this.”
City Controller Laura Chick has said that she will audit how the Quimby fees are tracked.
The report also shows that some council districts have significant sums of unspent money.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s district, on the city’s far west side, has nearly $12 million yet to be earmarked. And the council district in the southwestern San Fernando Valley represented by Councilman Dennis Zine has $11.3 million.
Zine said Friday he knew of the money, much of which was collected in the last two years. The problem, he said, is that Quimby fees must be spent within two miles of the development that generates them, and it’s often hard to find available land.
However, downtown Councilwoman Jan Perry said she hadn’t been aware of how much money was available for her district. “And we had to beat the stuffing out of [Mukri] just to get this report,” Perry said.
Residential construction in Perry’s district has generated $15.8 million in park fees over the last five years. About $3.3 million has been spent and $8.8 million may soon be spent on acquiring three parcels for parks in downtown -- one in the arts district, one near the Los Angeles River and another in South Park.
Park costs vary widely. The recently opened, one-fifth-acre Marson Park with a small playground in Panorama City cost $650,000, while the tab for rebuilding the gym at Van Ness Recreation Center in South Los Angeles was $3.5 million.
Mukri said in an interview Friday that every council office has been informed of how much Quimby money it has and that it takes time to find effective ways to spend the money. He said the city plans to build 35 parks over the next five years across Los Angeles and is trying to acquire land in downtown for park space.
Although acknowledging that the city’s Quimby tracking system isn’t up to date, Mukri said a new computer mapping system is in the works. That should make it easier to track money and find where it can be spent, he said.
Mukri dismissed complaints from developers about the fees.
“The fees are typically less than 1% of the price the developers are charging for some of these projects,” he said. “We do need park land downtown, and we have a plan.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Unspent money for parks
Here are the approximate amounts of Quimby fees yet to be earmarked for parks projects, by council district:
1 Ed Reyes... $3.1 million
2 Wendy Greuel... $5.3 million
3 Dennis Zine... $11.3 million
4 Tom LaBonge... $10.2 million
5 Jack Weiss... $6.1 million
6 Tony Cardenas...$2.6 million
7 Richard Alarcon... $5.6 million
8 Bernard C. Parks...$58,000
9 Jan Perry... $3.7 million
10 Herb Wesson... $2.9 million
11 Bill Rosendahl... $11.9 million
12 Greig Smith... $6.3 million
13 Eric Garcetti... $2 million
14 Jose Huizar... $2.8 million
15 Janice Hahn... $3.5 million
Source: Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.