M. Terry / SFVS

Director Julian Venegas (left) and Cultural Arts Supervisor Virginia Diediker (right) of the City’s Recreation and Community Services get some help in celebrating national Parks and Recreation Month at City Hall.

The San Fernando City Council did not exactly set off fireworks at its July 1 meeting but passing a new City budget felt like a reason to celebrate.

Mayor Joel Fajardo, Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin, and council members Robert Gonzales and Hector Pacheco all voted in favor of the budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. Councilmember Antonio Lopez was not present at the meeting.

As proposed, the General Fund Budget projects $20,363,332 in revenues and expenditures of $19,853,654, leaving a surplus of approximately $510,000. City Manager Nick Kimball did point out that factors such as a turndown in the economy “could quickly erode” that surplus.

This is considered a Maintenance of Effort budget, meaning it’s based on providing the same level of service as the 2018-19 budget.

Back in 2013, the City teetered on the brink of bankruptcy due in part to the council’s ill-fated decision to build and maintain an aquatic center (now operated by Los Angeles county) and a recession.

Helping the budget recovery were $2.55 million in funds raised by Measure A, the 1/2 cent local transaction tax San Fernando voters first approved in October 2013 after the City had declared a fiscal emergency in June. In 2018, voters supported extending the tax indefinitely.

According to the budget, funds from that tax would continue to help pay off existing debt, reduce the deficit fund balance in the General Fund, provide money for one-time projects that address critical needs and enhance services to the community

“Just reading the budget now is breathtaking. I can’t believe how far we’ve come from when I first got started here,” Gonzales said. “We stuck with it. We took shots along the way, but we really did stick to it. Now that we have our budget getting better, it’s really great.” 

Ballin felt emboldened enough to ask Kimball before the actual budget vote to start considering a “five-year plan” for the City.

“We didn’t have funds for many years to do projects,” Ballin said. “Now that we’re looking a little bit greener, I think it’s time for us to consider a five-year plan. However, I’d like it to be realistic. I’d rather underestimate than overestimate or promise. But at least our residents can see that we are moving forward.”

A couple of modifications were added to the budget: a $25,000 tree fund, and up to $80,000 in matching funds for the upcoming grant proposals the City is sending to the state in August. Those funds are to be distributed proportionately, based on the amount of grant money received.

Pursuing State Grants

The San Fernando City Council will apply for more than $8 million in state grants to upgrade and revitalize the City’s parks.

Among the submissions going to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Statewide Park Development, and Community Revitalization Program grant program, under Prop 68 (passed in June 2018), will be a request of $1,413,226 for Pioneer Park. The City has a partnership with baseball star Yasiel Puig and his Wild Horse Children’s Foundation to help restore the park, and also convert a dilapidated house on the park grounds into a new community center to be known as “Puig’s House.” 

Puig, a former Los Angeles Dodger who is now playing for the Cincinnati Reds, took part in the groundbreaking ceremonies for the community center held on June 24. The foundation — which initially announced it would commit between $750,000 to $1 million for the project — has already provided the renovation funding for the house.

Other proposed improvements specific to Pioneer Park include renovating the Tot-Lot with ADA accessibility and shading, renovating the baseball fields, basketball court and concession stand, and adding a soccer field.

Julian Venegas the City’s director of Recreation and Community Services, said the foundation plans to provide more help for Pioneer Park.

“They are also going to want to do some field renovations, but right now they don’t have an exact figure they’re going to put in,” Venegas said.

At the groundbreaking, Puig admitted thinking the community center would have already been completed, “but it’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of things we need to do legally….We wanted to open quick, but we also want to do a good job.”

Venegas — who helped prepare the grant applications — told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the $1.4 million grant figure for Pioneer Park did not include the money Wild Horse is giving toward Puig’s House, nor was it a “matching fund” figure toward the foundation’s donation.

That amount was to “give the council an idea of what the cost [for the park] is going to be,”Venegas said. “We’re identifying the projects and the estimated costs.”

The City is applying for renovation grants for five of its six parks and the Pacoima Wash. Besides Pioneer Park, City officials are requesting $1,920,478 to revitalize Recreation Park; $2,995,379 for Las Palmas Park; $676,648 for Layne Park; $565,205 for Rudy Ortega, Sr. Park; and $433,089 for the Pacoima Wash. The City will wait for the next funding cycle before submitting an application for Kalisher Park, Venegas said.

In addition, the council authorized a purchase order of $49,950 for California Consulting, LLC, to prepare the final grant applications.

If the City is turned down for the grant money in this cycle, Venegas said that it would reapply during the next Prop 68 cycle, or seek funds from the county Measure A.

But while there is no current “start” date for Pioneer Park, Venegas said there are no “time constraints” for the project’s completion written into the agreement with Wild Horse.

“I’m confident they are going to stay with us until this is done,” the director said.

All applications for the current cycle must be submitted to the grant program by Aug. 5, Venegas said. He believes the announcement of the awarding of funds will come in December. Venegas estimates that about half of the state’s present amount of $650 million for grants could be available in the current cycle. There will be at least one other opportunity to submit grant applications.

Venegas did not want to comment on the City’s chances of receiving some or all of the funding it’s seeking, saying that “we’re competing against the whole state.”

Should the grants be awarded, Venegas said, the City would then have a “two-year window” to complete the upgrades and renovations in all of the parks.

Parks and Recreation Month 

Also on Monday, a proclamation acknowledging July as “Parks and Recreation Month” was presented. Kids participating in recreational programs attended the council meeting wearing their team uniforms and folklorico dance costumes giving a visual example of some of the activities offered in the city’s parks.

“Basically, it shows the vital importance of recreation and leisure services for the community,” Venegas said.

Ceremonies like the one before the council, Venegas said, recognize “all the programs that are involved in our professions. Every agency wants to recognize the month and the importance of the activities and services we provide.

“Each city does its own thing. But this [proclamation here] is an indication the services we provide are a vital link to health, wellness, to being active. That’s part of the message.”