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Oakland Parks Get Bad Grades for Restrooms, Children's Play Areas and Gopher Invasions

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Carsten Rodin / Oakland Local

An infographic showing what percentage of parks in each Oakland district are maintained by volunteers.

Though some of Oakland's parks showed improvement in 2012, an annual report from the Oakland Parks Coalition showed the city is posting unsatisfactory grades in many other areas of maintenance.

In a less than rosy report presented to the City Council's special public works committee meeting on Feb. 26, the all-volunteer parks coalition noted steep declines in the upkeep of park restrooms and children's play areas.

The coalition, which has conducted this annual survey by sending its teams of volunteers to document park conditions since 2006, graded each of Oakland's 116 parks on a 1-to-4 scale; a "1" score meaning the best possible condition, a "2" meaning satisfactory, a "3" meaning unsatisfactory and a "4" meaning the worst possible condition.

The coalition gave a score for each of nine categories - litter, picnic areas, restrooms, hardscape, drainage and irrigation, greenery, recreation centers and outdoor sports areas - to come up with an aggregate score for every park.

Overall, the average score for park restrooms fell almost a full point from 2011 to 2012, from a satisfactory 1.98 to a less than ideal 2.79.

The report called restroom maintenance "a constant challenge" due to the fact that "the free-standing facilities are frequently used for alternative purposes by homeless people and, in some cases, by groups of drug dealers that are using parks for business." 

"Often it is the case that, no sooner are they cleaned, they are once again trashed," the report read.

The pictures the coalition presented to the committee needed no quantifying: One photo showed the overflowing toilets and dilapidated conditions of restrooms at Officer Willie Wilkins Park, located at 9700 C St. in (far) East Oakland.

Councilman Larry Reid expressed disgust at the state of the restrooms during the presentation, saying that the city should be ashamed that it let conditions get so bad in a park dedicated to Wilkins, an undercover cop who was shot by two rookie Oakland Police Department officers in 2001.

Also falling in this year's survey were the scores for children's play areas. The drop was less dramatic, from 1.9 to 2.01; coalition members explained that the drop was a result of the wearing out of the rubberized surfaces of the play areas. 

According to the coalition members at the meeting, the surfaces were particularly problematic: The rubber wears out quickly in well-tread areas under swings and at the bottoms of slides and is costly to replace. 

Cheaper alternatives like sand or fibar, an engineered wood fiber, were suggested in the report and at the meeting, but coalition representatives noted that these materials were not accessible enough to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While scores for greenery at most Oakland parks improved in 2012, the report noted that this statistic could be misleading. Last year, the city devoted more resources to keeping green lawns at many parks well mowed, but at the same time decreased spending on all other aspects of park greenery, like the after effects of a lingering gopher invasion.

In some parks, gophers have so thoroughly invaded the park that the terrain is even dangerous to walk on," the report reads. "On sports fields riddled with gopher holes the danger to players is even more apparent."

The coalition report credited a shrinking discretionary budget for the city's park woes. Since 2007, Oakland has more than halved its staff of gardeners, from more than 57 to 26 this year. It has replaced those gardeners with 11 "unskilled" park attendants, according to the report.

"Sacrificing skilled workers for more bodies is a questionable way of getting the work done, or, at least, of meeting a standard of care that the public deserves," the report read.

The low number of gardeners also meant that because park staff is divided between North, West and East Oakland, each region got just six caretakers for all of its parks in 2012.

Staffing shortages affected the city's ability to maintain its park irrigation systems, too. The report stated that while the city has at least 50 maintenance personnel devoted to keeping above-ground park areas in working condition, it has just three irrigation specialists for the entire city.

The effect has been broken irrigation that created "marshy surfaces, pooling water and bare patches" at many parks, the report said.

There was some good news for Oakland parks in the report, however. The coalition noted that since being installed in 2006, a system of underground waste containers has helped park staff keep litter at a satisfactory level.

The nine containers that have been installed in several parks throughout the city hold 10 times the normal amount of waste than above-ground trash cans and only have to be emptied every two or three weeks.

The coalition thanked its volunteer members who have helped maintain many of Oakland's parks.

For the most part, statistics from the coalition report showed that the higher the number of parks maintained by volunteers for a district, the higher the reported scores for its parks. District 1, which covers Temescal, Rockridge and the Claremont Hills, had the most parks worked by volunteers and had the highest average score for its parks at 1.71 in 2012.

But there was some discrepancy in these statistics as well: District 4, which covers Montclair and the Diamond District, and District 5, which covers Fruitvale, had almost half of their parks maintained by volunteers. But the two districts also had the second and third worst park scores in the city, with District 4 getting a 2.46 and District 5 getting a 2.33.

The parks coalition might have helped explain this when it called for the city to appoint a park volunteer coordinator to help organize the cleanup effort.

"Without a volunteer coordinator it’s like the Wild West out there, with anyone doing anything he or she dreams up for a park," the report read. "Without guidance and boundaries, well-meaning volunteers will plant trees in parks and 'weed out' good vegetation."

Want to know how your park fared? We've listed the best and worst parks in each district according to their individual scores on the parks survey. If you disagree with a rating, or think it's just right, let us know all about it in the comment section!

District 1 (Rockridge, Temescal)

Best: Racine Point, Ayala Park, Bushrod Park, Rockridge Park, Colby Park, Driver Plaza, Firestorm Memorial Plaza, Frank Ogawa Firescape Garden

Worst: Garber Park, Rockridge Temescal Greenbelt (Frog Park)

District 2 (Cleveland Heights, East Lake)

Best: Mandana Plaza Park, Morcom Rose Garden

Worst: Channel Park

District 3 (West Oakland)

Best: Bertha Port Park, Durant Mini Park, Mosswood Park, Oak Glen Park, Wade Johnson Park

Worst: Pine Knoll Park, Saint Andrews Plaza, Ralmondi Park, Union Plaza Park

District 4 (Montclair, Dimond District)

Best: Avenue Terrace Park, Redwood Heights Park

Worst: Allendale Park

District 5 (Fruitvale)

Best: William Wood Park

Worst: Central Reservoir Recreation Area, Fruitvale Plaza Park, Nicol Mini Park, Union Point Park

District 6 (Eastmont, Havenscourt)

Best: Arroyo Viejo Park, Tomas Melero-Smith Park

Worst: Burckhalter Park

District 7 (Brookfield Village, Webster)

Best: Hellman Park, Sheffield Village Park>

Worst: Eula Brinson Mini Park, Dolphin Mini Park, Elymhurst Lyons Field, Holly Mini Park

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/oakland-parks-report-card-bad-grades-restrooms-childrens-play-areas-gopher-invasions-analysi]

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