Measure to allow child care in San Diego parks and rec centers wins voter approval. Now what’s next?
With Measure H’s passage, dozens of city recreation centers will be reviewed, along with other facilities, to determine whether they are suitable. In some cases, the cost of conversion may be too high.
Child-care advocates are celebrating election results that show San Diego voters have approved a ballot measure that could ease a city shortage of affordable child-care options.
Measure H gave voters the option to change city rules to allow child-care facilities in public parks — part of the city’s overall plan to adapt dozens of city properties for hosting child-care facilities to serve city workers and many residents, some of whom can’t work without it.
Measure H had about 69 percent voter support as of the latest update from the San Diego County registrar of voters office Nov. 18.
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The measure was placed on the Nov. 8 ballot after an 8-0 City Council vote in July and required approval by a simple majority of voters to pass.
Child-care advocates say its passage is a significant step in the right direction.
“We see the passage of Measure H as really a clear and resounding message coming from the voters that child care is absolutely critical to them,” said Erin Hogeboom, director of San Diego for Every Child, a nonprofit that works to ensure children’s basic needs are met.
Though San Diego County has been experiencing a child-care shortage for years, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it, said Courtney Baltiyskyy, vice president of policy and advocacy for the YMCA.
Twelve percent of the county’s child-care providers closed during the pandemic, and nearly 190,000 children younger than 12 who need care lack it, according to a YMCA survey last year.
A University of San Diego report in April said child-care spots that are available are unaffordable for many families, costing from $12,900 to $19,500 a year.
Three-quarters of parents also said in a recent poll that it’s hard to find affordable child care nearby
Access to child care is crucial to tackling child poverty because it lets parents work to support their households, Hogeboom said.
In recent years, she and other advocates have been working closely with the city to try to find solutions. Among them was the idea to use city properties as child-care facilities.
Last year, the city’s Department of Real Estate and Airport Management began assessing 1,100 city-owned properties looking for facilities that had at least 5,000 square feet on the ground floor to create small four-classroom child-care centers, and had adjacent outdoor space that could be converted into a playground.
A total of 72 properties were identified across all nine City Council districts, consisting of 18 libraries, 12 office buildings and 42 recreation centers. Among them were Ocean Beach’s Robb Field athletic area, the Ocean Beach Recreation Center and the Point Loma/Hervey Library.
Three city of San Diego properties in the Point Loma-Ocean Beach area have been included on a list of sites under consideration for child-care facilities as part of an initiative to regain child-care access lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baltiyskyy said earlier this year that the deficit of access to licensed child care in City Council District 2, which includes Point Loma and OB, is higher than the deficit throughout San Diego County. About 20 percent of children have access to such care in District 2, leaving an 80 percent deficit of access, Baltiyskyy said. The deficit of access is around 70 percent for the county.
However, the San Diego 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. Measure H would amend the charter to make it legal for city rec centers to offer child care.
“With the passage of Measure H, we now can analyze 42 more sites throughout our city, in every district, to deliver [child care] service to our constituents, which is why it passed with such an overwhelming margin,” said Councilman Raul Campillo, chairman of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee. “One of the most important amenities that parents look for in their community is child care.”
Measure H does not require rec centers to become child-care facilities, officials say. Each center will be reviewed to determine whether it is suitable. In some cases, the cost of conversion may be too high.
An August report by the city’s independent budget analyst said it was unclear whether those costs would be borne by the city or the private child-care operators.
Baltiyskyy said Measure H was “the first time in our region that we’ve seen child care be on the ballot for anything, so it was really a good test to kind of see how the optics would play out with the voter base.”
She said she hopes to see similar initiatives follow to secure more funding for child care — particularly in upcoming budget negotiations.
Hogeboom would like child care to be incorporated into plans for future affordable-housing developments, too.
Already, the San Diego Public Library Foundation and San Diego Parks Foundation are at work to supplement the city’s budget with some funds that could help provide care at city libraries and parks.
They’re joined by other groups in trying to garner support for a proposed 2024 ballot initiative that would create a 2-cents-per-square-foot parcel tax on certain residential and commercial parcels — not to exceed one acre and not to include certain senior and low-income housing — to fund library and park improvements.
And Hogeboom said the city will be eligible to apply for a $250 million California child-care infrastructure grant program.
Meanwhile, the city has asked child-care providers for their input on how it can establish facilities on city-owned properties. City staff is working to compile the information into a proposal to identify potential operators that will be issued early next year. Staff also is working with the city attorney’s office and the city Development Services Department to investigate zoning and permitting requirements.
Now, Baltiyskyy and Hogeboom said, the city will begin to develop a partnership with child-care providers to operate the centers.
“San Diego is a great place to raise a family … but we have a long way to go for it to be the best place to grow up and raise a family and for us to really understand and meet parents’ and caregivers’ needs,” Baltiyskyy said.
— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report.