ATASCADERO — Any time a government body acts to reduce public input in the development process there can be a reason for concern.
At their first regular meeting of the year, Jan. 8, the Atascadero City Council voted to accept a management report with a draft ordinance to abolish their Parks and Recreation Commission.
With few people in attendance during the vote, at least compared to meetings ending 2018, Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi wished to allay any concerns from those watching at home, “we don’t want to curtail public input,” she said, “the style of park development has changed. We’re in a lull.”
Most of the recent park development has been driven by members of the public coming together on their own, bringing a project to the City and seeking support, she noted, in the vein of the local Parents For Joy group. Started by parents and families of special-needs children, the group is now building a facility near the community center.
City management estimated in the staff report provided that the elimination of the Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to save approximately 100-150 hours of staff time annually.
The savings is somewhat difficult to estimate as the report added that there have only been a few projects worthy of the Commission’s attention in recent years, which were then heard by the City Council for final approval.
The proposed elimination streamlines the process and is at a good point for departure.
The current Parks and Recreation Commission terms expired on Dec. 31, 2018, but there had already been no meetings of the Commission since January 2018 and no business scheduled.
The timeline of decline was laid out in the findings of the draft ordinance repealing the relevant chapter and verse of City code, noting that there had been several periods of change since the Commision was founded in 1985, but that the inactivity was first given serious attention in January 2013, when regular meetings were suspended.
Since then they’ve met as needed, but the idea of dissolution had been kicking around since the 2017 Strategic Planning process. That’s when, “the City Council determined that one of three priorities for the 2017-2019 budget cycle would be Employee Resources, reducing impacts to already strained City resources; and ... at the February 2017 Strategic Planning Workshop, the City Council discussed the dissolution of the Parks and Recreation Commission as a goal to help meet the Employee Resources priority.
The 11 commissioners serving through 2018 knew the gig was up as staff was directed to begin this process in February 2018.
Councilwoman Susan Funk encouraged future Councils to set aside an annual agenda item to review any items the Parks and Recreation Commision would have otherwise addressed and make sure they are being kept in the loop, precautions Councilman Charles Bourbeau said he would echo, before making a motion to accept the staff report.
He added that the cost savings was his primary concern in the wise use of staff resources.
Councilwoman Heather Newsom, herself a former Parks and Recreation Commissioner, seconded the motion.