Don’t forget about Sacramento’s parks

A broken park bench in McKinley Park came to symbolize the disrepair of city parks during the Great Recession.
A broken park bench in McKinley Park came to symbolize the disrepair of city parks during the Great Recession. Sacramento Bee file

Too often, keeping up Sacramento’s parks has been an afterthought.

A report before the City Council on Tuesday night ought to be a stark reminder not to forsake one of the city’s basic services.

Because the city’s park system is growing – 180 parks plus 46 trails, gardens and other sites – even recent reinforcements haven’t kept pace. The parks department says there’s one employee per 23 acres of parkland, compared to one worker for every 11 acres in 2001.

Still, it was worse not that long ago.

During the depths of the Great Recession, many city parks fell into shameful disrepair. With the maintenance budget slashed in half, weeds were left to grow, trash wasn’t picked up and grass became barren. In a symbol of how bad things got, a broken bench at McKinley Park was wrapped in yellow caution tape in September 2010. It looked like a crime scene.

It took Measure U – the half-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in November 2012 to restore essential services – to get park maintenance back anywhere close to acceptable levels. Now, parks get mowed twice a month and weeded four times a year. Litter is picked up and restrooms cleaned twice a day. But there still isn’t enough money for regular fertilization and seeding. Sports fields aren’t fixed unless a user helps pay.

While the sales tax effort first took root among parks advocates, public safety is getting the lion’s share of the money. In 2014-15, the Police Department took 41 percent, the Fire Department 40 percent and the Parks and Recreation Department just 17 percent. In 2015-16, the piece of the pie going to parks maintenance increased to 23 percent, while police is receiving 38 percent and fire 33 percent.

Volunteers have helped make up the gap in some high-profile places such as Land Park, as have property assessments in some areas such as Natomas. Those supplemental efforts will continue to be part of the solution.

But all parks – wherever they are in the city – deserve proper care.