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Pay and process stymie San Diego Parks & Rec Department staffing, La Jolla board is told

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meets at the La Jolla/Riford Library on May 23 — its first in-person meeting in two years.
The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meets at the La Jolla/Riford Library on May 23 — its first in-person meeting in two years.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

As the city of San Diego looks to boost the budget for its Parks & Recreation Department in the coming year, it may face hurdles in filling staff positions. City representatives discussed the department’s challenges at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board meeting May 23.

The meeting at the La Jolla/Riford Library was the board’s first in-person gathering in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year contains a $4 million increase for the Parks & Rec Department “specifically to help with some of the enforcement that is anticipated to be needed” but also to “increase the salary and benefits for Parks & Rec workers.”

The extra enforcement is proposed as the city implements new regulations on sidewalk vending, which would allow vendors to operate in most city parks if they meet certain criteria.

Additional positions and shifts also are being suggested for Parks & Recreation maintenance workers to clean park bathrooms.

But wages and the city’s hiring process pose challenges in getting those positions filled, Hadley said.

Currently, an entry-level grounds maintenance worker makes about $36,000 a year, Hadley said. “Try living in this city on that amount,” he said. “That is a lot of work for not a lot of pay in this city.

“So part of the problem is we are having trouble paying these people. They come to work in Parks & Rec and can transfer to another department and have more secure salary and benefits.”

He said the city is short 17 or 18 people to clean shoreline parks, and a total of 1,738 budgeted city staff positions across all departments are vacant.

Hadley drew a parallel to the city’s issues with retaining police officers. He said there are about 200 vacant positions in the Police Department that were budgeted for.

Another issue, Hadley said, “is the length of time for the hiring process. … You have these professional people applying for a job and it takes the city three to six months to get through the process. They can find jobs in other places faster.”

The discussion came after San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria released what is known as the draft budget’s “May revise,” an update that reflects feedback from City Council members based on their constituents’ suggestions.

LaCava held two budget town hall meetings in May to collect input. La Jolla residents expressed a need for more lifeguards at night, more funding for the Police Department and additional resources to clean shoreline park restrooms.

This photo of a messy stall was taken in April at the south restroom facility at La Jolla Shores' Kellogg Park.
(Courtesy of Mike McCormack)

The revise included five new sergeants for the lifeguard night shift; a second shift of Parks & Recreation staff for cleaning and security at park bathrooms; police officer overtime; police recruitment efforts; restoring arts, culture and community festival funding; and professional services in support of city real estate transactions.

The budget is expected to be finalized Monday, June 13. The new fiscal year starts Friday, July 1.

Other LJP&B news

Pavilion problems: Though some of the privacy issues raised at the new Scripps Park Pavilion restroom facility are being addressed, LJP&B member Ken Hunrichs said there still is “a clear line of sight from the hotel across the street into the showers.”

The facility opened in January next to La Jolla Cove, but visitors soon realized that the men’s and women’s changing rooms were visible from the street at certain angles. Hunrichs said a barrier has been installed to minimize that.

La Jolla Cove Swim: La Jolla Cove Swim organizer Judy Adams Halter, a former LJP&B board member, said the public event will be held Sunday, Sept. 11, at La Jolla Cove and that 270 swimmers had already registered.

Proceeds from registration fees and donations help pay for swim lessons for children in underserved neighborhoods and for the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla Concerts by the Sea, which this year will run weekly from July 17 to Aug. 7 at Scripps Park. Any extra funds will go to organizations supported by the Kiwanis Club.

The swim’s 1-mile event will start at 9 a.m. and will be capped at 600 swimmers. A 3-mile swim capped at 100 swimmers has already sold out.

Halter said volunteers will arrive for setup around 6 a.m. and the event should be done by 3 p.m.

Board development workshop: In early June, the board will participate in a workshop in closed session intended to help the group formalize how it will pursue projects in the future.

“I’d like to see us focus on community-driven projects and beautification, involvement in the community and a plan forward,” LJP&B President Bob Evans said.

Board Vice President Brenda Fake said the topics to be covered include “what kind of projects we want to work on in 2022 and 2023, clarification of the roles of each of the directors, how to fundraise for those projects, how to get a right-of-entry permit” and other items. “We want to be effective as a team.”

Next meeting: La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, June 27, at the La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave. Learn more at lajollaparksbeaches.org. ◆