Photos courtesy of the City of Bakersfield.
Darin Budak, parks superintendent for the city of Bakersfield, Calif., oversees a staff of over 150 full-time employees.

Darin Budak
City of Bakersfield, Calif.

1. What is your job?

My position is parks superintendent for the city of Bakersfield, Calif. My responsibilities include park planning, construction and the maintenance of 52 parks, which cover an area of 1,100 acres. Bakersfield has a combination of passive and active park space that is divided into five maintenance districts. The parks maintenance crews cover every aspect of maintenance, from the streetscapes to median, parking area, walkway, trails and bike path maintenance, along with the buildings, playgrounds, aquatic features, landscaping and turf—including the athletic fields.

Currently, there are eight baseball fields and three designated soccer/football fields, along with many neighborhood parks with green space for non competitive play. An 11-field baseball complex is under construction and is projected to open this fall. It includes a quad, a three-field and a two-field configuration, plus two fields facing each other and sharing a common outfield for Pony League play.

The parks department maintains 32 miles of bike paths, one skate park, six dog parks and some natural areas, including the river’s edge and a couple of outdoor amphitheaters that host a summer concert series. The Bright House Networks Amphitheater accommodates 3,500.

2. What attracted you to this position and prepared you for it?

The opportunity to work in a large department serving a very large community drew me to this position in February 2007. I enjoy the challenges and all the variables involved in managing the personnel and budgetary resources on this scale.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. To further establish myself as a dedicated professional, I’ve earned and maintained Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) status through the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA), Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) status through the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and Playground Safety Certification, also through NRPA.

3. Why did Bakersfield seek national agency accreditation?

The city of Bakersfield parks and recreation departments earned national accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). We’re the second city in California to achieve that status. It’s more than a feather in our caps. It assures the community that the parks and recreation services we provide are high quality and well administered in accordance with approved professional practices.

As a CPRP of an accredited city, I’ll be serving on an accreditation team and will have the opportunity to assess the operations of other agencies. New ideas gleaned from this interaction will help advance our goals of continuous improvement.

4. How is your staff organized?

Bakersfield’s parks department is unique in my experience in that we not only have 154 full-time employees, but also our own planning section. There are seven park supervisor personnel that answer directly to me. They run the field crews, with each averaging from 20 to 25 full-time employees. Those employees include the park services coordinators, who serve as working foremen overseeing those out in the field; and service maintenance workers, who lead a crew of two or three employees who may be facility workers or our entry-level personnel, classified as laborers. Depending on the section, the staff may also include heavy equipment operators and craft workers. We also employ from 30 to 40 seasonal workers, depending on the time of the year.

5. How do you communicate with your staff?

Once a month, the entire department meets. Our director, Dianne Hoover, my immediate supervisor, takes part in the discussion of issues. We also incorporate training into these meetings.

I meet with the parks supervisors weekly to discuss staff and operational concerns. Once a month, I hold an area meeting with each of them and their personnel.

A year ago, I began holding monthly meetings with our front line personnel, working directly with a representative from each of the areas. I let them set the agenda so we can discuss the issues that they deem important. This gives the staff the opportunity to talk to me directly without having their supervisor or parks services coordinator involved. Other staff members have begun to provide information to their representatives to bring to me. In turn, I’ve been able to reinforce the importance of more direct communication between the front line staff and their supervisors. As issues are addressed and resolved, this program not only builds credibility for management, it also demonstrates to our staff the importance of their role in the overall success of our operation.

The Cancer Survivor Monument at Beach Park.
The parks department staff maintains everything from natural areas, like this section of Yokuts Park, to hardscape features to athletic fields.

6. How do you coordinate and manage the sports program?

Bakersfield is in Southern California, about 1.5 hours north of Los Angeles, so some form of activity takes place in our parks year round. I participate in the weekly recreation division meetings and serve as the liaison between parks and recreation. I make the staffing commitments for organized league play and for special events. We regularly draw several thousand people into our parks for events, and our staff covers both the site preparation and the site-related issues of event day management.

The sports season starts in early February with organized play running into mid-November, bringing weather-related challenges from summer heat to late fall rain and frost. Our softball programs alone run at least three sessions to accommodate all the league play. There are between 100 and 125 teams participating each session.

7. Is water an issue?

The city founders secured all the water rights to the Kern River, so we’re an anomaly when it comes to water. The city water department sells water to area farmers, as well as residents. We are currently working to educate the public on the value of our water resources and the need for wise water use for long-term conservation.

We are on a Maxicom system for the majority of the city, which allows us to water based on ET (evapotranspiration) and enables us to make precise adjustments for our microclimate variations. The system will automatically shut down if we have rain at one of the weather stations we maintain.

8. Do big city factors affect your program?

Like most big cities, we do have a gang population and must deal with its graffiti and vandalism. Bakersfield has taken an aggressive approach, setting up a graffiti hotline with response within 24 hours. We’re hit with graffiti almost daily in our parks. We only call in the response team for assistance if it covers a big area, such as the side of a building. Our crews handle the minor situations. It becomes part of the daily routine, but it’s extremely time consuming and takes staff commitment to keep it an ongoing priority.

Jastro Spray Park is just one of the multiple water-related sites the city of Bakersfield parks department staff maintains.

9. What is your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is the fluctuating state of the economy and the budget uncertainty it causes. My average annual operations and maintenance budget runs about $13.3 million, but the state has the ability to take shared funds from the cities, which could lead to 10 to 15 percent cuts across the board. Our capital projects budgets are separate, averaging $8 to $12 million a year. With those funds also facing potential cuts, we’re doing minimal activity on capital projects.

10. How are you handling the budgeting challenge?

I’ve worked with my staff closely to review and reprioritize our level of service in all park maintenance. With the budget cuts put into place this past year, we’ve lost over 2,000 hours of maintenance labor a week. We’re adjusting mowing in many areas from once a week to once every 10 to 14 days. We’ve reduced aerification from three or four times a year to twice. We’ve cut fertilization to at least half. This hits our current program and will affect us later as those changes are reflected in conditions. Managing coming out of this economic slowdown will be as hard as managing going into it and sustaining sites through it.

It is a challenge to keep morale up staffwide when everyone is expected to do more with less. I have the best supervisors I have ever worked with, and we are determined to keep our staff informed on the budgets and the pending situations. We want them to hear any information from us first.