Stearns Park in East Long Beach has seen dramatic browning of its turf. Photo: Jason Ruiz 

Long Beach does not have enough money to water city owned parks and medians, an issue that has been persistent for years and has only been exacerbated by a statewide drought. That was the message conveyed in a memo from interim Director of Parks Recreation and Marine Stephen Scott to the city manager last week which prompted action by the city council Tuesday night.

A group of city council members headed by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin requested the city manager’s office to identify emergency funding for the parks’ department to pay for watering during the upcoming summer months where park programming and elevated temperatures will continue to exact a toll on the city’s parks.

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“I don’t want to point fingers and blame anybody because we don’t control mother nature, we don’t control the fact that we didn’t get enough water this year through rainfall but I do think that this is a situation that does merit our attention and we have to do something now to preserve our assets and resources as a city,” Austin said.

Scott’s memo said that the city’s landscaping needs about 47 inches of water on average to sustain the city’s vegetation. The city currently allocates about $2 million toward the purchase of water to irrigate its parks and medians and that money can have varying effects that depends greatly on rainfall.

Last year when the city received nearly 19 inches of rainfall the funding for irrigation helped the city’s landscaping receive about 85 percent of the necessary water. However, this year with only about 2 inches of rainfall to date, the city’s budget will only allow for about 23 inches of water, or about 50 percent of the water needed to sustain the city’s landscaping. However, the overall shortfall for the city’s irrigation needs has been consistent since 2012 with the exception of last year.

“Mother nature has not been kind to us,” Scott said.

Large patches of Bixby Park in the Second District have also suffered due to lack of watering. Photo: Jason Ruiz

Scott said that the department has identified about $800,000 in savings from the park’s budget that could now be used toward providing more irrigation, a process that he said has already begun.

He added that the community would began to see the brown and yellow grass in city parks to gradually green over the next few weeks and the department would no longer have to tier its watering, a program in which highly-used and newer parks were prioritized over others.

That it took so long for the department to come forward with this issue did not sit well with Mayor Robert Garcia who said that the parks were in embarrassing shape and asked the parks management team to be more proactive in requesting additional funding to upkeep the city’s green spaces.

“The current shape of the parks is the worst I’ve ever seen them and I’ve never received as many complaints from our community on the upkeep of these parks,” Garcia said.

The complaints were not limited to the mayor’s office. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson remarked that this past weekend’s Uptown Jazz Festival at Houghton Park was dominated by talk of how bad the condition of the grass was there. Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price held up a news clipping showing a recently constructed park in her district and noted “it doesn’t look like this today.”

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Price took exception to a comment by Richardson that the city should direct resources to heavily programmed parks adding that programming was taken away from parks in her district despite her objections and that she doesn’t want her parks to be now penalized with less water because of that.

“What I don’t want to do is pit us against each other in terms of what parks have programming and which ones don’t,” Price said. “We have programs at some parks and we don’t have them at other parks. But the level of programming shouldn’t’ equate to how many resources we get in terms of irrigation.”

A June 2016 audit of the city’s trees and parks found that both were deteriorating and attributed it to a lack of human capital to maintenance, the city’s ambitious plans of expanding park space and the drought. The lack of water, and statewide mandates to conserve, speeded up the deterioration the audit said. It recommended hiring about 20 new full-time employees and overhauling the city’s irrigation system at a cost of $113 million.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.

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