Friday, August 28, 2015

An Interesting Night With The Parks & Rec. Commission

As expected, Thursday night's Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission meeting was very interesting right from the top.  If you want to follow along you'll find the agenda HERE.  Commissioner Don Harper showed up about 45 minutes late.

Chairman Kim Pederson advised the larger-than-usual audience that if they wished to speak on the Wilson Park issue - the CMPD was presenting an update early in the agenda - they would have to do so under Public Comments - which preceded the actual presentation and made it impossible for the speakers to address items discussed later during the presentation.

Nonetheless, six of the ten speakers addressed, either directly or tangentially, Wilson Park.  Tamar Goldmann led off with a scathing indictment of what she understood from recent newspaper articles to be the current condition at Wilson Park.  She reminded the commissioners that the drug paraphernalia that reportedly has been found and the human feces that apparently has been observed since the toilets have been locked, create possible life-threatening situations for children who might stumble across the needles and/or excrement.  She referred specifically to AIDS and hepatitis.   She left no doubt about who is responsible for this issue - the current city policies that permit this state of affairs.  She demanded a greater law enforcement presence at the park.

Nearby residents complained about the current state of affairs, and described their unwillingness - and fear - of going into the park, even in daylight hours.  The pastor of a local church, Reverend Sian Wiltshire, opined that it is appropriate for church members to feed the down and out.

Among the other speakers, skate park advocate Rocky Evans again pleaded his case for extended hours at the Volcom Skate Park and/or consideration for another park in the city to handle the heavy demand.  In response to his plea Commissioner Byron de Arakal advised him that he'd recently spoken with nearby residents about extended hours and they were strongly against it.  He didn't say how many or who, but advised Evans to continue to lobby of another skate park.

Cindy Black stepped up and advised the commissioners and the audience of the new organization formed to protect Fairview Park - the Fairview Park Preservation Alliance.  She described the Facebook page and the web site and encouraged the commissioners to visit them.

The commissioners blitzed right through the single-item Consent Calendar and moved on to the presentation by CMPD Lieutenant Ed Everett on Wilson Park.  He reiterated many of the facts stated in his staff report, HERE.  He spoke about prison realignment, which has placed more parolees on the streets, and of Prop. 47, which changed many crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which means that instead of being incarcerated for a crime that had been a felony, perpetrators now spend, perhaps, an hour at the jail and are then released.  He referred to that as "cite and release".  He did tell us that, between January and July 27th, there had been 91 "enforcement actions" at Wilson Park - a significant jump from the previous year.

Commissioner de Arakal asked him if there had been any noticeable change in behaviors since the toilets have been locked and was advised that it's too soon to tell.  de Arakal then reported his personal experiences at the park involving his observations of what appeared to be sex activity in the restrooms and being shown needles and other drug items inside the bathrooms - something he said children might find.  He was clearly angry about this issue - he is the driving force behind this update.  He was angry at the well-intentioned folks who regularly feed transients at the park.  And, he was angry that they didn't get proper permits for the park use.  And, he was angry that the police were not citing them for not having the proper permits.

During the public comments one speaker suggested that members of the CMPD were "too friendly" with some of the homeless in the park - making them too "comfortable".  Everett stated clearly that the CMPD is doing everything they can to make transients uncomfortable.  That was later addressed by explaining that Park Rangers typically are not armed and deal with many of the same people on a regular basis, many of which have mental health issues.  Their tactic is, with those and other more passive transients, to establish a relationship with them and calmly provide them direction to places where they can get services.  Mention was made of the mental health worker who travels with the CMPD each week and works with some of the people on the street.

During the discussion staffing came up.  We were advised that presently we have 5.5 Park Rangers, or will have when one member returns to duty from active Army duty.  de Arakal went on record emphatically stating that we need eight.  

During the discussion, de Arakal perhaps summed up the feelings of many in the audience and on the dais when he said, "Neighborhood parks are for families to take their children to play and to have family picnics, not to witness the symptoms of life's hard knocks.  That how I feel about it and I've talked to some council members.  We really need to put the screws to those groups who are feeding those folks in the parks without permits.  It shouldn't be allowed.  They have church campuses - take them there!"

