Outside funding sources help Glendale improve parks during recession

Since the height of the recession, Glendale has spent roughly $33 million on parks improvements, but officials wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that feat during those lean budget years if not for outside sources such as state and federal grants.

When the city spent $860,000 to improve restrooms at New York, Carr, Glorietta and Pelanconi parks, a state grant foot the bill.

The roughly $1.2 million seismic upgrades on the historic Le Mesnager Barn at Deukmejian Wilderness Park was paid for by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a preservation group, and a grant from Los Angeles County.

A park on West Doran Street that opened last year tapped $2.4 million in housing funds because it was related to Doran Gardens, an affordable housing development for first-time home buyers.

In total, 23% of the $33 million spent on park improvements  since the recession came from capital improvement money set aside in the general fund, which pays for libraries, parks, police and other general services. The majority of the funding came from other sources, said Community Services & Park Director Jess Duran.

“We’re lucky we have the other funding sources,” Duran said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do this if we relied just on [capital improvement funds].”

City Hall has been financially wracked by the recession and growing costs of salaries and benefits, which didn’t let up even as revenues slid. In 2011, officials had to bridge an $18 million gap, followed by a $15.4 million deficit the next year. This year’s $1.2 million gap signaled to officials that things were finally turning around after the city slimmed down its staff to pre-2000 levels.

While capital improvement funds earmarked for parks administration reached roughly $7 million in 2009, that tumbled to nearly $753,000 in 2011, dropping further to about $545,000 in 2012, according to city budgets.

Parks officials amped up efforts to apply for competitive grants, hoping to combine meager City Hall resources with an influx of outside dollars. Although some parks projects during the recession relied completely on outside funds, most of the 16 improvements made since 2008 used a mixture of sources. That’s still the strategy today, even as City Hall finances are turning around, albeit after deep cuts.

“Even though things are turning around a little bit, it’s still lean times. We need to leverage,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman. “That’s our responsibility to go and examine those different opportunities.”

The $3.3 million for the design and construction of a park set to break ground in October on Maryland Avenue is split between federal, state and city capital improvement funds. About 90% of the money comes from outside grants.

Despite the $33 million in expenditures, critics still say the city isn’t doing enough in the parks arena. In addition to renovating existing parks, officials should be building more new parks in South Glendale, preferably with soccer fields, they say. South Glendale has the highest population density, but the least amount of open space.

But council members counter that the city has prioritized improvements in South Glendale, pointing to the Pacific Park Pool and renovations at the Adult Recreation Center. Of the 16 projects completed since 2008, eight were park improvements in the north, six were in the south and two projects — one renovating restrooms and the other replacing playground equipment — were done at parks throughout the city.

In addition to state and federal funding sources, the city also used money from its defunct redevelopment agency and fees paid by the onslaught of new developers building apartment complexes in downtown to revitalize parks.

Council members plan to review increasing those development fees to funnel more money to parks in the coming months.

“I’m thankful for the outside funding,” said Councilman Zareh Sinanyan. “I just hope for the future there’s more money so we can expand the mini-parks and make new ones. It’s important for South Glendale.”

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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