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Child care could be coming to a city park near you soon

Kids play in the outdoor kitchen at Liberty Winn's childcare center in Carlsbad, May 18, 2022.
Claire Trageser
Kids play in the outdoor kitchen at Liberty Winn's child care center in San Diego County, Calif. May 18, 2022.

Voters overwhelmingly passed Measure H to allow child care at San Diego parks and rec centers, and now city officials and childcare advocates are working on what happens next.

That includes Councilmember Raul Campillo, who championed Measure H. His office has already identified 72 city-owned sites, including 42 parks and recreation centers, that could be leased to child care businesses.

Previously, city parks and recreation centers could not house child care businesses, but Measure H changed the city’s charter to allow it.


“Providing the option for child care providers to have this space that would be potentially cheaper than building their own facilities or renting out for-profit facilities that might charge them more,” Campillo said.

The idea is to give child care centers cheaper than market rate leases, but Campillo said he can’t promise that.

An odd word choice in the measure’s ballot language fueled some opposition to it — instead of giving the City Council the power to authorize child care at city-owned facilities, it gave the power to the “city manager.” That would essentially give Mayor Todd Gloria and any future mayor power to authorize child care at city-owned facilities.

But Campillo said the City Council has to approve any leases of three years or more.


“If it's less than three years, the mayor's office can approve it, and if it's an extension of the lease that's already in place, it does have to come to the City Council,” he said. “So I anticipate that each of these leases will come to the City Council.”

Campillo said as of right now, the plan is not to save any of these child care slots for city employees.

“But we do look for ways to expand that benefit to our employees,” he said. “Right now, I'm more concerned about analyzing the specific parks and recreation centers that can have child care slots so that families that live in those neighborhoods will look to a nearby park where they can drop their child off before work and be able to pick up after work without having to drive way out of the way from where they live.”

The measure’s success sends a message about what voters want, said Courtney Baltiyskyy, the director of advocacy for the San Diego YMCA.

“We need to be prioritizing parents and caregivers and really see them in their struggles to nurture and care for children at the same time that they are working and supporting our local economies,” she said.

Next she’s hoping to see council members prioritize funding for child care in the city budget.

“The hope is that this is a nudge for all council members and the mayor to consider what these facilities need to get up and running to house licensed child care,” she said. “We'll definitely need to see facilities funding for tenant improvements in these spaces, even funding that would help with deeper exploration in knowing which facilities may be in child care deserts.”

Some child cares could be running in city parks and rec centers next year, Campillo said.

The child care industry has long been in crisis, and COVID-19 only made things worse. Now affordable, quality care is even more challenging to find, and staff are not paid enough to stay in the field. This series spotlights people each struggling with their own childcare issues, and the providers struggling to get by.