Council Budget Oversight Committee (Lowenthal, O'Donnell, Mungo) Votes 3-0 To "Receive and File" (Take No Action On) City Mgr Memo Indicating Cost To Restore A Park Ranger = $75k-$96k Each

(Aug. 20, 2014) -- As carried LIVE on, the City Council's Budget Oversight Committee (Lowenthal, Mungo, O'Donnell) voted 3-0 to "receive and file" (take no action on) a city management report (text below) indicating that restoring Park Rangers (beyond the current 3.5 now budgeted) would cost between $75,000 to $96,000 per Ranger annually.

The action came on a motion by Lowenthal, seconded by Mungo. and the vote was joined by O'Donnell.

In Committee discussion, chair Lowenthal indicated she prefers the Park & Rec management's recently launched "Park Patrol" program in which roughly a dozen unarmed park staffers are tasked to walk through parks to interact with the public and problem patrons and to call police if needed.

Asked by chair Lowenthal if staff in the "Park Patrol" would be attired in a manner more conspicuous/attention-drawing than regular park staff (who bear blue shirts), Parks/Rec. Dir Chapjian said the "Park Patrol" staff will wear red shirts with large letters indicating "Park Patrol." '

Committee member Mungo indicated she'll be speaking with Deputy Chief Luna regarding the use of Explorers to conduct some type of activities in parks. [Explorers are ages 14-20.]

There was no public testimony at the Committee meeting from Friends of Bixby Park, which in July sought the assistance of Vice Mayor Lowenthal (in whose district Bixby Park is located) to consider adding Park Rangers as part of the FY15 budget (her correspondence is below.) The group's president, Claudia Schou, then testified at the Aug. 5 City Council budget session (detils below), at which time Budget Oversight Committee chair Lowenthal indicated she would discuss the item in her Committee.

At midmorning Aug. 19, a memo dated Aug. 15 from City Manager West to the Budget Oversight Committee appeared on the City Clerk website indicating the total loaded cost of a Park Ranger is $75,000-$96,000 (range factors not detailed.) The memo (full text below) also recommended against restoring Park Rangers with lethal weapsons...and said that if the Council were to vote to restore some Park Rangers, city management would discuss transferring the program over to the Police Dept. (so as not to have Parks/Rec employees supervising non-sworn employees in parks.)

The management memo, which appeared online shortly after published an early morning editorial criticizing the lack of a publicly available memo accompanying the agenda item, can be viewed in full below.

[Scroll down for further]

Long Beach City Mgm't Memo re Costs to Restore Park Rangers

The Committee agenda item follows public testimony at Aug. 5 City Council budget by the president of Friends of Bixby Park, Claudia Schou at which she urged Councilmembers to add one or two extra Park Rangers in the FY15 budget.

In Council podium testimony, Ms. Schou described alarming conditions in Bixby Park (2nd Council district represented by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal) that she said included drug dealing and drug use visible to families. Ms. Schou said public safety in parks aren't limited to one park but said it was one the biggest public safety concerns among residents citywide. Ms. Schou said she's contacted neighborhood groups citywide, heard similar concerns...and is gathering signatures from those groups urging the City Council to restore/bolster Park Ranger service [that former Council majorities, including Lowenthal, have voted to cut along with police levels in adopted city budgets.]

Ms. Schou's testimony follows July 23, correspondence visible on Facebook in which Friends of Bixby Park sent Vice Mayor Lowenthal the following letter:

[July 23 correspondence] Dear Suja,

It is with great hope that we submit this letter to you as lead on Budget Oversight Committee for consideration of adding a citywide Park Ranger Program to the 2015 budget.

LBPD can confirm that the number of arrests at city public parks for intent to sell drugs is high. Last summer, five drug dealers were arrested at Bixby Park within a four-week period. This summer four drug dealers were arrested in a two-week period.

How can we keep drug dealers away from our public parks? Without authority present, illegal activities will continue to rise and have consequences on our community, including exposing young children and teens to drug use and drug dealing.

