Parks in Peril 

Recent budget cuts have left Oakland's parks struggling for survival. Without a funding fix on the horizon, do they stand a chance?

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Yet voters have repeatedly agreed to tax themselves to pay for new and improved parks. Recent examples include Measure DD to revitalize Lake Merritt and Measure WW to purchase new parkland throughout the East Bay. But that doesn't mean Oakland has the operational funds to back them up. "It boils down to setting priorities and trying to do the best we can with what we have," said public works Building Services Manager Jim Ryugo. "We've been forced to make some tough choices."

Even tougher choices may lie ahead. Ryugo realizes that the 2011-2013 budget cycle is unlikely to bring any good news to Oakland's parks: "It will be a challenge to keep what we currently have. I think there's going to be a lot of anxiety about how things will shape up."

It won't be soon, but perhaps someday, years down the line, all of Oakland's urban parks will be as loved and well-manicured as East Oakland's Arroyo Viejo Recreation Center. On the same day that nearby parks sported litter, overgrown lawns, weeds, and un-pruned trees and bushes, Arroyo Viejo sparkled with life. A teenage couple perched on a concrete wall in view of restored Arroyo Viejo Creek. An older man sat on a bench overlooking a well-trimmed expanse of lawn, nicely mulched flower beds, and weed-free landscaping. Children played joyfully on fully equipped playground equipment as their parents watched. Others rode tricycles and skateboards down the park's concrete pathways. Their ears met the sounds of birds and frogs and wind rustling through trees — and, incredibly, a near absence of city noise.

Parked between two playing fields — including the well-used Ricky Henderson Baseball Field — and adjacent to a basketball court that sported one of the park's only overt flaws, a broken backboard with yellow "Caution" tape wrapped around it, were a pair of white public works trucks. Granted, with its recreation center and lofty status in the community, Arroyo Viejo is a high-priority property that has seen minimal maintenance cuts. But it's also an example of what Oakland's parks can achieve — even in lean times. The solution is simple, as Quan put it: "You've got to learn to do everything with nothing."

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