Proposed San Diego ballot measure would allow child care facilities at recreation centers in city parks

San Diego may give city voters a chance to boost local child care options this November by supporting a ballot measure that would make it legal for 42 city recreation centers to offer child care services.

The proposed ballot measure comes as San Diego officials have been scrambling in recent years to address a shortage of local child care options for city workers and many residents, some of whom can’t work due to lack of child care.

A comprehensive survey this winter of 1,100 city facilities found that only 72 are viable candidates for child care services, and that 42 of those are recreation centers in city parks where child care is not a legal activity.

The city charter says any land dedicated for “park, recreation or cemetery purposes shall not be used for any but park, recreation or cemetery purposes,” unless city voters approve such an exception with at least two-thirds support.

The ballot measure, which the City Council’s Rules Committee unanimously endorsed last month, would ask voters to approve such an exception.

After City Attorney Mara Elliott’s staff writes up the proposed language for the measure, the full City Council will be asked this summer to place it on the ballot. The deadline for the council to approve November ballot measures is Aug. 12.

A report released last week by University of San Diego researchers says San Diego County only has enough licensed child care facilities to cover half the young children in working families.

The report also found that child care is unaffordable for many families even when they can find a spot, and that more than three-quarters of child care providers are struggling financially.

Councilmember Chris Cate, who is spearheading efforts behind the ballot measure, said reversing the parks prohibition is the “next logical step” for the city in addressing the child care shortage.

Councilmember Joe LaCava said he supports the measure, but he stressed it should be written carefully enough to ensure the change won’t allow construction of private buildings in city parks.

LaCava wants the change limited to allowing child care services at city recreation enters in a limited enough way that rec center space won’t be monopolized by them.

Blake Hofstad, who represents a group called Parent Voices, told the Rules Committee last month that the proposed ballot measure would make a big difference.

“We know one of the biggest barriers for child care supply is that often it’s very difficult to find space,” he said. “This is a great step the city can take to continue to leverage their existing properties to serve a much-needed purpose.”

Courtney Baltiyskyy of the county YMCA said the ballot measure would be an opportunity for significant progress in solving the local child care shortage.

A YMCA survey last year found that roughly 12 percent of the county’s child care providers closed during the pandemic and that nearly 190,000 children under 12 don’t have a stay-at-home parent and don’t have child care.

The survey of city facilities came in response to such findings. It sought to determine how many city facilities have at least 5,000 square feet on the ground floor and outdoor space that could be converted into a playground.

The city last year created an Office of Child and Youth Success to boost equity by coordinating services and activities available to young people, including child care. Longtime local school official Andrea O’Hara was appointed last month to lead the office.

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