With a flood of parks funding pouring in from the Measure P sales tax, some city leaders want to know why Fresno parks have more dirt than grass and remain in a state of disrepair.
“If there was an award for park slumlord, the city of Fresno would receive it.” — Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias
“If there was an award for park slumlord, the city of Fresno would receive it,” said councilmember Miguel Arias at Monday’s budget hearing. “We’ve approved everything that has been suggested, but our parks still look like they are deteriorating.”
After a quick overview discussing the proposed $75 million PARCS budget, councilmember Esmeralda Soria said that she also had concerns about park conditions.
“They look terrible,” said Soria. “There’s this whole initiative that (Mayor Jerry Dyer) has to beautify Fresno, but our parks still look like crap.”
She pulled up several photos of parks in her district that showed brown lawns, few shrubs, and nearly no benches.
The city’s public works department oversees much of the parks’ maintenance by mowing, edging, and fixing broken sprinklers said public works director Scott Mozier.
“In years past, there have been no financial resources for plant and tree replacements,” said Mozier. “But now, a very exciting addition is that we have proposed in the budget a four-person parks detail crew.”
Residents Air Their Frustrations, Too
Several community members shared their frustration with the absence of green lawns.
Stacy Trinidad said she coaches soccer players at Lafayette Park at Blackstone and Princeton Avenues. She described the park as unsafe, riddled with homeless people, and lacking turf.
“There is no irrigation (so) we usually practice on the cement because there is no grass — only dirt — and it gets very dusty to play there,” said Trinidad. “A lot of them … stop coming to practice because they don’t like playing in dirt.”
Most of Parks Budget Is Already Allocated
Measure P tax monies inflated by the Amazon distribution center have generated enough funding to make significant changes to maintenance, aesthetics, and park improvements for this year and in the years ahead.
However, most of the nearly $75 million budgeted for fiscal year 2023 has already been allocated for major initiatives and projects.
Why Are Fresno Park Lawns Still Brown?
Noting the lack of green spaces in many of Fresno’s city parks, Arias wanted to know if the proposed budget would bring about green lawns.
He then questioned whether four people could find the time to manage the hundreds of park spaces across the city and replant missing plants and trees.
Arias suggested the city might be better off outsourcing the park’s operations and maintenance.
“I haven’t seen a visible change in the conditions of our parks and it’s no longer a resource conversation. Measure P and the voters gave us that money,” said Arias. “I know it’s hard to get the money out, but I’m to the point of maybe it’s time to outsource this whole operation to maintain our parks.”
City Manager: Be Patient
Fresno City Manager Georgeanne White explained that the city’s brown lawn problems were part of a bigger issue — an antiquated irrigation system.
“There’s this whole initiative that (Mayor Jerry Dyer) has to beautify Fresno, but our parks still look like crap.” — City Councilmember Esmeralda Soria
“In order to keep grass green, we need water,” said White. “The irrigation systems in our parks are old and antiquated and have decades of deferred maintenance.”
Mozier added that fixing all of the irrigation systems in the city would top $100 million, with Woodward Park alone needing $20 million.
Arias countered that he had not seen anything in the PARCS budget that addressed park maintenance staffing or a request for millions of dollars in new irrigation systems.
PARCS Director Aaron Aguirre told Arias that there were projects in the city’s capital plan for improved irrigation.
White then added that while she understood the council’s and the public’s desire for park upgrades, Measure P funds had just started rolling in.
“I understand the impatience in getting there, we are also impatient, but I just want to remind everybody, this is the first full year of Measure P revenue. So while it seems like a long time, it has been a short time,” said White. “The same things you were saying about the conditions of our parks and the expectations of the public for wanting to see an improvement in the parks, I know he (Mayor Dyer) certainly shares that.”
Arias, however, said that Dyer needed to manage the parks maintenance department the same way he managed the police department — by hiring more workers.
“I’m putting this all on the mayor,” said Arias. “He asked for money, we gave it to him. He asked for positions, we gave them to him. He asked for time, we gave it to him. Now it’s two years in, he can’t claim to being a rookie.”