Brentwood City Council Postpones Decision on “Gutting” Parks and Recreation Committee Duties and Authority

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On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council unanimously agreed to delay a decision that would have tweaked language to its municipal code pertaining to the Planning, Parks and Recreation and Arts commission.

According to city staff, the language would have updated decade old language and would have allowed staff to streamline decision making and processes.

Staff presented six documents that showed redline changes for the following areas:

  • Planning Commission
  • Parks and Recreation Commission
  • Arts Commission
  • Arts Program
  • Poet Laureate
  • Redevelopment Agency

During the meeting, many in the public spoke out against the changes to the Parks and Recreation Commission stating it would “gut” the commission and remove any real authority in decision making—the changes had to do with powers and duties.

Public commenters urged the council to postpone the decision and seek out more input and perform a greater review before just accepting what staff proposed.

Lanny Brown said he was troubled by the background that staff provided in the staff report and the responsibilities of the park commission and explained the responsibilities as a board member and a commissioner were not even close.

“I can tell you for a fact, the only thing that came over from the Park Board to the Commission was the actual day of the actual meeting. So I think you are being mislead by the staff. Our park commission is how citizens get involved in the future of our city. I feel now they are being ignored by staff,” stated Brown.

He continued to say in the past they had an award-winning commission, today staff is not coming up to that standard and the issue needed to be studied more and fixed. He urged the council to reject the proposal.

City Councilmember elect Jovita Mendoza stated she believed it appeared that the parks and recreation commission was being “gutted” and was just a project with little to do.  She highlighted how Bridle Gate had the park, in an agreement between staff and the developer, be reduced by 17%.

“We need checks and balances and that is what this commission does. I find it odd that Bridle Gate was going to come up on a Parks and Recreation meeting and then all of a sudden we are changing what authorities they have. We need Parks and Recreation. I hope you discuss it; I hope you vote against it and I would like to know who initiated the changes,” stated Mendoza.

Stephanie Williams Rogers asked the rationale behind striping the duties and powers away from the Parks and Recreation Commission. She questioned many of the changes in the staff report.

“The proposed changes to the municipal code in my opinion seeks to minimize the power and duties of the parks and recreation commission to do what is best for our community and our parks. I strongly urge the city council to reject the modification and seek that the commission maintains its power and duties as is,” stated Williams Rogers.

Sinziana Todor urged the council not to touch this commission as Brentwood is known for its parks and open space. She wanted the commission to stay in place and also not to touch the Planning Commission and referenced how poor the City of Oakley has become without its Planning Commission.

“Every good government has good checks and balances in place,” stated Todor.

Sandra Myers, who stated she was a parks and recreation commission in Danville for 19 years before moving to Brentwood, served on the Brentwood Parks Commission until last December, whee she said she has never seen the process until the staff report and that Parks and Recreation has always been part of the planning process until recently.

“Last year when Council and Parks were revising the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, the parks commissioners voiced their concerns about being edged out of the planning process with the regard to the development of parks. In the past few years the parks and creation commission has not been given an opportunity to provide input into developers plans until after the planning commission has already approved the project,” stated Myers who said they still have not seen the Bridle Gate plans even though the planning commission has requested a presentation.  “As it stands now, instead of telling a developer what it wants with its obligation, the developer is now telling a city what it is willing to do. This is in stark contrast to the needs and concerns of the citizens.”

She asked the council if they valued the opinions of the parks and recreation commissioners and include the redlined items in the staff report.

Council Discussion

Councilwoman Karen Rarey says in the past 20 years since the establishment of the Parks and Recreation Commission, the city has established nearly 95 parks. She reminded the council that over the years, the commissioners worked with developers to ensure they go above and beyond the request within the city but now it is not happening.

“I’ve brought this up with the previous city manager, the Parks and Recreation Master Planning session, instead, staff has eliminated the Parks and Recreation commission from the equation by working alone with the developers which has resulted in unuseful scraps of land under power lines over utility easement and even a 1/16 acre of a park,” stated Rarey. “All which is enabling developers to get park credits for subpar pieces of land.”

Rarey also suggested the verbiage on park equipment allows staff to circumvent the Parks and Recreation commission saying staff used to bring 3-vendors to the commission but now bringing just 1-vendor which is bringing “cookie cutter” equipment to playgrounds.

“Our parks used to be envy of other cities because we are not cookie cutter,” stated Rarey who said this policy makes it okay to be a cookie cutter city. She also blasted staff for not presenting enough ideas to commission members or working to hold meetings over the internet.

Rarey asked the rest of the council not to gut the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Mayor Bob Taylor didn’t want to get into why staff is doing this, but asked City Manager Tim Ogden for an explanation.  Ogden highlighted he had been with the city since February and most of this was already in process when hired but said most of the changes had the intent to “streamline” the processes and make them consistent with how other commissions operate.

“None of the changes are intended to offend the parks and recreation commissioners who have done some great work over the years,” said Ogden.

Taylor said there was some validity to having parks and recreation to work with developers but that it was hard if the Planning Commission has already approved it. It eliminated the input from the parks commission.

“I think that needs to be addressed,” stated Taylor.

Ogden said they used a single vendor now because they have similar parks and there are similar parts. With multiple vendors it takes longer and time to maintain gets larger. Ogden called it best practice for similar parks to have the same vendor.

Rarey interjected calling it “more expensive” and they are using the most expensive parts.

Ogden further highlighted the timing that they brought this to the agenda because they were afraid, they wouldn’t have enough agenda to fill the meeting for Tuesday night.

Taylor stated he would like to see the entire thing brought back for more discussion stating there was much more review needing to be reviewed from playground equipment, locations and issues.

Vice Mayor Joel Bryant stated he agreed. He would like to see more discussion.

Councilmember Johnny Rodriquez stated there was a lot of concerns and would rather go over this in greater detail and agreed with bringing this back at a  later date.

Councilmember Claudette Staton agreed that it should come back.

The council ultimately directed staff to bring back the entire agenda item at a later date rather than approving it piece by piece based on each commission.  Rodriquez requested when it does come back, staff provide more detail and background on why the changes are being recommended and happening.

No timeline was provided as to when this item will come back.

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