Barbara Eisenstein of the Friends of the Nature Park has been heading the community stewardship effort to transform the park into an inviting public space since 2006, but her resolve is wearing thin, she told the City Council at last Wednesday’s meeting, as tagging and homeless encampments persist.
“I want to convey to you how discouraging it is to have to constantly report these problems,” Eisenstein said during public comments. “I have considered shutting down the Friends of the Nature Park if these problems do not get addressed.”
Over the years, Eisenstein has sought the help of the City’s Public Works Department for issues concerning park maintenance. She asserted last Wednesday evening that the department has always been supportive of her and her group’s efforts. However, she told the Council, the recurring problems have made the park “a threatening place for many visitors.”
“I know that these problems are complex and difficult to fix,” said Eisenstein, “yet I also know that if encampments sprang up in Garfield Park, they would not remain for weeks or months.
“We’ve made so much progress,” she continued. “More and more people are contacting me about having their students and Scouts participate, however, the City must be willing to do its part.”
Responding to Councilwoman Diana Mahmud’s request for suggestions for potential solutions, Eisenstein explained that encampments typically occur where trees hang down. “The City has been excellent lifting oak trees along the Arroyo Seco,” she said, “and we don’t have any problems there. The gulley near the water retention area is what is currently inhabited. What is really important is that somebody needs to make rounds weekly; I can’t constantly make calls to the City.”
Councilmember Robert Joe asked City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe to work with the Police Department and Public Works to address some of the issues that Eisenstein identified. Mahmud thanked Eisenstein for her continued persistence and assured her that the Council would look closely at the issue.
Mayor Michael Cacciotti led the City’s effort to create the Arroyo Seco Pedestrian and Bike Trail, which, when completed, will connect the Nature Park to the rest of the arroyo. Cacciotti thanked Eisenstein for “picking up the mantle in 2006 to make sure the park is preserved” and offered a reminder of the City’s battle for the four-acre space behind the Arroyo Seco Golf Course. It was nearly sold to a private entity in 1997 by the City, before Cacciotti and a group of activists stopped the sale. “We marched on City Council in 1998,” said the mayor, “stopped the City from doing it, wrote a letter to then-state-senator Adam Schift and received $250,000.” Today, Cacciotti’s vision of a welcoming space connected to the rest of the Arroyo through a bike and walking path is coming to fruition, but the concrete trail, poured just last week, has already been tagged.
The City’s new landscape contract has provisions that require its landscape contractor to clean the area once weekly. This should be welcome news to Eisenstein, who said that the City’s promises to regularly check the Nature Park have not, to her knowledge, been honored.
Cacciotti did acknowledge the police department for its help and its care of homeless persons camping in the park. “We don’t push the homeless people to another City,” said the mayor. “Our police department tries to get these people what they need by working with the County and the Department of Mental Health.”