City Opens Discussion on Rec Program Changes

The first phase of a revamped Recreation Department is penciled in to kick off in the next fiscal year, assuming the City Council agrees this month to proceed with investing in the foundation of a three-year plan.
After signaling approval on the direction of the department redesign thus far, the City Council is expected to dive into the nuts and bolts of the program as part of its broader budget discussion. The redesign, which is being helmed by interim Community Services Director Josette Espinosa, is slated to introduce a variety of new programming for residents and relocate where its services are offered as part of a consolidation of sorts with Crowell Public Library. As part of the creation of the Community Service Department, what were independent wings for recreation and library fell under one roof.
“It’s time for us to start acting as one,” Espinosa said while presenting at last Friday’s City Council meeting.
What to do with the Recreation Department has been a multi-year question for San Marino officials, one that predates the tenure of City Manager Marcella Marlowe and a majority of the City Council. It has largely been an existential question: Should the department focus on programs that yield cost-recovery and therefore pose less of a budgetary burden, or should it function to enhance the community through a large amount of free or inexpensive programs to get families out and about?
Recreation Commission members, a Blue Ribbon Committee convened by the City Council and a survey of residents led department officials to conclude that the answer was mostly the latter but blended with the former: offering a broader array of programs that are either inexpensive to put on or would not be kneecapped by higher participation fees.
“We have been working on this slowly but surely for almost three years. There have been some tangents along the way and some detours, but we’ve made some progress over the years,” Marlowe told the City Council. “Today is when you tell us kind of a temperature check of where we’re going.”
Phase one of the redesign includes producing a design for a renovated San Marino Center, continuing applicable recreation programming currently held at the center or at the Stoneman School building and beginning new programs at the library and at Lacy Park. (Or, rather, what programs can be done in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.) The City Council will, relatedly, decide on how to proceed with the San Marino Center project this month, which is being touted as a way to extract the city from the Stoneman School building in favor of other options.
Phase two, during the following fiscal year, would include work on the San Marino Center, continuing programming as possible at current sites, expanding programming at the park and library and potentially including the Old Mill and the San Marino Unified School District.
Phase three would effectively conclude the revamp by migrating all recreation operations to the San Marino Center and auditing what’s being offered at other locations for evaluation. Espinosa proposed, by the end of the third phase, having either contracted preschool services out or eliminating it altogether, reducing the aquatics offerings and contracting those out and adding four new community programs, six new youth programs and five new or enhanced adult programs.
“This is an exciting time for me and it’s very much an exciting time for San Marino,” she said, noting her 30 years of recreation experience in cities throughout the county. “The community is a community that holds traditional values, and I very much looked at that before I made any choices.”
New community programming being proposed includes a summer concert series, movies in the park, flashlight eggs hunts and park campouts. For more regular programs, Espinosa said she’s aiming for more thoughtful classes and events for the community’s “active adults,” a term which she said she prefers to “seniors.”
“They want to be called something different, because they’re lifelong learners,” she said. “They’re vibrant. They want to do more. We’re not going to offer them crochet and bingo.”
The City Council unanimously approved incorporating phase one of this presentation into the budget forthcoming budget proposal and also in making aquatics offered by a third party — “I think this is a direction all of our youth things should go,” Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey noted. The votes followed a brief discussion on whether to dive into the line items of the proposal that ended when councilmembers decided it was better to punt that topic for when staff had specific presentation.
“At that point, after we get that back, then we can have the more specific discussion,” Councilman Steve Talt said.
However, the mayor declined to endorse continuing preschool — “To me, that is not at all anything we should be involved with,” she said — or the overall direction of the department’s re-envisioning. Shepherd Romey said she felt there were too many ideas being proposed that weren’t high priorities according to the survey that was conducted.
“I’m going to be the only ‘no,’” she declared. “I don’t believe those [programs] reflect the survey of community interests. Maybe we can deal with those when phase one is voted in. I think we missed the mark in some of the larger community events and put too much emphasis on the [age] 0-12 programming.”
Conversely, Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski was more enthusiastic about what was to come.
“I’m giddy with excitement,” she said. “I did not know what type of product to expect and this exceeded my expectations for a number of reasons.”

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