La Jolla founders of San Diego Parks Foundation reflect on success as it enters fifth year

The San Diego Parks Foundation aims to improve park and recreation offerings citywide. Pictured is Scripps Park in La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

With three La Jollans at the helm, the San Diego Parks Foundation is entering its fifth year of efforts to improve outdoor recreation spaces throughout the city.

La Jolla residents Jim Neri, Ann Dynes and Elisabeth Eisner are founding members who still serve today.

When the Parks Foundation was launched in 2018, Dynes said, it was inspired by the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board, of which she also is a member.

“All the things we’ve done in the community [through La Jolla Parks & Beaches] were possible because we have that vehicle in our neighborhood,” she said. “It prompted me to go online and discover that other major cities have very successful parks foundations. It was because of La Jolla Parks & Beaches and our success there that I went to [San Diego Parks & Recreation Department leadership] and asked why we didn’t have a parks foundation. And it turns out the department and the Park and Rec Board were pondering how to launch something like that.”

La Jolla resident Ann Dynes is one of the founders of the San Diego Parks Foundation.

Dynes helped establish the Parks Foundation, recruiting other La Jollans and like-minded San Diegans to join. One of them was Michel Anderson, who now is board chairman.

“We have had phenomenal growth in our four years,” Anderson said. “I am most happy that we have done things in our parks and our recreation centers and our municipal pools that would not have been done without the San Diego Parks Foundation.”

The first major accomplishment the board completed also was inspired by La Jolla — installing free Wi-Fi at all San Diego-area recreation centers.

“Prior to the creation of the San Diego Parks Foundation, the only rec center in our city that had free Wi-Fi for the public was La Jolla,” Anderson said. “We got the right-of-entry permits and all the little details that went into establishing and getting the free Wi-Fi in rec centers and municipal pools. The usage has just been off the charts, because in many of these neighborhoods, many of the families … don’t even have Wi-Fi, so they are able to go to their neighborhood park and community park right down the street and take advantage of that.”

Soon after, the board paid for replacement of a basketball court floor at a recreation center in Southcrest, planted 300 trees across the city and helped organize summertime movies in parks in what the city calls “communities of concern.”

“In 2018, there were 70 movies in the park in parks north of the 8 freeway; south of the 8 freeway, there were only six,” Anderson said. “We’ve turned that dynamic around, and if it had not been for the San Diego Parks Foundation, you’d still have that institutionalized inequity.”

“We have had phenomenal growth in our four years. I am most happy that we have done things in our parks and our recreation centers and our municipal pools that would not have been done without the San Diego Parks Foundation.”

— Michel Anderson, board chairman

As word got out about the foundation, others started reaching out with project ideas and requests for help. One of the projects was to install a community garden at a city park in Linda Vista.

“We ‘adopted’ that park,” Anderson said. “We put in new irrigation in the recreation center [and improved] the recreation fields. We’re going to be updating the tennis courts and converting one tennis court to a pickleball court. We’re going to resurface the basketball courts. We put our arms around it, and we’ve been working with the community to install the community garden.”

“We’ve achieved a stunning profile … for as young as we are,” Dynes said.

Eisner added: “We’ve had members that have just gone above and beyond. It took some very heavy lifting to take us from zero to where we are. We’ve had a very active, very hands-on board, people showing up at all the events, filling out applications, cutting checks. Because of that, we are really poised to grow and become a staffed-up, sustainable, fully operating entity.”

Because the programs in the Parks Foundation’s infancy were limited by the COVID-19 pandemic, the board is shifting this year to more infrastructure projects and outreach. Going forward, the board would like to set up a membership arm for people to get involved with specific projects, adopt a park or make small donations, Dynes said.

“We did really well during the pandemic under the circumstances, even at the grassroots level,” she said. “I think growing that kind of grassroots membership will be very important to people feeling a sense of ownership of their parks.”

Neri said he appreciates the opportunity that his involvement with the Parks Foundation has provided to work in outdoor recreation across the city.

“I consider myself San Diegan first and La Jollan second, and my work takes me all over the city,” he said. “So I’m familiar with a lot of these neighborhoods already and know the value of the parks within those neighborhoods. ... I welcome the opportunity to get in and get my hands dirty in some of our underserved parks.”

The foundation raises money through partnerships, corporate and philanthropic support, private donations and an annual golf tournament in February at Torrey Pines Golf Course (this year’s event sold out in 11 days).

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