Salinas NOW Episode 4: Kristan Lundquist on Parks and Recreation

Salinas NOW Episode 4: Kristan Lundquist on Parks and Recreation


[upbeat music] Hi Kristan. Hi. How are you? I’m good, thank you. Welcome to the show. Great. You’ve got 50 parks. Yes. And some are more active, obviously, than
others in terms of, you know, programming, activities, events that you do there. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about
some of those events and the highlights that go on in the different parks in the City. Sure. So, as you mentioned, we do have 50 parks,
and they are spread all over the community. But, I will say that we are below the national
standard in terms of acreage for parks. And so, we certainly have areas that are very
densely populated that don’t have a lot of green space. And so, we’re always looking for opportunities
to expand that. But I would say, Closter Park with the new
plazita that’s been there that was installed by the Rotary Clubs a few years back. I think you know, that was a welcoming addition
to that facility. Certainly Cesar Chavez Park gets used very
heavily. And through a partnership last year with the
Building Healthy Communities, and the California Endowment, we were able to rebuild that basketball
court there thanks to a partnership with the Santa Cruz Warriors. And so that was a really exciting addition
to that park. We’re also looking forward to how we can improve
those parks through additional soccer fields and things of that nature. Natividad Creek Park is a great place for
events. You know, we’ve recently had the Take It Outside
event, which drew a number of residents from the community in a great opportunity to celebrate
outdoor space and the amenities that our parks have. Sherwood Park has always been a location for
picnicking, and connected just to that complex in general with the tennis center that’s there,
the Sherwood Hall, close to the Rodeo and the Sports Complex. I mean you know, that really is unique feature
I think to our community, that whole block that really provides a great service to the
community. Right. We are getting ready to celebrate, July is
National Parks and Recreation Month. Now, tell us more about that. Yeah, and so I mean that’s just really a time
that we want to encourage residents to get out to your neighborhood park, to come to
a recreation center. Bring your children, get involved. We are doing on second year of bringing a
program back that we had done many years ago for July which is our Rec Fun in the Park. It’s a mobile recreation program where we
take a variety of activities out to different parts of the community. So, we’ll be at Hartnell Park, we’ll be at
Northgate Park, we’ll be at Natividad Creek Park, and then also I think Monte Bella we’re
going to go to. And really, we’ll have staff out there with
a variety of arts and crafts, games, and just activities which really helps us build connections
to those neighborhoods because we don’t always have a recreation center right there. You know, years ago in our parks system, many
of the recreation buildings in our parks, they had playground programs, and you had
more of that infiltration into the neighborhoods. And so this is our way of trying to connect
more to other areas that we aren’t always in. Right. So, you serve a lot of people in this community
and now it’s National, it will be when this shows, but for July, right? The month of July is National Parks and Recreation
Month. So, in your time at the City, mainly in the
Parks and Recreation area, what are the changes you’ve seen over the years and how do you
see Parks and Recreation evolving in the future? Well you know I like to say that recreation
really kind of is that fourth wheel to the public safety. Uh huh, right. We really are, our whole department, Library
and Community Services really I think can play a huge role in the prevention of violence
in the community. And so, you know, I think we’ve seen an uptick
in that and a better understanding of the role that we can play. You know, we are, rec centers are right embedded
in those neighborhoods and so they really serve as the neighborhood hub. It allows our staff to refer people to various
services. They really look to those centers as engagement
hubs and I think that’s what’s really important. It’s really focusing on our neighborhoods. And I think we can do that, especially with
our Neighborhood Services component of the division. Ana Ambriz, our Neighborhood Services coordinator,
has really been doing a lot to identify and map neighborhood’s groups that are identified
throughout the community and help to provide them resources and access to city services
and connections that can help build their networks so that those groups can be sustainable
through a period of time. Right. So, I understand that there’s now been a push
for educational art in our community. Council, City Council passed an ordinance,
a public arts ordinance that’s actually probably your department’s gonna take an active lead. So both the Library part and Parks and Recreation
are going to be very active and you’ll have a new commission called the Public Arts Commission. So how do you see that integration, alignment
with Parks and Recreation, the new emphasis on public art? I think there’s already a connection that
has been forged. You know, we work with a number of art organizations. One of our recreation facilities we actually
have the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts who are actually housed there. And so, they’re providing ongoing opportunities. We’ve worked with other groups like Caminos
del Arte, Tunas de Nopal. There’s been a number of organizations that
we work through over the years, Hijos del Sol. And I think this art, or focus on art certainly
will help us to broaden the services that we provide in our recreation centers. I mean, I look at our staff and we’re kind
of those generalists, right? Right. And so we don’t have to individually provide
all these services. We can collaborate and partner with a number
of organizations in the community to have them come in a provide new experiences. So, I’m really excited, I think there will
be a number of different groups that will hopefully come up and build up and be able
to work along side the City as we embark on this new journal. Well that’s great to hear. So, let me ask you also, in term of if you
