Being in charge of recreation for the city of Newport Beach, despite what people may think, is a lot more than just fun and games.
It’s a position taken very seriously by newly appointed Recreation and Senior Services Director Sean Levin, 51, who has dedicated his professional life to the health and social betterment of Newport’s citizens for the past 20 years.
His mandate is clear per the Recreation Department’s mission statement: “To enhance the quality of life by providing diverse opportunities in safe and well-maintained facilities and parks…” and “responding to community needs by creating quality educational, recreational, cultural and social programs for people of all ages.”
This is no small task, as evidenced by his nearly $14 million annual budget to pay for 42 full-time staﬀ, 70 part-time employees, plus 118 fee-based class and program contractors who oversee nearly 1,000 specialty class subcontractors (including Adult Sports League Contracts and Youth Sports League Contracts).
And those are paid positions.
“We are fourth in expenditures and middle of the pack in full-time staﬀ,” Levin shared.
Dollar figures aside, other numbers reflect the complexity and challenges that face Levin and his staﬀ: They manage the use of 65 parks, 11 community centers, 34 playgrounds and “tot lots,” 16 tennis courts, 10 hand ball courts, 4 pickle ball courts, 20 outdoor basketball courts, two swimming pools, 39 sports fields, 69 volleyball courts and six lease properties on city land. That, alone, is a workout in anybody’s book.
Additionally, the Department manages 620 acres of parks, 245 acres of the Buck Gully open space and 136 acres of Upper Bay open space.
In all, these staﬀ and venues serve 1.3 million people annually, Levin apprised. However, perhaps one of the most impressive numbers oﬀered by Levin is 38,532 — the total number of hours donated by volunteers at the Oasis Senior Center, which is recognized nationally as one of the leading recreational senior facilities in the country, Levin said.
“We are the envy of many other cities across the nation, who frequently send their representatives to see just what we are doing.”
That “doing” includes a fitness center to rival the finest commercial fitness facilities anywhere. It features more than 20 cardio machines, a full line of strength training equipment, free weights, stretch machines, and more. All for an annual membership fee of $125 — less than just one custom-coached workout at some area gyms.
Of all the opportunities oﬀered at Oasis, Levin believes, “One of the most impactful we oﬀer is our Transportation Program, for it allows so many of our homebound seniors to get out to the store, doctors’ appointments, to the center and more.”
The center also oﬀers an array of social services, such as Alzheimer’s support groups, the Good Grief Cafe (for those suﬀering a loss), as well as resource counseling, senior assessment and telephone reassurance.
There’s so much to peruse in Oasis’s info-and opportunity-packed oﬃcial guide (“Oasis News”), either in print or on line, that becoming a senior citizen in this city underscores that venerable phrase, “Life begins at 50.” Okay, it used to be, “Life Begins at 40,” but we’re all living longer, in part aided by the opportunities for enhanced health oﬀered by a city that values quality-of-life.
Being a municipality whose residents cherish the outdoors, Newport’s many verdant parks and playgrounds welcome a broad scope of visitors, both local and out-of-area. Safety is a major consideration; and to that end, Levin oversees a team of Park Patrol Oﬃcers who help to ensure that the parks system remains safe and enjoyable.
“We think of ourselves as a ‘park concierge service.’ Issuing citation is the last option for our team,” Levin said.
“Our oﬃcers are the eyes and ears in the city,” added Levin. “They report daily with issues they see needing to be addressed by various departments, from graﬃti, trash, equipment maintenance, community concerns and more, many reported to them by park visitors. They are truly a valuable community resource in helping us to keep the city shining.”
As smoothly as the department runs, it does have its stresses, Levin said.
“A wise boss once told me, ‘You are only as good as your people.’ One of the biggest problems we’re currently facing is part-time staﬃng, which is the backbone of our delivery system,” Levin explained.
So he, as well as other leaders in city departments, are working with Human Resources on creative ways to market and utilize existing pay scales to see if salary ranges should be addressed, as well as training opportunities to increase retention. The “Help Wanted!” sign for well-qualified people is now out.
Another challenge that Levin faces daily is the “diversity of disciplines, but that also is what makes my job so enjoyable,” he said.
Blending the dynamics of finance, personnel, park and facility maintenance, program development for all ages, enforcement, community problem solving and working with community partners is as creative an undertaking as an orchestra conductor bringing instruments together in sweet harmony.
Levin and his department continue to perform to great reviews.