Admittedly, it can be difficult to get excited to talk about modifying trash removal operations, but for the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District (LARPD), managing trash is a significant expense, and even minor process improvements can impact the bottom line in very real ways.

Trash management was a primary topic of a special board of directors meeting held May 13, along with discussion about returning the district’s dormant aquatic facilities to service.

“(The trash removal discussion) actually started out as a safety issue for maintenance workers,” said Jan Palajac, LARPD board chair. “What we’re currently using are these 55-gallon drums, so they hold quite a bit of trash. They have to pull the trash up and out of the barrels. That was causing some back problems for some workers, so they formed an ad-hoc committee to take a look at the situation and what they could do to improve practices.”

LARPD Assistant General Manager Patricia Lord said discussion of the safety issue led to a wider conversation, including topics like environmental stewardship, public education and reducing trash in the district’s parks.

The ad-hoc committee recommended continued training on safe lifting techniques and adopted a new, easy-to-empty trash receptacle design that will, over time, replace the current trash cans in the district. The district stated an intent to reduce the number of receptacles in neighborhood parks by 50%, a move that will help offset the higher cost of the new cans. Fewer receptacles will require some cooperation from the neighborhood park users, who will be asked to carry their trash out with them.

“Before we can be really be successful in making changes in our parks system, we discussed the need to launch a public education campaign on the benefits of ‘pack it in, pack it out’ – to promote a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ mentality and practice with signage, promotion on our website, social media, and we would garner support of our park ambassadors,” said Lord. “We’re also looking at creating incentives for participation in our program.”

The district also opted to discontinue the distribution of mutt mitts – plastic bags that make it easy for dog owners to clean up after their pet – a move that will deliver much-needed savings.

“The cost of providing the mitts and having to go out there and replenish them all the time, labor and materials and all that, is something in the neighborhood of $75,000 a year,” Palajac said. “We’re having a real budget problem. We’re going to supply what we still have on hand, and then at the end of that, we’ll discontinue supplying mutt mitts.”

Mat Fuzie, LARPD general manager, noted the district is working with the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) to find ways to use aquatic facilities that are currently shuttered due to the county’s stay-at-home order. The district provided ACPHD a plan based on guidelines developed by USA Swimming that would allow controlled use of pools by swim teams or for senior lap swimming. Fuzie said that while ACPHD felt the USA Swimming guidelines were too permissive and asked for changes, they are collaborating with the district in an attempt to develop an acceptable plan.

“We’re in a back-and-forth dialogue with county health as to what they will allow,” Fuzie said. “They are being conversational. … We’re hoping that we can come up with a program that allows our pools to be used for appropriate, socially distanced recreational activities.”

If an agreement with the county can be reached, and programs can be put into place this summer, the revenue generated will improve the district’s financial outlook. During an emergency board meeting held April 28, it was disclosed that the district will suffer a $900,000 operation loss for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The district is currently not forecasting any revenue until September. The district’s 2020-2021 budget will be discussed during the June board meetings.

One bright spot in LARPD’s financial outlook has been unplanned revenue from parking fees at Sycamore Grove Park.

“Our revenues at Sycamore Grove are up because our numbers have about quadrupled over our normal attendance,” Fuzie said. “Our walk-ins are a huge number, and we’re asking people to consider making a donation when they walk in. There’s a donation station there, and all those donations will be returned to that park.”