By CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA | Reporter
The city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks voted to return more than $5.4 million collected in so-called Quimby fees to parks and recreation centers throughout the westside of Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 2.
This includes more than $90,000 that “went missing” last year from Palisades Recreation Center.
It is a tangled story of bureaucratic planning gone astray. And lacking transparency.
In June 2017 city officials quietly decided to reallocate money raised under the 1975 Quimby Act from the account dedicated to long-awaited improvements at several Westside recreation centers to urgent refurbishments at the Venice Pier.
There was an immediate uproar across the Westside from critics who argued the Venice money should not come at the expense of other recreational facilities.
The city decision allowed for large sums of Quimby fees, or taxes collected to help recreational facilities keep up with incoming residents, an old law recently given new force by California Governor Jerry Brown, to be clawed back from a dozen recreation centers.
But commissioners meeting in Lake View Terrace, north of Burbank, received a communication from the office of Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents Council District 11, which includes suddenly depleted rec centers in Brentwood, Mar Vista and the Palisades.
It urged them to U-turn on the department decision and return the money to the parks.
On May 2, Michelle Bisnoff, vice chair of Brentwood Community Council, made the trek to the Lake View Terrace Recreation Center to give a public comment on the vote to rescind the monetary move.
It was originally proposed by Michael A. Shull, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, who according to public documents, had been working on a revamp of the Venice Beach pier since before 2012.
“I just want to make sure that commissioners understand that within our community we have a bit of a crisis of faith on whether or not park funds are being used appropriately,” Bisnoff said. “That’s why we’ve taken such a strong position on this. We very much appreciate the park funds back however going forward … We prefer that no further Quimby funds be used in our community without appropriate public comment. And we are very concerned of anything that Mr. Shull might do in the future without contacting us.”
Rose Watson, director of public information for the Dept. of Rec and Parks, explained that the move was a standard practice within the department, and explained that something must still be done to fix the Venice Beach pier.
“When [Shull] made the decision, I don’t think he realized the backlash that was going to come behind it,” Watson said in an interview with the Palisadian-Post.
She explained that Shull’s decision was in an effort to help the project move along quickly as something soon must be done to fix the deteriorating condition of the concrete pier.
“It’s not like that money was taken from [Council District 11] and moved to a whole other region or another council district.
“I think that’s where the miscommunication was, so now in the future [Shull] knows that if we plan to work on another project and we need some funding, because that’s part of what we do with the parks, and you want to take some resources from other parks just to help out another park then you just have to have that meeting ahead of time and say, ‘Hey this is what we want to do and why we want to do it.’”
While the department pledges to implement a more transparent process, Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association who challenged Bonin in the last CD11 election, told the Post he thinks something else is going on.
“This is the way [Bonin] operates. He does things sub rosa. He has other people do it so it doesn’t look like his fingerprints are on it,” said Ryavec, who claims he has never seen any studies or damage reports done on the Venice Beach pier.
“I am 98 percent sure that the Rec and Parks commission did not initiate this on their own. I am sure that Mike set this in motion and it’s his style not to allow public comment on these kinds of robbings of Peter to pay Paul.”
While some remain skeptical of the initial decision, only time will tell how the Palisades Recreation Center will use its newfound appreciation of these funds to improve its facilities.