The commissioners all thanked the CMPD for their hard work and looked forward to improvement at Wilson Park.  Concern was expressed throughout the presentation and discussion about the pressure being put on the folks at Wilson Park would force them to another park.  Right now they are spreading out to nearby commercial centers and into the contiguous neighborhoods, although Everett could not quantify property crimes in the neighborhood with the presence of the homeless folks at the park.

I personally observed Wilson Park one afternoon this week.  I was there after the feeding was complete and saw about two dozen folks - most quite obviously homeless because they had all their worldly belongings stacked near them.  I suggested elsewhere that it reminded me of photos of the Mt. Everest Base Camp!  I saw nobody at the park that looked like someone from the neighborhood.  No moms with kids, for example.

The City is working on the homeless problem.  Everett mentioned the Homeless Task Force - an offshoot of that group meets weekly, developing strategies and gathering data.  Everett said the next homeless census will be gathered in October using Vanguard University students, as has been done in the past.  At this point we see no light at the end of the homelessness tunnel.  There's a lot of effort being put in by staff and there are occasional success stories - homeless folks reunited with loved ones and/or sent home - but it remains a great problem without a clearly-defined solution.

On to more mundane issues... the first tree removal request was denied - the applicant failed to show up to plead his case and the commissioners didn't much like that.  The second one - Harold Weitzberg's request to remove the same kind of tree from his parkway because it was doing significant damage to his property and, if the roots were pruned, was likely to create a hazard by toppling over in wind - was approved by the commission.  The City will remove the tree at our expense.  It seemed like the right decision.

Item 9d, Public Information on City Parkway Trees, was an item requested to be agendized by Commissioner Robert Graham because he thought the public didn't have enough information on the subject.  The brief staff report showed an example of a short slide show.  The commission gave direction to Graham to create an ad hoc committee of staffers to flesh out possible communications tools to be used to inform the public about parkway trees.  To me, it seemed like a solution looking for a problem.

The commission gave quick work to the request for a tree donation and plaque placement at Estancia Park, approving it in about two minutes.

The discussion of the request to replace the aging and frequently vandalized water tower at the site of the Orange County Model Engineers venue at Fairview Park was given a good, but short, discussion and the commission approved the proposed metal replacement on a 5-0 vote.

Next came the consideration of the realignment of a bluff trail at Fairview Park.  In a nutshell, the existing trail is in poor condition and will likely soon require closure if not rehabilitiated or replaced, according to the staff report and to rehabilitate it would require significant incursion on protected plant species and a protected site of presumed native artifacts.  Four people spoke on this issue - 2 for the plan and 2 against it.  The issue the commission was dealing with was NOT the approval of the construction of a new trail, but whether the PLAN for that action was consistent with the Fairview Park Master Plan.  At the end the commission voted, 5-0, that it WAS consistent with the master plan.  The probable new alignment is shown below as the blue line, which would replace the thin, white line at the right of the blue line near the bottom.
During his report Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia told the commissioners that lighting was being improved at TeWinkle Park; the Master Plan of Parks and Open Spaces update was in the hands of a consultant and was moving forward, although he was reluctant to give a specific completion time; Fairview Park Delineation Fencing around vernal pools is underway, as is ADA Accessability Improvements at TeWinkle Park.

In his report Recreation Manager Travis Karlen spoke of the "Smart" camps - Sport-Music-Art, indicating there was an increase in Music participants this time.  He also spoke briefly about the upcoming beginning of sports programs and will have a full report of the summer activities in September.  He spoke about the Movies In The Park at TeWinkle Park, indicating they were very successful.  He also spoke about the recent Field Use Allocation Program meetings with the various user groups.

The meeting wrapped up with commissioner comments - most of which were to thank various staff members for their hard work and dedicated service to the community.  Near the very end Chairman Pederson looked back at me - one of two people left in the audience - and actually thanked me by name for attending and covering the meetings.  It was pretty amusing, because he then said he'd never read my blog, but he'd heard good things about it.  I guess nobody told him that he may have sealed his fate with that comment because the guys who appointed him don't much like me. But I appreciated his kind words, nonetheless.  I later told him how to find the blog... One more happy reader coming up!

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I fear that building this new road in Fairview Park is merely the first step to a travel through from Adams to a point closer to Victoria. Paranoid? I've seen the same thing happen over and over. First its a bike trail, then an access road, then a small freeway. We already know how well "they" stick to the Master Plan, don't we?

8/28/2015 07:51:00 AM  

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