When Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin unveiled report cards Wednesday for scores of public parks across the city, it wasn't a shock that the lowest grades were for the dreaded restrooms.
Sixteen parks got D or F grades for their bathrooms, which got an overall C grade across the city. And dirtiness and safety were also a worry beyond the restroom doors, in the face of surging homelessness and a strained budget for the parks department.
"You can only do so much with so little," Galperin said Wednesday at a news conference at Lemon Grove Recreation Center in East Hollywood.
Galperin turned to outside consultants to grade the parks, using interviews, park visits and surveys of more than 3,700 people. The team included KH Consulting Group, USC faculty and the Rand Corp.
The research team examined 40 of 96 community parks, which it described as parks that serve several neighborhoods within a few miles and have venues for recreation, athletics and open space. It handed its lowest overall grade — a C-minus — to MacArthur Park, which got failing grades for cleanliness and restrooms
MacArthur Park was littered with broken bottles and pill containers. More than 20 tents were spotted there during one visit, a symptom of the homelessness crisis. And the bathrooms were strewn with toilet paper and had no soap.
One of the parks with the highest grades, meanwhile, was Westwood Park along Sepulveda Boulevard, which boasts an indoor pool and racquetball courts.
However, even at that park — graded an A-minus — restrooms were dirty, the report found. Mike Shull, general manager of the parks department, said bathrooms at busy parks need to be cleaned several times a day.
"But due to the [budget] cuts over the last 10 years, many parks only get cleaned once a day," Shull told reporters. "It's not enough."
Poor maintenance and safety were the top areas needing improvement, the survey found. Nearly half of people surveyed — 46% — said that concerns about safety deterred them from visiting parks more often.
Park officials said that the cuts imposed during the recession and rising costs for city overhead had hampered the department financially. Staffing has declined 33% in nine years, Galperin said, urging the city to explore using special funds that are typically spent on new parks to improve maintenance.
Despite the budget strain, the parks got an A grade overall for customer service and an A-minus for areas where children play. More than 80% of people surveyed said they used their community park several times a month.
Though three of the four parks with the highest grades were on the Westside, Galperin said the study did not draw any broad conclusions about whether parks were better in wealthier areas, calling it "a mixed picture."
Fifteen of the parks that were scrutinized were picked by the City Council offices for closer examination, while the rest were selected at random, researchers said. The study did not examine Griffith Park, regional parks or small "pocket parks."
Galperin urged the city to expand on the report cards, possibly by turning to a nonprofit partner for help. Complete results of the survey and park report cards have been published online.