It was a foggy Saturday afternoon when Brian Guthrie, living in Pierpont, joined his sister Erin from Bakersfield and her two children at the Marina Park playground. She watched over her little ones as they played in the sand and ran around on the playground, down the slides and over the bridge.
“[Marina Park] is always first on the list,” Erin said, regarding the fun places she goes when visiting her brother.
Erin said that the playground for her children was ideal — in a park right on the beach, not like the playground at the rocky beach near the pier.
A few minutes later, Pierpont resident Mike Franklin, walking his dog and accompanied by his wife, Linda, his son Cullen, and grandchild, 18 months, joined in on the fun at the playground — sending the toddler down the slides and taking in the view on the swings.
“It’s a good place for little kids,” Mike said.
“We come down here whenever we have company,” Linda said.
Both the Franklin and Guthrie families seemed surprised to find out that the playground was slated for closure sometime in the coming year.
“It’s a shame — there has to be a way to keep it open,” Mike said.
According to those sitting on the hill, there isn’t a way to keep it open, unless, of course, the condition of the playground were to magically improve. The City Council decided Monday night to maintain the ‘tot lot’ at Marina Park, but if it should happen to fall into a state of disrepair, the playground will be shut down indefinitely. The playground was supposed to be removed and replaced this year — costing between $90,000 and $100,000 — but due to the city’s financial woes, the most that playground will see is a fence preventing others from enjoying themselves on it.
“When [state certified park inspectors] see a problem coming up, or project a problem, they repair [the playgrounds] and keep them safe; or if they can’t get the parts, or can’t work with it, they have to remove that piece or the entire equipment,” said Mike Montoya, the city’s deputy director of public works and parks. “If a child was hurt, it would be terrible.”
Montoya said that due to the ocean and the salty-air environment, Marina Park’s playground deteriorates faster than other playgrounds across the city. But that doesn’t mean that other playgrounds won’t be shut down as well. The City Council agreed not only to abandon repairing and replacing playgrounds, but they also cut $1.9 million from the parks budget that would go toward maintaining all the city’s public parks, sidewalks and street medians, and sand and trash pickup.
Councilmember Neal Andrews and others who attended the meeting Monday also raised concerns about trash accumulation in the parks. The solution by city staff was to rely upon volunteers.
While ‘tot lots’ might seem low on the scale of importance, hundreds, if not thousands of families, bring their children to these playgrounds around the city, especially the one at Marina Park because of its proximity to the ocean.
“On [a] personal level, I would agree it is a loss of a community asset,” said Scott Carlson of the Pierpont Community Council. “It is definitely an issue to be raised for the community.”
Although Montoya believes the imminent closure of Marina Park playground could be turned into something positive, i.e., a fundraising effort, Carlson didn’t seem so sure that the residents of Pierpont would be interested in backing such an event.
“I will be honest. The mentality in the community, a one-time fundraiser to offset what the city should be paying for” may not be something the residents would want to do, he said.
He said he wouldn’t want to speak on the behalf of the residents; and because the issue was so new, he would have to see what the Pierpont Council thought about it first.
He thought the biggest concern was not the fact that the community would lose its playground but, at least in the case of Marina Park, that residents would begin scaling the walls at Pierpont Elementary to access that playground. The same would go for other school playgrounds around the city.
Montoya said that slashing funds was the only solution during this economic crisis, and it would really have to be the community’s effort and money that would save these playgrounds for the next couple of years. For the Marina Park playground, a proposal about charging a parking fee at the park was shot down when staff concluded that visitors would just park on the street, creating a problem for the residents of Pierpont.
Montoya said the closures wouldn’t be permanent, but if any were to occur, it could take at least a couple of years before the city had the funding to repair or replace unsafe or broken-down playgrounds.