had to move in a particular direction or priority for Parks and Recreation, what would you want
most to happen with the City and its Parks and Recreation programs? I think figuring out how to not only, figure
out how to program in the facilities that we have and the parks that we have, but also
try to identify how can we be creative and find additional park areas? Whether it’s a vacant lot we could somehow
acquire or partner with someone to acquire. I think, you know, really moving forward with
the soccer complex expansion. I mean, that’s going to be critical. Our community is so invested in soccer, and
other sports, but certainly soccer is a very important part of our community’s fabric. You know, we have 11 fields, we have 7 organizations
who have to on a seasonal basis try to divvy up for those 7 organizations, and it really
is a challenge. And so having additional space will be critical
I think. And so to me that’s where it is, it’s just
really trying to take advantage of the assets that we have and continue to partner with
other organizations so that we don’t duplicate services, but try to fill and find those niches
where there’s gaps that we can better serve our residents. So you mentioned a key word: partnerships. And you’ve been able establish great partnerships
with some funding sources and foundations. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about
some key partnerships we have, with the schools, or county, or other agencies. So, we do have a number of partnerships, especially
through the Department as a whole. On our side of the table, we do work closely
with the schools. One of the areas I’d like to see expanded
is how we can better have joint use agreements, to be able to get into the school district
more, because you think about where are the facilities. We aren’t probably going to be building a
number of recreation facilities, but are there ways that we can partnership to get access
to the school fields, to the school gymnasiums. We have a great partnership, the department
does, with Los Padres Elementary School and there’s a homework center that the Library
runs there out of one of their portable classrooms. How can we try to expand that and have new
opportunities for the school. So I think that’s something that’s important. We do partner with CASP, Community Alliance
for Safety and Peace. We’ve been very involved in that organization,
working with a number of other nonprofits and community based organizations, the faith
community, really trying to address the safety of Salinas and the county as a whole, really. So, thankfully through that partnership through
the Community Safety Division we have been successful and received funding in order to
expand our program and provide the Saturday night teen program that I mentioned earlier. Thankfully we received additional funding
and were able to expand so now where we started out at 2 facilities, we now have 4. Which really are all concentrated in East
Salinas and so I’m committed to trying to find additional resources through grants and
other means which would allow us to expand to other areas because we know there’s a need
for teen programs throughout our community. Right. The department has a relationship with Building
Health Communities. In fact, we just did a Spanish meeting for
our master planning process, and something we could maybe talk a little bit about too. With that partnership, they were able to help
us convene a meeting purely in Spanish to reach the Alisal community really where they’re
at, to get feedback on parks, recreation, athletics, and libraries as well. Which is really critical for this effort that
we started about 5 months ago. Was there a good turnout? Yes, we had over 60 residents from the community. That’s wonderful. And heard a lot of great feedback from the
residents saying this was wonderful, they felt heard. Some of them had never been through a process
like that, so it was really exciting. That was really through the connections that
we have, through BHC, through the Center for Community Advocacy, CCA, we work closely with
them on various special events throughout the year. I think really it’s those relationships that
help us as a government entity really make the difference in our community. So, I understand from the work the City’s
doing, there is a Master Plan on its way involving your department, the Library, Parks and Recreation
facilities, community centers that you have. Can you give a little bit of an update on
where that is and how you see that progressing the rest of this year? Sure, so back in November the Council did
authorize a contract with an organization called Conservation Technics who was really
our consultant on the Plan. They spent the initial probably 2 months really
doing assessments, and so we had folks out looking at all of our facilities, meeting
with staff and talking about the types of programs and the things that we offer to the
community. And then we initiated a community outreach
process, and so over about probably a 2 month period we held 5 community meetings that had
probably about 200 people participate over those 5 meetings. And then we also were doing a number of pop
up activities where you actually take your information to an organization or to an event,
really to the people. So we held 15 pop up activities over the course
of that outreach effort we reached close to 1,400 people. We also initiated a survey and reached almost
800 responses. So we’ve had a lot of initial engagement,
but we’re not done. Our consultants right now are really analyzing
all the data that we’ve received and we’re getting ready to reestablish the steering
committee that we identified early on who went through some facilitation training in
order to help us. We felt it was really important that the community
help lead that process. It wasn’t consultants from another community
coming in and holding meetings. It was our residents doing that. Right, that’s rather unique. It is. And it’s been a really good experience. I think we’ve learned a lot over the first
few months. And so we’re going to be reconvening that
group to identify and demonstrate to them what we’ve done thus far, and make sure that
they think that that is a good start. See if there’s any gaps they’d like us to
