The Golden Hill Recreation Center. Courtesy Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corp.

Revenues collected from recreation center program fees will be deposited directly with the city of San Diego beginning next year, instead of with local recreation councils, under a procedure narrowly approved Wednesday by the City Council.

Historically, volunteer members of 52 recreation councils controlled money generated by programs and special classes at their individual facilities. City Attorney Mara Elliott opined in September that the practice violated the City Charter in that city funds should be handled by the city, not private citizens.

Numerous supporters of recreation councils criticized the new process at previous meetings on the subject, but opposition was relatively muted at Wednesday’s hearing.

Councilman Chris Ward said he understood the frustration of the rec council volunteers.

“Feeling blindsided, feeling rushed, feeling like they’ve been doing a good job — and they’ve been doing a great job for decades, for some,” Ward said. “I understand their mistrust of the city — I think many constituents have had experiences with the city that frustrated them and those translated into lost faith.”

He said it will be “paramount” for Recreation Department officials to make a seamless transition to the new process and make sure the role of the volunteers continue.

The new system will satisfy city requirements by amending the Park and Recreation Department‘s fee schedule to remove references to “recreation council” and replace them with city of San Diego, and authorize the city’s chief financial officer to appropriate and expend all recreation center area funds, including recreational program and permit revenue.

In return, the plan contains a rule that such funds will only be expended in the geographical area in which they were collected and be used exclusively for the continued provision and administration of recreational programming and activities, according to city staff.

A working group is also being created to monitor and perhaps modify the new procedures as they’re carried out.

Special use permits for the recreation councils are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. At one of the previous hearings, Elliott said her office wouldn’t sign off on new ones, or extensions, if “problematic language in it, which is the handling of the money,” remains, but would be happy sign if the issue is resolved.

The continuation of public programs could have been in doubt beginning Jan. 1 without a resolution, which the council passed 5-4. Council members David Alvarez, Chris Cate, Georgette Gomez and Lorie Zapf dissented.

Alvarez told recreation officials that they’ve been put in a difficult position.

“It seems like to me that we’re trying to re-create a system we have today that seems to work for everybody except for, potentially, a legal issue,” Alvarez said.

“In re-creating that, it seems like, perhaps, we’re creating more problems than solutions,” he said. “I know that’s not what you’re trying to do but I think that’s what’s happening.”

Many of the volunteers said the fact that the money belonged to the city has never been in dispute.

Recreation Department officials expect the councils will continue to operate in an advisory capacity. They would also be allowed to keep money generated by donations or grants.

–City News Service

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