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If anyone is equipped to make do with Riverside's lean, post-recession budget, it's the city's new parks director, Adolfo Cruz.
The past 14 years of Cruz's 24 years in parks and recreation were spent in Stockton, which is about to exit a bankruptcy that began in 2012.
Though Stockton has "been through probably the toughest of financial times that any city can go through," Cruz said, he learned from the experience, and the belt-tightening helped the city focus on providing the most important services more efficiently.
In Riverside, Cruz and others agree, the big challenge is maintaining the city's 54 parks, community centers and sports facilities.
The "Riverside renaissance" public works initiative built four new parks and upgraded about 20 existing recreation facilities. Despite that expansion, the city parks department budget, at $14.5 million this year, is about the same as it was five years ago, and parks staff is slightly smaller than it was then.
Cruz, who started work in June, already is taking on the difficult task. He has stopped by community meetings, visited about 46 parks and met with about three-quarters of his staff one-on-one or in small groups.
"For me, it's very important early on to get to meet everybody," he said during a visit to the Dales Senior Center, where seniors were enjoying a luau-themed luncheon Wednesday.
"Ultimately, what we do, all of these activities, these facilities, I don't do any of it. The staff does."
Some in the community, including Latino Network President Ofelia Valdez-Yeager, are glad to hear that.
Valdez-Yeager was a big fan of former parks director Ralph Nuñez, whose retirement this spring after nearly 10 years was met with surprise and dismay from many in the community. Nuñez used to credit staff for keeping the parks nice and the recreation programs running, Valdez-Yeager said, "and I think that's the spirit I hear from Adolfo."
Cruz is just getting started, so it's too early to review his performance, Valdez-Yeager said, but she likes what she has seen. He has promised to work toward a long-term solution to fund the School of the Arts, which serves hundreds of children with low-cost classes in music, dance and art. "He knows it's important to the community so he has committed to do that, which we very much appreciate," she said.
Cruz, 52, started out coaching high school basketball and football in San Jose, where he grew up. From there, he began coordinating recreation programs for the city of San Jose.
"As I got more responsibility, I really enjoyed that," he said, adding that while he liked working with kids, "I still get that coaching opportunity (now), but it's with staff."
Cruz and his wife, Donna, wanted to move to Southern California because their son Matthew lives in North Hollywood and their daughter Gabrielle wants to attend college in the region. She'll be a junior at Poly High School this fall.
Cruz will receive an annual salary of $160,000 in Riverside.
"I'm very impressed with everything that the city has done here," he said of Riverside, noting the investments of the renaissance project.
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