In Closed Session

Equity — that's a tough concept for rational people to argue against, isn't it?

It sounds sort of like equality, and most people likely think it means the same thing. And there, as they say, is the rub.

Equity and equitable long have been buzzwords for "we want our fair share" from groups or constituencies who think they aren't getting it — their fair share, that is. And more often than not, they have a valid point.

But the solutions aren't always as cut and dried as it might seem.

Equity took center stage at the City Council meeting this week, with four "have-not" council members — Lena Gonzalez (First), Dee Andrews (Sixth), Roberto Uranga (Seventh) and Rex Richardson (Ninth) — calling for a Parks, Recreation and Marine report on how the city's park and recreation money is being spent. The assumption behind the request is that parks, and therefore residents, in the west, central and north parts of the city are getting short shrift.

The Gazette can claim credit (or share the blame) for starting the debate about this topic. A couple of weeks ago, we ran a story about how the First District's Willmore City Heritage Association was making a formal complaint about how the city's Municipal Band was not playing there this summer. As currently budgeted, the expensive publicly-financed band plays 23 summer concerts — four days a week for six weeks, minus the Fourth of July.

Three of the four days each week are "taken," with traditional and heavily attended concerts at El Dorado Park (Fridays), Marine Stadium (Thursdays) and Los Cerritos Park (Wednesdays). That leaves Tuesdays for the band to hopscotch around town, giving other areas a taste of the big band sound.

You can quickly see how the recreation provided by the Municipal Band isn't going to be equitable if you define that as appearing the same number of times in every district. There are sufficient reasons why that isn't going to happen — the limited number of concerts chief among them — so the have-nots have broadened the debate. If the Third and Fifth districts (Los Cerritos straddles the Seventh and Eighth districts, putting Uranga in a bit of an awkward position) are going to have six $15,000+ concerts every summer, they say, what's the city doing to make up for that where the band doesn't play?

The larger version of that question has been front and center at Parks and Rec literally for decades. To start with, the way Long Beach is laid out and developed, the east side of the city has most of the parks and open space — think El Dorado, Heartwell and Recreation parks. That prompted a huge push, as far back as the 1980s, to develop more parkland in the more heavily urban parts of the city.

That was tough, simply by definition. But the city was at least partially successful with the development of Cesar Chavez Park in the First District, Davenport Park in the Ninth District, Admiral Kidd Park in the Seventh District, etc. There also was an emphasis on developing pocket parks — the recently opened Gumbiner Park on Alamitos Avenue is a good example of that.

Developing skate parks is another example of efforts to be equitable. To be sure, the first city skate park was built at El Dorado. But the second, and still largest, skate park was at Houghton, and McBride Park's skateboard facility has received by far the most attention.

During the Great Recession, there was a concerted effort to develop and save recreation programs in the have-not parts of the city. In fact, the team sports programs were totally revamped to be sure things were more equitable (that program has since essentially disappeared).

The point is, the city has worked hard to make parks and recreation more equitable. But the report requested Tuesday still will show "inequities," because it is physically impossible to provide the same amenities. Beaches and open water aren't going to make it to the Sixth District any time soon, even with sea level rise.

There are alternatives. Parks and Recreation long has sponsored a summer beach day, bringing youngsters in day camps all around the city to play in the sand. The summer movies in the park can be found most frequently far away from the east side. More of that is doable.

I agree that things can be more fair. But I also caution the council to not force a Solomon's decision onto the Municipal Band, recreation programs and the rest. Cutting the baby in half may look equitable, but it does no one any good.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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