focus on, and really see how we can take this now to the next level. So, we’re going to continue with community
engagement. We’re also working very closely with the Alisal
Vibrancy Plan. They’re focusing purely on East Salinas and
the Alisal area, and it’ll be really important for us to be able to integrate the information
that they obtain through their community outreach into this Master Plan. We’re also working with the Big Sur Land Trust,
which we’re all so excited about their acquisition of some of the acres of Carr Lake and seeing
that project that we’ve talked about for decades really get some traction. They’re just working through how they’re going
to do community outreach. It’s going to be really important that we
weave all of that information together as we move forward because this plan is a 10
year plan that really is going to give us that road map and we want to make sure that
residents really have a say in how our libraries function, our recreation facilities, our park
facilities, our athletic facilities. You will hear folks talk about how we don’t
have enough baseball fields as well. I think it’ll be important for this plan to
help guide us as we move forward. You mentioned baseball, and that was one of
the feedback things you’ve heard in working with the community. Are there other themes that you’re hearing
a little bit more about? Planning’s not done of course, but it might
be worthwhile to say a few things about what you’re hearing and the types of concerns and
wishes that our residents really want in our parks and recreation facilities. Sure, I think the City has done outreach over
the years around priorities and I think we’re still hearing a lot of the themes that have
come up for many years. Youth programs, senior programs, homework
centers, literacy classes, those themes are there. But we’re also hearing about folks who are
looking for more walking trails, so more of that health and wellness, being able to get
out into their parks and be able to enjoy a day. One of things that we have chuckled, every
time we’ve done a pop up, is people want water elements in the parks. Wow. That’s been something that was an a-ha moment
for me. I think of Salinas, and yeah we have some
really warm days, and certainly this week has been, we’ve seen that trend, but I don’t
always think of Salinas as being weather where you want to go run out and lay in the park
in water, but kids don’t care about really the heat, they just like that feature. That’s been kind of an a-ha moment for us,
that has kind of been neat. So we’ll be seeing how that all kind of weaves
our next round of outreach and engagement will really be around priorities. Our consultants are going to be identifying
the top 10 themes. We have heard from residents that while certainly
they recognize we need new facilities, they also want us to be able to take care of the
facilities that we have before we really try to pursue additional. That’s been interesting and probably not a
surprise for folks. Yeah it’s been really exciting and I look
forward to having more concrete results that we can share with the community and really
make sure that they acknowledge that it is what they have said through this process and
certainly validate that and also include anything that we haven’t heard yet that might come
up. The budget just passed, the Council passed
that just recently. What’s going to be your focus as a superintendent
of parks and recreation, in terms of the budget in this fiscal year, which runs from July
1 through June 30th of next year. I think our focus will just be, continue to
be, how we can be as efficient as we can. Our division, if you will, has seen tough
times over the years, was cut significantly back in 2010. Thankfully through the voters and Measure
G we’ve been able to build that back a little bit. We are at a staffing of 13, but I will say
that it’s the most dedicated staff that you will see who are here to serve our residents
and so I think it’s just making sure that we’re being responsive. We’re very adept at kind of adapting and improvising
where we might go down a certain focus because we think that’s what the community’s looking
for, and they say “not that’s not, we want you to go here”, so we quickly adjust based
on what we hear from the community. It’s important, you know, our division merged
with the Library probably 6, 7 years ago probably around there, the way time goes. I don’t know that we have ever fully integrated
those services. I think over the last year there’s been a
stronger focus on that under the direction of Cary Ann Siegfried, our director. I would continue to see how we can integrate
those services further. Whether it’s senior programming, whether it’s
additional art programming, whatever that is, I definitely see a stronger connection
than we’ve had since we started. I think we’ll continue to work on that and
improve our efficiencies that way. So again, for our public and people looking
in, how do they participate, how do they get active in the programming? If they want to take their daughter, for example,
to some of the youth programs, to register them, how do they go about doing that? And what are some of the other key areas in
terms of contacts and having access to both your programs and your staff? The recreation center on Lincoln Avenue, 320
Lincoln, is our hub, our main hub for the division and that’s where myself and our Community
Service Manager Sheila Molinari are housed. That’s where we take a lot of registrations,
especially for our sports programs. So that’s a great resource for folks. We also have information that’s on our website. We haven’t quite gotten to online registration,
but it’s my hope that this next year that is a priority that we’re trying to see how
we con improve that efficiency and be available there. All of our neighborhood centers, most of our
programs, I will say, are free, especially out in the neighborhood centers. I would just encourage folks, if they have
a child that needs after school care or is looking for something positive for them, just
to go to one of their neighborhood recreation centers. We do require a registration form, primarily
for emergency purposes in case we need to get in contact with someone. It’s a pretty easy process to register your
