Editorial: Rose garden showcases city-volunteer teamwork

Mercury News OPINION

Mercury News Editorial

The Saturday in September when more than 150 rose lovers, armed with pruning shears, swept through San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden may have been a watershed for City Hall’s attitude toward volunteers.

The city expected maybe 30 to 50 workers when garden advocates Beverly Rose Hopper and Terry Reilly put out the call. When more than three times that number showed up from miles around – the East Bay, Peninsula, the mountains – it awakened even doubters to the potential of volunteers.

Now Reilly and Hopper have organized a permanent Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden to revive the park, a civic treasure. And Deputy City Manager Ed Shikada says the staff hopes to get approval to hire a volunteer coordinator to capitalize on this kind of energy at other parks and city facilities. It’s great news.

Staffing cuts had left the rose garden so neglected that it’s at risk of losing its national accreditation. Council member Pierluigi Oliverio shook things up last spring with a proposal to privatize its maintenance. That didn’t fly, but it added some energy to the city’s ongoing study of potential public-private partnerships – and got Reilly and Hopper engaged.

Caring for roses is a labor of love, the perfect job for volunteers. But the Friends see themselves as partners with city workers, who will train and certify volunteers before they can work on their own.

Reilly believes other parks can rally volunteer help. Look at Little League and Pop Warner parents, he says, and the soccer moms and dads. Motivations may differ from park to park, but people will respond.

The benefits will include heightened community and civic pride that might not exist if city staff did all the work.

San Jose’s adopt-a-park program already is a big help with cleanup days and the like. But it takes work to run a continuous volunteer operation; having to deal with dabblers can be more of a hassle than a help to overworked city staff. That’s why the city needs a professional to develop, encourage and manage volunteers.

For the Municipal Rose Garden, Reilly and Hopper are doing the heavy lifting. (Literally. On Thursday, Reilly drove down to Gilroy for mulch.) Saturday’s their next big work day. Stop by if you can – and definitely plan a visit in the full bloom of May. Thanks to the Friends, you won’t recognize the place.