Friday, November 22, 2013

Fun At Parks And Recreation Meeting

The meeting of the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission last night, usually a fairly bland affair, was anything but...

Right of the top several speakers stepped up during the "Oral Communications" segment - when the public can address anything within the purview of the commission but is not on the current agenda - to offer their views on the announced, but not implemented, new reduced hours for the Volcom Skate Park of Costa Mesa.  Among those was Joey Lopez, skater, coach and activist involved with the fledgling interscholastic skate board league that operates primarily out of the Volcom park. 

Each speaker agreed with the need to do something to curtail the rogue skaters that have resulted in unsafe conditions at the park, including - according to Chairman Byron de Arakal - several attacks on members of the Costa Mesa Police Department in recent months. 

After hearing all the speakers de Arakal thanked them sincerely for coming out to address the issue, and told them he'd like them all to participate in finding a solution by meeting with him and members of the city staff and the CMPD over the next couple months.  He said he anticipates a presentation of options at the meeting in January or February.

At these meetings some of the more mundane segments are requests for tree removals around the city.  Normally, it involves one or two city-owned trees on public property that are adversely affecting residents nearby because of raised pavement or root incursion somewhere.  Last night was very different.

Last night there were two items on the agenda that involved requests to remove multiple trees.  The staff report is HERE.  The first was for nine (9) trees along Adams Avenue.  After much discussion the solution was to remove only a few of the most offensive trees - those whose droppings appeared to constitute a "health and safety" problem.  On a 3-2 vote the commissioners agreed to remove those trees at no cost to the homeowner.  My perception of the event was that the staff would return at a future date with a landscaping plan for that stretch of Adams that would permit the replacement of the remaining trees - and others nearby - with a more acceptable and less invasive plant selection.  Some of the remaining trees are right next to the block wall that forms a sound barrier from the speeding traffic along Adams at that area, so this problem needs to be addressed promptly.

The second "group" issue was the request by residents for the removal of twenty-eight (28) Canary Island Pine trees along Yukon Avenue in the area of Prospect and Klondike, near Bear Street and the 73 Freeway, HERE.  This one was really fun because it apparently pitted neighbor against neighbor.  Nine residents stood to speak (some of them twice).  Among them was Gabrielle Oseguera, who  was joined by three other neighbors requesting the removal of the trees because of the litter they dump into their yards and because they block so much sunlight that even weeds won't grow in the shadows they cast.

Opposing them, in very strong terms, were other neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time and like the look of the trees.  After much discussion, some of it heated, the item was continued to a future meeting to provide individual commissioners the opportunity to visit the location and talk with both sides to more fully understand this issue before rendering a decision at the meeting - probably on January 23rd next year.  I suspect what will come out of it is that the parkway trees will remain and at least a few of the trees closer to the property lines will be thinned out or removed entirely... we'll see.  It was fun to watch...

Following a short break to let the crowd flush out of the chambers - only three of us remained - the commission then heard the staff presentation by Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia, HERE,  on the need to update the Open Space Master Plan for Parks and Recreation, HERE - a guiding document for much of what happens throughout the city - that had not been updated for more than a decade.  On a 5-0 vote the commission authorized the staff to request from the City Council the preparation of a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a consultant to guide the city through this process, which might take a year or longer.

Then the commissioners heard the Fairview Park Annual Report by Mejia, HERE, that provided a brief description of the eight improvements within the boundaries of Fairview Park in the past year and the nine (9) goals for 2014.  You can read all that information on the staff report.  Two of the members of the audience stepped up to address the commission about Fairview Park.  Cindy Black was strongly critical of the selection of consultants to work at the park, and of Chairman de Arakal for her perception of his vocation.  Anna Vrska, a name becoming much more familiar on parks issues these days, took some time to get clarification on the timing of field needs assessment numbers and was told that Recreation Manager Bob Knapp had just about completed his comprehensive study and that a consultant would be retained to perform an independent review of them before presentation to the Fairview Park Citizen Advisory Committee, of which Vrska is a member.

In an amusing moment, Vrska apologized to Vice Chair Kim Pederson for assuming he was a woman during her recent presentation to the Fairview Park group.  We all chuckled and Pederson later teased her about it again, and said he "gets that all the time".

Part of this presentation included a recap of anticipated pending expenditures planned for the park this year and next.  Among those items on the list is the controversial - and unnecessary, in the minds of more than a few park lovers around town - $650,000 item for parking lot lights in the park.  Those opposing this expense indicate that such lighting is unnecessary in a "dawn-to-dusk" park.  We were told that the project is being designed now, with attention being given to illumination levels and a sensor system that will increase the light volume when people are present.  Again, this park is closed at dusk every night.  Proponents say the lights are needed for safety, but nobody from the Police Department has signed in to this issue indicating a need.  Cynics think this scheme - a brainstorm by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger - is simply laying the groundwork for late night use of the parking area as overflow for events - football games - held at adjacent Jim Scott Stadium at Estancia High School.

In any event, we were told that, once the engineering work is complete, the project will be presented to the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee for review before being channeled through the Parks and Recreation Commission to the City Council for approval BEFORE the installation would begin.  It is anticipated that the engineering work might be complete early next year. 

During his Recreation Managers Report Knapp told us about the new Ambassador program, 10 part-time employees who provide a presence in parks around the city, focusing primarily at Fairview Park, Lions Park and adjacent city facilities, and TeWinkle Park.  He described them as "an extra set of eyes" in a program that will require some fine-tuning in the coming months.

He also discussed the on-going massaging of the lights at Harper School fields, including recent visits by commissioners and city staff to work with contiguous residents and users to find a way to mitigate noise from the generators and spillover light into the back yards.  Progress is being made.

He told us that the Jack Hammett Sports Complex will be the training site of the Number 1 ranked college football team - maybe Alabama? - as they prepare for the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl after the first of the year.  The facility will be used by that team from December 29th through January 5th.  It's my understand that both teams playing in that game will be domiciled in Orange County.

This last meeting of the year for this commission wrapped up just before 9:30.  If you want more information about this meeting you can watch the recorded version via CMTV, either on your television or via stream video replay when it's available. 

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