child with us. We do offer some fee based programming, not
only in our youth sports program, but we also have karate classes at a number of the facilities. But the majority of our programs are free. We are looking at how we might introduce some
additional fee based programming, specialty classes and things of that nature, in the
coming years as well. Great. So, you have a Library and Community Services
Commission, right? We do. And you work with them very closely. How do they interact with your Parks and Recreation
responsibilities? We meet on a monthly basis, the second Wednesday
of the month at the City Hall Rotunda, 6 o’clock. Every meeting we generally have some level
of communication with them around some topic. Our commission isn’t like Planning and Zoning,
or the Traffic Commission all the time, where they’re taking a lot action. Ours is more informational. However, they do get involved in making recommendations
to the City Council as well, if we have a request to rename a facility, or a public
art request, and things of that nature. You know, it’s been really exciting to see
that commission change from when we had a separate rec park commission, a separate library
commission, we brought them together and we have a very large commission. It’s now down to the 7 members as all the
other commissions are. It’s been great to see them evolve over the
years. They seem to be very excited about the work
that we do along with the Library and the community, and really are champions for us. Well that’s wonderful to hear that you’re
working with the commission. And they’re very active, right? Mhm, they are. There will be new appointments I’m sure as
vacancies occur in the commission, and to be on that commission you just have to want
to make a difference in terms of the Library and all the Parks and Recreation services
that the City has to offer, right? Absolutely. I think if you contact the City Clerk and
let them know, they have an application process. Certainly reach out to your Councilmember
as well in the District and let them know you’re willing to serve. It’s a really fun and exciting opportunity. We actually recently just had a new appointee
and he’s the first youth member, Anthony Rocha, who’s been appointed to our commission, which
I think was really full circle for him. As I’m sure you’re aware, with the City Council
determining that we weren’t going to continue with the Youth Commission, this was an opportunity
for him to serve. Right. But the Youth Commission, even though it’s
not there the way it was, we really have identified new opportunities through the Local Government
Institute that came across a program and a new initiative, Governments Engaging Youth. Tell us a little more about that program,
that’s a brand new program. It is a brand new program, and it’s a pilot
project that we’re starting and it’s called the Youth and Government Institute. We’re going to be looking for, it’s the first
3 weeks of July, the 5th through the 21st, and we’re really looking at other youth leadership
academies the the Community Safety Division runs, we are going to be focusing on leadership
development. But we’re also really trying to focus on introduction
to local government and also the importance of civic engagement, and then advocacy in
the community. This is really a neat experience. We’re hoping that from the graduates of that
project that we’ll be able to have 2 appointed youth to the Library and Community Services
Commission, which will if we see success in that area, we can look to see how we can appoint
youth to other commissions where it’s reasonable. Because it’s really important that the youth
in our community, you know we are, 35% of our population below the age of 19, and so
they have a huge stake in our community, especially into the future, and it’s really important
that they have an opportunity to serve. But we have to make sure they understand why
that’s critical and that’s important. So we’re really excited, we’ve been working
a lot with the City of Sacramento, and they do a summer in city hall program. Ana Ambriz is going to head this program up,
and she’s had lots of communication with them around best practices, and where their success
is. So we’re really excited. I think we’re going to be using this as the
initial year. We’ve pulled it together very quickly, and
so I’m sure we’re going to be able to make changes as we go forward. We’ve met with a number of community residents
who are involved with youth to get feedback around the curriculum and the activities that
we’re including. We’re really excited about it. Right. One of the things I think that’s key for services
that you provide in Parks and Recreation is the volunteers you use right? So, give us a little information about that
component of how Parks and Recreation operates with the volunteers that you have. Sure, so Ana Ambriz, our Neighborhood Services
Coordinator, also serves as the Volunteer Coordinator for all of the City. We have a number of volunteers which I can
talk about in our own department, but it’s also important that we engage residents to
volunteer in other departments as well. We have volunteers that serve at City Hall,
that serve in Public Works, the Animal Shelter has a number of volunteers, certainly the
Library has a lot as well. On the Recreation side, we have volunteers
that help with our senior program. Our youth sports program, we have hundreds
of teams throughout the whole year with different sports. All of the coaches are volunteer coaches. You think about the connection that we have
to the community and opportunities and for them to give back is just really critical. I’m trying to think where else we have volunteers,
but it really is the backbone for especially recreation. The work that we do with 13 full time employees,
we need help. We have a lot of temporary employees that
support our department, but volunteers are critical as well. Well I can certainly feel your passion and
excitement about Parks and Recreation, about the City. So I want to thank you, Kristan, for being
on the show today and making a wonderful difference in our community, improving the quality of
life through Parks and Recreation programs. Thank you, it was a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

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