City Council delays vote on finance rules for Rec Councils, including La Jolla

For nearly two hours during its Oct. 31 meeting, the San Diego City Council hashed out how to resolve an issue with how the 57 Rec Councils across San Diego manage funds. Ultimately, the board opted to postpone a vote until December, citing lingering questions and the “number of speakers” against the proposal.

At issue is a recent City Attorney opinion that states all money collected by the Rec Councils is City funds, and so Rec Councils would be eliminated as financial agents. As it stands now, these councils collect money from permits, classes and donations, and use it for building improvements, equipment replacement and other needs.

The City Attorney opinion suggests reorganizing the structure of Rec Councils, so all references to “Rec Councils” would be replaced with “City of San Diego,” and requests the authorization, appropriation and expenditure of Recreation Council funds.

This means all future funds from permits would be managed by the City, and rather than have Rec Councils pay contractors directly, the City would pay for their services. Funds from donations could be kept separately if the Rec Council is a 501(c)3 non-profit.

However, many of the opposing speakers said the recommended action is “unfair” to individual communities. La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc., members Bill Robbins and Mary Coakley Munk spoke, representing 92037.

Coakley Munk pleaded with the City Council to have the proposal reviewed in-depth by sub-committees. “There is nothing to be lost by that, and I feel there is insinuation that the money Rec Councils used was frivolously spent. We’re in such desperate need to have things done at each of our Centers, each dime is meticulously debated,” she said.

Robbins added, “Locals can get things done faster than the City. Sometimes people will do things for cost or for free. I don’t know how much of that will continue if this proposal goes into effect.” He cited the La Jolla lifeguard tower fiasco — which went over budget and over schedule — as an example of what happens when the City carries out a project.

In Council debate, Council member Scott Sherman said 95 percent of Rec Councils do a good job, “but we’ve had issues with Rec Councils” and it’s “unfair” to put financial responsibilities on volunteers. He called the policy change “the right thing to do,” and moved to support staff recommendations.

Council member David Alvarez asked why the item came directly to the City Council and didn’t first go to a Council committee. The expediency, it was explained, came because the City Attorney’s office said it would not renew the Special Use Permit (required for Rec Councils to hold events) when it expires Dec. 31.

Should that occur, Rec Center programming would be suspended in the new year.

Council member Mark Kearsey said neither he nor his Council colleagues necessarily wanted to vote on the proposal, “but it was dropped on us” and because the City Attorney would not review the permit, they “have to address it.”

San Diego Director of Park & Rec Herman Parker added, “When the opinion came out, it was apparent to us we were violating our City Code and Charter. We wanted to change the money flow as soon as possible.”

However, Alvarez said, “I hear a lot of confusion and uncertainty. I don’t know how we can move forward with so many questions.”

City Attorney Mara Elliott pointed out: “We have been advising staff on this since I took office. We delayed issuing our formal decision for months because we were told Rec Councils were working on it. We will not make that mistake again.”

With an additional several minutes finessing the motion/amendments and still no closer to a vote, Kersey moved to refer it to a committee that would report back to the City Council in mid-December.

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