Residents share big plans for would-be park

Courtesy photo Options for a new park located on undeveloped land along Waite Drive were workshopped at a virtual March 16 community meeting.

La Mesa residents primarily gave three key points of input at a March 16 virtual workshop for a proposed park near Waite Drive: deter homeless, calm traffic, keep the park active but peaceful.
The unnamed park space located at Waite Drive borders on Lemon Grove to the south and sits just north of highway 94, close to Helix High school. It is being developed for the city of La Mesa by Schmidt Design Group in conjunction with La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation.
Principal Glen Schmidt said his firm also developed La Mesa’s Briercrest park, Junior Seau Sports Complex and Patrick Henry High School’s athletic fields, as well as sites throughout the county like Waterfront park. The Schmidt team provided information on the site before opening up the meeting for resident suggestions.
Project Manager Julian Rosario said there are about 2.2 acres of usable space at the site after factoring in a retaining wall and a slope, a few existing trees, some old fencing and backs to resident homes to the west.
“An interesting thing that is currently on the site— we have these large tree stumps and branches so there are a lot of cool design ideas,” Rosario said.
Some amenities to consider, Schmidt said, might be an offleash dog run, children’s playground, various ball courts, picnic and barbecue facilities, a community garden, outdoor fitness stations, walking and running trails, opportunities for community art and public restrooms. All those options will appear on the survey, he said, but will not all be included in the final design.
“What we’ll find is we have less than three acres so it’s hard to include everything… we really don’t have the room to include all of that,” Schmidt said.
Capturing “design styles” in the planning phase is also important, he said, such as creating a natural park geared toward organic play, or carving out a more structured facility, developing a more peaceful site, or deciding to include many active elements.
A viewer poll put forth during the meeting suggested the majority of the roughly 50 participants would like a park that is more native and natural, peaceful and quiet, yet full of activity.
“We also appreciate building parks with a sense of local history,” Schmidt said, such as San Diego’s Civita park with old train tracks or Mira Mesa’s Camino Ruiz park that references Kumeya’ay history, yet just two to four percent of meeting participants prioritized a multicultural approach, a park inspired by local history, or anything too formal or contemporary.
One resident who identified herself only as ‘Laura’ asked for demographic information so she could make more informed choices to benefit neighborhood users. La Mesa Director of Community Services Sue Richardson said that information was not available. However, City of La Mesa Park Maintenance Lead Sharon Flack said she is a resident of the future park’s neighborhood and in her opinion, there are many elderly residents as well as many young children who would benefit from a safe place to ride bikes without traffic.
La Mesa resident Robin Rivet, who works professionally as a certified arborist said the park
provides an opportunity for La Mesa to think “bigger” than a community park with items like basketball courts, but also is ideal for growing fruit trees and mitigating climate concerns through “as much green space as possible” while employing a more sustainable approach to the park.
Resident Wendy Mihalic said she agreed with Rivet and wanted to see sustainability addressed in the park design through items like low-water vegetation and solar lighting, along with resident Janet Castanos, who expounded on environmental worries to say she is also concerned the park’s proximity to highway 94 might contribute to breathing issues in children at play.
Several residents said they are worried the park with draw homeless persons to the neighborhood.
“What mitigation measures have you considered to prevent this park from becoming a homeless encampment or attracting crime,” asked a resident identified only as Gaby.
“I believe public restrooms attract homeless so I hope the city of La Mesa plans some enforcement,” La Mesa resident John Lancaster said, although he did not indicate which laws should be enforced.
In contrast, Oliver Evenary, 7, called in with help from his mother Megan Evenary and suggested including space for homeless residents.
“I was maybe thinking of a little building for homeless people to go in,” Oliver said.
Resident Brett Pape also said he is concerned about homeless encampments popping up if restrooms are built on the site, but asked if those amenities could be distanced from houses and placed opposite the residential side of the park as a partial solution.
“We have had homeless people come in that corner by us and hide out. As the last gentleman said, if you put in a bathroom you’re going to attract them. I know you said you’re going to consider the homes there so I understand there probably needs to be a bathroom but would like it to be away from the homes,” Pape said.
Schmidt said there are design options to consider like maintained sightlines with no room for hiding, and material selection that is less conducive to vandalism.
“We can’t solve homelessness necessarily, but we can make it harder for them to be out of the way. The biggest deterrent to homelessness is a popular, very active space and we’re hoping that by having a number of amenities this will be a very popular place and won’t be a comfortable place where homeless will want to be,” Schmidt said.
Several residents also asked the city to consider traffic and pedestrian activity in the area.
“I live at the intersection of Yale and Orion and the traffic— my suggestion is for the city to do traffic calming so people will feel safe walking there,” resident Marie Knox said.
Monica Rak, who said she lives on a street near the proposed park, asked planners to include on-site parking so neighborhood streets remain clear for homeowner use.
Resident Patrick Dean suggested trails that would allow Helix High school students to
pass through the park on their walk home.
A few residents suggested specialized outdoor sports areas.
Daniel Osbahr said he and his wife are La Mesa residents, active in Parkour and would like to advocate for items like climbing walls. Another resident asked for four to six thousand square feet of paved space to accommodate roller-skating that could potentially be transitioned to an ice-skating space during winter. Users, she said, might be enticed to stop for a bite to eat after a park visit, contributing to the local economy.
“This already gives us a lot to go on before the next community meeting,” Schmidt said but added that the public survey includes space to add suggestions for amenities.
Two additional community meetings are being planned for summer and city officials expect
to adopt a plan for the park by fall 2022. Richardson encouraged residents to fill out the survey at through April 11 or email with questions.