A city audit of San Diego’s Parks & Recreation Department revealed a funding disparity that benefited recreation centers and parks in wealthier communities. Those locations also offered double the number of programs for families.
The audit, which was published earlier this year, is already triggering changes that could result in an infusion of new funding. That includes Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which would add about $7.8 million to the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
NBC 7 Investigates spoke with many families that didn’t realize there was a disparity. It was eye-opening for both Kelsey Anderson and Khanh Ly, who we met at the Doyle Recreation Center in La Jolla.
Anderson is a nanny and regularly takes children to parks and rec centers. She told us, “They love it! They come out here and they’ll use their imagination and everything.”
“I find that it’s a wonderful place to connect and relax with your neighbors,” Ly said.
It’s no surprise they felt that way. NBC 7 Investigates found Doyle received $652,834 in funding during the 2019 fiscal year. But that same year, about 10 miles south, the Presidio Recreation Center near Old Town received $47,641. And in Stockton, the rec center on 32nd street received $69,427.
The Stockton Rec Center falls within city district 8, represented by Councilmember Vivian Moreno, who called on the City Auditor to review funding.
“It was a gut feeling,” Moreno said. “It just felt like something was not right. And this audit obviously proved that something was not right.”
“The City of San Diego has been saying that we’re one San Diego," Moreno said. "Well, guess what? This audit showed that no, we’re not. We’re two San Diegos.”
The audit didn’t just uncover inequity in funds. Rec centers in northern neighborhoods also offer more programming and community services. In FY 2019, centers in the northern part of the city offered 3,239 programs, while centers in southern San Diego only offered 1,543 programs.
Moreno says she was upset when the final audit was revealed, and told us, “Really it was anger. To be honest with you, it was anger. Because there’s an injustice. There’s an injustice for our kids.”
NBC 7 Investigates spoke with Andy Field, the Director of the Parks & Recreation Department, who told us, “The audit really showed what we knew to be true.”
Field was pleased that the audit revealed the funding disparities, and was eager to correct the situation. He attributes the inequities to the way the system was built.
“Over the past 40-plus years, we have decentralized the execution of recreational programming,” Field says.
He says individual nonprofit groups used to manage programming and services for the rec centers. Each group got funding based on how much money they requested from the city. So when groups up north asked for more, they got more. The auditor outlined 16 recommendations to parks and rec to improve equity. Field says he’s eager to embrace all of them.
“To see the mayor commit money to this is huge,” Field said. “We have not really seen that kind of investment on this finding before, and we’re very excited to see it come to fruition with additional resources coming into the budget.”
A good chunk of that proposed extra funding is to build up park and rec center staff. Right now, the department is in a desperate hiring search for recreation aids, pool guards, golf operations assistants, and more. Click here to learn more about those jobs.
The mayor presented his proposed budget to City Council in mid-April. It will go through the approval process, including public comment, over the next few months. Meanwhile, some rec centers are already beefing up programming. We saw posters announcing youth sports clinics at Presidio Rec Center, which were rolled out about a few weeks ago.
“All we’re asking for is equity,” Moreno said. “That’s it. Give us the same programming you can find north of the [Interstate] 8. We’re not asking for more, we’re asking for an equal amount.”
It’s also important to note that funding and programs won’t decrease at northern rec centers and parks. Field assured us that families there won’t see any reductions.