Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 1:17 am | Fair 58º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Ron Fink: It’s Time to Stop Just Mowing the Grass at Lompoc Parks and Get Creative

The park system in Lompoc is in need of some serious help. As each new housing project is approved, more parks are added to an overabundance of park land — land and facilities that the city can’t afford to maintain.

Three large park venues come to mind. The first is River Park on the east end of Ocean Avenue. This city park is located on county property and has a combination of tent and recreational vehicle camping, a lake and some walking trails.

This is no Waller Park (a beautiful, well-maintained county park in Santa Maria); instead, it’s the poster child for neglect of the park system. At the entrance on the left is a large pile of stale grape crush residue on some private property, which gives you a sense that you are entering a dumping ground not a public park.

As you move through the park hang on because the roadways are in bad shape. Large speed bumps are frame benders, tree roots create even more difficult driving conditions and the grassy areas have become fields of weeds.

Ryon Park on West Ocean across from the post office isn’t much better. It is the site for all of the major festivals and also hosts sporting events. The vegetation along Ocean Avenue is in need of a major overhaul, the turf is pock marked with gopher holes, and the sports fields and infrastructure need some serious rehabilitation.

River Bend Bike Park is situated in the northeast corner of Lompoc. It was supposed to be home for a large sports complex, and a local press report in March 2003 said, “Plans for a larger park at the River Bend site date as far back as 1983. The city bought several acres to expand the park during the past 10 years, with hopes of building a sports field complex.”

The site sat mostly empty except for a Babe Ruth little league field for 20 years. A mud bog that drew hundreds of out-of-town participants and spectators who shopped and stayed in Lompoc hotels was held at the site for a couple of years, but somehow this very popular activity was stopped.

On May 3, 2005, only 20 years after they started thinking about it, city leaders adopted a master plan for the long-awaited sports complex that was to house soccer, football and little league fields and a very lengthy multi-use bike/hiking trail. It seemed that the city was finally on the right track.

It was a different political time then, deals were made and many rules were circumvented so elected leaders could show the community that “progress was being made” to address their recreational concerns. Most notably were well-established construction standards for parks.

A volunteer group soon began work on parts of the new park; land was graded and grass was planted for the soccer fields but they didn’t have a lot of money, so much needed gopher wire was not installed. This was short-sighted because today there are scores of gopher mounds and holes that young players must navigate through each week.

They also failed to provide the parking areas that were a part of the master plan instead opting to put in what could best be described as an undersized temporary parking area, so families were forced to park anywhere they could and trudge to the playing fields.

So, even though there was a “plan” to develop the River Bend Park, it appears that the city didn’t require the volunteer developers to provide detailed plans like they do for every other project in town.

If the city had stuck to the original plan and applied adopted development standards to all of the volunteer projects on this site as they do today we could have had the sports complex that many people have been clamoring for.

In 2001, there were briefly plans for a BMX-style bike park, but it was never completed and wasn’t included in the master plan. It wasn’t until last year that a well-organized volunteer group was able to develop the bike park, which is nearing completion. This group followed the rules and submitted and corrected their plans, and city inspectors made sure that they built the area according to plan.

The city needs to take a hard look at the parks system as an enterprise. The various venues are one piece of the economic development pie that has been overlooked. A comprehensive plan is need, one that was requested by the City Council over 18 months ago, to address current and future recreational needs.

This plan must not simply focus on need but also on how the system can be rehabilitated and then maintained for future generations.

It’s time to stop just mowing the grass and get creative.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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