By Dave Schwab
With the mayor’s latest budget-cutting proposal eliminating city beach fire pits and halving hours at libraries and park and recreation centers, local nonprofit support groups are scrambling to find new funding sources.
The plan could also displace community planning groups which meet regularly at the La Jolla Rec Center.
Under the current proposal, branch libraries would be open two days a week and the equivalent of 77 full-time positions would be cut, saving $7.4 million. Park and Rec would take an equivalent hit, with hours of rec centers pared from 40 to 20, losing the same staff as libraries for $6.5 million in savings.
Characterizing proposed department cuts as “the largest one-time reduction I can remember,” City Park and Recreation Director Stacey LoMedico said Monday a major department reorganization may be in store.
“Operations will now be run by one full-time center director for two sites, each of which will operate at 20 hours each,” she said, adding support groups will only be allowed to “buy back” an additional six hours per-center, per-week.
Noting operating hours for community centers like La Jolla’s have yet to be determined, LoMedico said service cutbacks could impact community groups meeting there after-hours.
“They may have to change their hours to meet during center's hours or move to a different location,” she said.
Joe LaCava, immediate past president of La Jolla Community Planning Association, said community groups under the organization's purview meet 14 hours a month at the rec center.
Finding alternative meeting sites, particularly low-cost ones, could prove difficult and might force planning groups to ask for more donations, which “could be a conflict with what our mission is supposed to be,” he said.
LoMedico added proposed park and rec reductions would also affect maintenance, as the weekly lawn-mowing schedule for city parks would now be performed biweekly.
But she noted the situation has improved substantially since she was ordered initially to trim $11.4 million from the department’s budget, which would have closed 11 recreation centers entirely.
The prospect doesn’t sit well with the board of La Jolla Parks & Recreation Inc., which advises LoMedico’s staff on the rec center operations and has in the past raised money to pay for extra staffing to keep the center open longer.
Meanwhile, Doug Dawson, president of nonprofit Friends of La Jolla Library, said the present city budget-cutting proposal gives him a real sense of déjà vu.
“The budget cuts we are facing right now are not as severe as they were in 2005 when libraries were proposed to be closed on Sundays and scaled back on Fridays and Saturdays,” he said, but he added the handwriting was on the wall even then.
"Tax dollars are not going to be able to support all these public services, particularly library services."
So what Friends did then — and will do now — is go back to the drawing board.
“We’re going to return to a combination of seeking private philanthropy and working to create an endowment gift to La Jolla Library,” said Dawson, adding Friends has opted to meet in an all-day “retreat” soon to regroup and devise a game plan for combating cuts.
“We’re going to discuss sustainability, with the long-term endowing of this library so it’s not faced with the short-term ups and downs of the economy or the city of San Diego’s budget woes,” he said.
Acknowledging “these cuts are so drastic it’s going to be difficult to make up for them with Friends and other group’s support alone," Marion Moss Hubbard, senior public information officer for the San Diego Public Library, said a plan is being devised to help soften the blow by combining nearby branches to offer alternative service with a little extra drive time.
“Branch libraries would be paired on a schedule of either Tuesday and Thursday or Wednesday and Friday, open alternate Saturdays with the central library open each day of the week,” she said adding, “We know this is painful. None of us want to make these cuts: But these are the times that we’re in.”
In La Jolla, seven beach fire pits at La Jolla Shores maintained at an annual $4,550 cost also are jeopardized once again by the mayor’s proposal. The city has taken an all-or-nothing approach to saving fire pits, saying it can’t be done piecemeal.
But an effort is underway to once again save all 185 beach fire pits including La Jolla’s, which could again be funded by the La Jolla Community Foundation. Joe Terzi, president/CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said fire pit supporters are regrouping and rethinking fundraising.
“We have committed to funding the effort, working with the San Diego Foundation,” he said, estimating $150,000 will need to be raised. “We’re in the middle of planning fundraising efforts. There may be a need for private funds or a public-private partnership. We need to work out a long-term plan.”
Terzi added public beach fire pits are worth saving.
“It’s iconic — it’s a local favorite,” he said. “It’s also an important thing for us as a tourist destination.”