Parks have assumed a heftier role during the pandemic, becoming food distribution sites, gathering spots and operating spaces for local businesses.

But according to city staff, the quality of many San Jose parks is on the decline and has been for the past few years.

A recent report released by the city auditor found 72% of San Jose parks last year scored a 3.4 overall rating out of 5, meaning the parks were “acceptable” but needed work or minor repairs. This grade hasn’t improved much overtime, hovering between 3.3 and 3.4 since 2015.

At Overfelt Gardens, the report stated drinking fountains, restrooms, pathways and overall aesthetics have deteriorated in the past three years. Ten other San Jose parks, in addition to Overfelt, scored below a 3 in 2019, meaning city staff felt the parks needed major renovation.

“The parks are really where most of the interaction and the interfacing between the residents and the city takes place,” Councilmember Sergio Jimenez said. “But when the parks aren’t doing well, when there’s a lot of gopher holes, when sprinklers aren’t working, when the slides are falling apart, it sends a signal that things aren’t well.”

Budget cuts due to COVID-19 may make it even more difficult for the city to maintain or renovate and maintain its parks, according to the audit.

“We know (and often take for granted) that parks offer opportunities for recreation, attract private investment, connect people to nature, and promote walking and biking,” Jason Su, executive director of Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, wrote in a letter to the City Council. All this is challenged by years of deferred maintenance leading to almost $400 million worth of work and need.”

“[W]hen the parks aren’t doing well, when there’s a lot of gopher holes, when sprinklers aren’t working, when the slides are falling apart, it sends a signal that things aren’t well.”

Councilman Sergio Jimenez

In addition to the dilapidated structures within the parks, the audit noted accessibility issues.

Districts 4, 6, and 7 in San Jose have the highest concentration of non-English speakers but many of their park signs display notices in English only.

The city’s language access policy says the city should “make reasonable efforts to minimize barriers to accessing city programs or services for customers with limited English proficiency and ensure equal access regardless of language proficiency and cultural background.”

Park signs provide information such as hours of operation, restrictions and hotlines to call to express concerns.

“We know that out park signs are written in English and that doesn’t connect with everybody in our community,” said Avi Yotam, deputy director for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services. “We really value what the auditors pointed out and that there is a pathway for us better serve the community and make parks more accessible and more welcoming to all.”

The report recommended the parks department refine its management systems and processes for collecting data so they can better identify which San Jose parks need repair. Yotam said the audit contributes to the city’s Activate SJ plan, which seeks to improve and expand park services over the next two decades.

“Through this audit, we’re able to take a look at our park maintenance operation in particular, and put it under the microscope and look for opportunities for us to become more efficient and more effective,” Yotam said.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.