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75 years of LARPD

In spite of challenges, Livermore parks district stands 'healthy' and 'efficient', GM says

For the past 75 years, Livermore Area Recreation and Park District has provided the community with activities, programs, facilities and services to help all residents enjoy open space, remain active and give youth opportunities to learn and explore nature.

"We take care of people from early childhood all the way through their senior years -- we have something for every age group," said LARPD General Manager Mat Fuzie, adding, "We have a couple of taglines here, 'We're your quality of life special district' and 'LARPD, making memories and changing lives' which we use to explain to people what we do."

LARPD Beginners Doll Cake class 1969
LARPD Beginners Doll Cake Class in 1969. Photo courtesy of LARPD

LARPD is an independent special district. As such, it is a political subdivision of the state -- a completely independent governmental agency, according to its website.

While he's only been with LARPD since 2018, Fuzie said that he has researched LARPD history and from his perspective, "The biggest achievement for LARPD and the city of Livermore is that it's been a good relationship that has sustained arts and recreation better than most communities." He added that the reason for that success is because LARPD is a special district and their funding is separate.

The legacy of LARPD began with a special election on June 10, 1947, in which Livermore voters ratified a resolution of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to form the Livermore Area Park, Recreation and Parkway District.

The county passed a resolution that provided for a special election to be held in the Livermore Area Park, Recreation and Parkway District on Jan. 21, 1958 for the purpose of deciding whether or not the district should be governed by its own Board of Directors and providing for the first Board of Directors of the district.

Those first five elected board members were William A. Clark, John S. Foster, Jr., Lester J. Knott, Leonard G. Lind, and M.W. "Tex" Spruiell.

On Dec. 8, 1959, the Board of Directors changed the name of the district to the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District.

The work that LARPD does is under the guidance of the district's motto, "To provide the people of the Livermore Area with outstanding recreation programs and a system of parks, trails, recreation areas, and facilities that promote enjoyment, lifelong learning, and healthy, active lifestyles."

In addition to offering numerous fitness and recreation programs, LARPD also organizes and operates Extended Student Services, a licensed child development program serving children transitional kindergarten through fifth grade in Livermore.

Fuzie said the ESS program has been a big part of LARPD's community support initiatives.

With its meal service partnership with Open Heart Kitchen, LARPD also helps support the senior population and the unhoused community in Livermore.

In recent years, LARPD has become synonymous with the Robert Livermore Community Center, which serves as the hub for the district's offices and many of its program facilities, including its popular year-round aquatics center. However, the complex has only been open since 2005.

LARPD RLCC 2003 construction
Construction of the Robert Livermore Community Center in 2003. Photo courtesy of LARPD

Prior to that, Fuzie said the district would hold their programs at various other properties throughout the city including Veterans Memorial Hall, which belongs to the county.

"We had two buildings on Trevarno (Road) that were our headquarters prior to RLCC. Bothwell was a teen center and was programmed, but now it's the Bothwell Arts Center," Fuzie added as additional examples. He said that several of the agreements they've had with other entities to program at their facilities are still in place today.

Operating for 75 years, however, has not come without its fair share of challenges. Fuzie said that the district faces funding obstacles.

"Almost 40% of our revenue goes to ERAF (educational revenue augmentation fund), so we don't have the same percentage of funding that the taxpayers intended in 1947," he said.

LARPD Rodeo Parade 1975
Flying an LARPD banner in the 1975 Livermore Rodeo parade. . Photo courtesy of LARPD

There are some steps the district has taken to account for this issue, including a structural reorganization to reduce management and overhead costs -- which Fuzie said happened to also coincide with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said they have also changed their budgeting practices and are doing more service-based budgeting. "We're pushing our funding sources out to services which does two things: it reduces your overhead and it increases your revenue and that has allowed us to get a very realistic look at what our future needs are going to be," he said.

Although citizens have suggested that LARPD should make a push for a bond act or new parcel tax for maintenance, Fuzie said they are not comfortable taking that step just yet until they've completely evaluated their efficiencies.

Projects that funding is needed for include replacing equipment at some of the city's oldest parks, irrigation systems and other infrastructure improvements.

The COVID-19 pandemic also proved challenging for LARPD.

"It was a very complex time with very complex solutions," Fuzie said.

In addition to laying off all of the temporary staff, the district also had to let go of more than 20% of its full-time staff. "We lost approximately $6 million in revenue out of a $21 million budget, so we were hit really hard," Fuzie said.

The district also significantly reduced its services and pivoted others to outdoors, which put them up against weather and air quality challenges. However, they were able to sustain their meal program for seniors and provide childcare services to essential workers.

The district officials used the time to reevaluate their offerings and assess ways they could better serve the community with the resources and staff that they had.

"We built back smarter which incredibly, we have more cash than we've ever had. We're operating at an incredibly efficient rate," Fuzie said. "We're providing more programs now than we were providing prior to the pandemic," he added.

LARPD also played a major role in getting Livermore residents vaccinated by partnering with the city and the school district to roll out COVID-19 vaccines as early as possible and using some of their facilities for vaccination clinics. "

We were one of the biggest contributors of vaccination sites in the city. In fact, we were (vaccinating) about 1,000 people at every clinic at one point when we were rolling the strongest," Fuzie said.

With so much uncertainty still looming as 2022 approached, LARPD decided it would not plan to make a big splash for its 75th anniversary. "Coming out of COVID this year, we weren't sure how long it was going to linger or how successful we were going to be, so we figured it might be a bad idea to be spending money celebrating us rather than spending money providing for the public," Fuzie said.

However, Fuzie noted that so far the district has emerged "healthy in almost every aspect."

LARPD May Nissen Playground
May Nissen Community Park was renovated in 2019 to incorporate a whimsical, storybook theme with a custom fairy tale playground. Photo courtesy of LARPD