If there is one quality-of-life that would greatly benefit our community it would be to provide a drug-free environment at its public parks. By providing park rangers at city parks, you will lower the incidents of children and teens being exposed to drug activities at our parks. Parents witness drug activities occurring close to the playground and feel unsafe taking their kids to the park.

At Bixby Park alone, we have heard first-hand from several parents who say they will not return to the park because of the scenes I describe above. At Rose Park, just across the street from your home, residents have witnessed and complained about drug use in broad daylight. Itís such a small park but situations like these underscore the importance of having a patrol dedicated to public parks Dear Suja,

With the cost of daily living increasing and wage pay remaining the same, many residents rely on public parks to provide a safe pastime for friendship and families.

Less drugs in our parks equals less drugs on our streets and more safety in our neighborhoods. A Park Ranger Program will provide the kind of public safety that will have a lasting effect on our community now and in the future.

s/ Friends of Bixby Park

Mindful that Ms. Schou would raise the issue, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal stated before public testimony that she believes the Council should withhold taking a position on Park Ranger budgeting until receiving background information and context on the Ranger program. Vice Mayor Lowenthal asked city management to provide the Council and the Budget Oversight Committee (which she chairs, named by Mayor Garcia) to provide the fully loaded costs of park rangers (including recruitment, training, salaries, benefits, equipment, etc.) at full strength citywide and possibly just covering "hot spots" (which she said exist in all Council districts.)

Vice Mayor Lowenthal then asked Parks & Rec Director George Chapjian to discuss a "park patrol" program now being developed.

Mr. Chapjian revealed that the "park patrol" program has just been implemented. It involves 10-12 staffmembers trained by the police department (similar to training given to the DLBA downtown "Ambassadors") to look for incidents in parks such as drug use, loitering, other things not conducive to park users that he said might be abated without calling the police. "If there's an issue or instance where they can intervene, and ask them to stop, they will do that. If they can't, they'll call the police department," Mr. Chapjian said.

When Ms. Stowe had her podium opportunity to speak, she told the Council:

[Ms. Schou]...One of the biggest public safety concerns by your constituents right now is local parks...It's not just at Drake Park or Chavez Park it's citywide and ever since the Park Ranger program was cut from the budget three years ago, city parks are in desperate need of support from Park Rangers. Until Parks and Rec can come up with a program that will work to provide public safety at our local parks, we have public drug dealing and public drug use, a lot of pot smoking, right in front of families, parents are really annoyed and very disappointed about this. The "park patrol" program that Mr. Chapjian just mentioned is actually the second program that we've had at Bixby Park over the past couple of months. The first program was a "park ambassador" program that we funded ourselves...because we found hypodermic needles and glass crack pipes...

We have this program in place and we asked Parks & Rec to cancel it because we were getting emails from residents who were complaining that the Ambassadors were not being effective in their jobs. There was still public pot smoking and there were situations where residents felt that there may be drug dealing...We did successfully get Long Beach PD out there; they sent out undercover police officers and they did arrest two drug dealers there.

So this is where all this frustration is coming from. It's not just Bixby Park. It's citywide.

I have reached out to the neighborhood association presidents around the city and I'm hearing similar stories, and they're all very happy to sign a letter to City Council asking for help immediately with either Park Rangers that we already have on staff or pleading to please find some small budget for one or two extra.

Since 2009, Council majorities have cut funding for police resulting in the loss of roughly 20% of LBPD's previous police strength for taxpayers in addition to cuts made to the city's Park Ranger program.

As previously reported by, Mayor Garcia's budget recommendations propose no additions to police staffing or to Park Rangers. The Mayor chooses Council Committee members and chose Lowenthal to chair the Budget Oversight Committee. Council Committees have no independent enacting power but can make recommendations reflecting their views to the full Council.

A Council majority (five of nine Councilmembers) can make changes to the Manager/Mayor recommended FY15 budget but faces a Sept. 15 deadline for enacting its FY15 budget by September 15 or city management's recommended budget goes into effect. The Council's budget actions are subject to a Mayoral line item veto that can be overridden by the affirmative votes of six Councilmembers.

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