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Sonoma’s Recreation and Parks Task Force dissolves

Sonoma’s Community Recreation and Parks Task Force is taking an extended vacation.

That’s what task force co-chairs Karen Collins and Steve Page told the Sonoma City Council last month, citing a lack of support from the city in their efforts to raise awareness and promote access toward local park and recreation amenities.

“We feel that this project needs to be put on hold until it is appropriately prioritized, funded and staffed,” Collins and Page wrote in an Aug. 10 letter to the council.

The Community Recreation and Parks Task Force is a 15-member committee charged with establishing a long-term plan for enhancing recreation and parks programming and facilities in the city. The City Council approved the formation of the resident-led committee in 2020, with the goal of creating a long-term Recreation and Park Work Plan, a multi-pronged approach to enhancing the P&R services in a city that boasts no such official department.

But a stream of leadership changes at City Hall and challenges for the city to commit staff time to assist the task force have thrown the wheels off the cart, said Collins and Page.

“We have been through 10 City Council members, four city managers, numerous city staff and $20,000 of city funds,” tallied Collins and Page, and that has affected their ability to make significant progress before the task force “sunsets” at the end of 2022. She said of the original 15 task force members, seven have resigned or no longer participate.

Collins and Page noted that the task force received a $40,000 grant from the Sonoma Catalyst Fund to underwrite a study of parks and recreation programs in eight communities of similar size and demographics to Sonoma. While the study and reported findings were completed, if the city chooses not to reconvene the task force or utilize the study in its general planning processes, the grant monies should be refunded, said Collins and Page.

The former task force co-chairs applauded the work of the city’s Public Information Officer Sarah Tracy, who they said was instrumental in the creation and launch of the city’s online Parks and Recreation Directory - sonomacity.org/parks-and-recreation-directory - a searchable database of Sonoma Valley’s parks and recreation resources.

Yet, they said, the creation of the directory presented its own complications. Software glitches led to a change in web platforms, which further delayed the task force’s work, they said. “Since the database was to be the foundation for our study we were unable to hold task force meetings for more than a year,” the letter read.

The directory launched in May 2022 and has had 1,122 unique visitors, according to Tracy. “We hope that the people who use it are finding it to be a helpful tool,” she said.

The directory features a link for community members to provide feedback on their user experience, though Tracy noted staff had not yet received any feedback.

In conclusion, Collins and Page recommended the city “put the project on hold until it can be appropriately prioritized, funded and staffed.”

And, they added: “At such time that the project is resurrected re-contact current task force members to determine their willingness to participate and/or establish a new task force.”

Madolyn Agrimonti is the only current council member who was on the council at the time of the creation of the Community Recreation and Parks Task Force and she expressed her disappointment that the city couldn’t better support “a very dedicated group of now-dismayed volunteers.”

“There was obviously a disconnect between the city staff and the designated group to fulfill (its) goals,” said Agrimonti.

Mayor Jack Ding acknowledged that Collins and Page felt the city’s “level of support seemed delayed or not enough.”

“Although it may not have been apparent to the task force, a significant allocation of staff resources was dedicated to this initiative since their formation in December 2020,” Ding said. “Some very meaningful progress and positive results for our Recreation and Community Services Program were a result of that effort.”

Among them, noted Ding, was the completion of the Depot Park Enhancement project, the launch of the online Parks and Recreation Directory, the establishment of a new city commission dedicated to parks and recreation matter (the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission, aka PROS), and the completion of the eight-community recreation-program report led by consultants the Potrero Group.

“Passion and community effort are valuable resources for the city to use to run the city,” said Ding. “We are fortunate that we have so many selfless volunteers with great experience to contribute.”

Still, Ding expressed his regrets that city government “is not always available for many local matters” and relies on volunteers and nonprofit organizations for some important functions, such as homeless services and recreation programs.

“It is not a money issue, it is a protocol (issue),” said Ding, adding that the council should consider setting “a series of policies” to meet more of the city’s needs.

Email Jason Walsh at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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