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Future of Lodi’s Kofu Skate Park in jeopardy after litter, substance abuse problems

City temporarily closed park in August; staff will weigh next step Tuesday

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Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 8:26 am, Sat Sep 15, 2012.

The future of Lodi's Kofu Park Skate Park is in limbo after continuing problems with alcohol, drugs, littering and criminal activity.

In late August, city staff closed the park after users refused to pick up their trash despite repeated warnings, said Jeff Hood, interim director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.

Staff decided to continue to leave the gates locked until they could discuss a variety of problems at the park and possible solutions at a Recreation Commission meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

"I don't know if there has ever been a day where I've gone out there and haven't seen kids smoking marijuana, rolling marijuana joints or evidence of alcohol use," Hood said.

At the meeting, Hood hopes to hear from the public on ways to prevent illegal behavior at the park.

"There are teens and young adults congregating to get high, and if it were any other park, it wouldn't be tolerated," he said.

The problems: Alcohol, drugs, litter, confrontations

The main problem started when city staff could no longer mow the park because of trash on the ground.

Despite six garbage cans at the skate park, Hood said people litter continuously, including fast food wrappers, drink containers and tobacco and drug-related trash, like rolling papers.

The two city employees who work at Kofu Park spend about five hours each week picking up trash, which translates to $4,000 to $5,000 a year in staff costs, Hood said.

"We can't have them spending that much time picking up after a few irresponsible people," Hood said.

While the litter problem has been ongoing for months, Hood said he gave a final notice on Aug. 27. He talked with a skater who asked for flyers to distribute. The teen passed out 100 notices and the trash problem improved for a day. But then the garbage quickly started to accumulate again, Hood said.

On Aug. 30, city staff closed the park to prepare for mowing, which they did this past Wednesday. Then, staff decided to keep it closed until the Recreation Commission meeting.

The problems at the park are not just trash-related. They also include confrontations and other illegal activity, Hood said.

The city employee who closes parks at the end of the day has been spit on and had the gate grabbed from her hand as she was trying to lock it, Hood said. Volunteers with Boosters of Boys & Girls Sports have been yelled at and harassed on the nearby baseball diamond. And in September, police arrested a 26-year-old man on charges of raping a 13-year-old in the bathroom next to the skate park. Both had been drinking, according to police.

Police have done sweeps in the park and arrested kids for smoking marijuana, selling drugs and drinking alcohol, Hood said. From April 1 through Aug. 30, police were called more than two dozen times.

During the summer, One-Eighty Teen Center executive director Jake McGregor organized a group to go out the park every Tuesday to barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs and talk with the kids. The nonprofit teen center on Lockeford Street works with many of the kids who also skate at Kofu. The center even has its own skate ramps.

"We wanted to be a non-threatening, loving presence out there," he said.

McGregor also witnessed littering, drugs and alcohol in the park.

"Anytime you have a place you have designed for youths and young adults, you also have to prepare for the issues that group brings to the table," he said.

Several of the ramps need to be replaced because of wear and tear, Hood said, but before the city spends the $5,000 in repair, he wants to find a solution to the problems at the park.

One potential option is closing the skate park. But Hood said he realizes having a place to skate and bike is important for teens. He is hopeful the public and the Recreation Commission will be able to come up with a solution.

"I feel bad for those responsible users who just want to skate," Hood said.

The park is also important for kids who do not have anywhere to go after school or during the summer, McGregor said.

"They need to have that place, they need to have that outlet," he said.

Possible solutions: 'Those at-risk kids need all types of mentoring in their lives'

At the meeting on Tuesday, Hood said he wants suggestions from the public on how to handle the problems.

"Let's have a discussion about it, because I don't agree with it continuing this way," he said. "The police department doesn't like the conduct over there, and the people who are using the rest of Kofu Park don't like the conduct at the park."

There are several options on the table, Hood said. The city could continue operating it as is, reduce the hours or open it only on the weekends, have a volunteer group or organization help manage it, or close it.

One of the challenges is that the skater and biker crowd has historically been a rebellious group, McGregor said, and being an enforcer will not work.

"It takes a special level of patience in your interactions to guide them," he said.

At the park, the younger kids often look to the older teens or those in their 20s for guidance. McGregor said. He said that this is an opportunity for community groups to come together to create a positive environment for kids who need good role models.

"The need that's being served at the skate park is a lot of at-risk kids have a place to go," McGregor said. "So let's take the second step. Those at-risk kids need all types of mentoring in their lives, and we as a community need to give them more than just a place to show up."

McGregor said he has been talking with Hood about the teen center spending one day each week at the park again. For others who want to get involved with a volunteer group at the park, he said there could be training on the best way to work with the kids.

He admits that a volunteer effort could be hard to organize because of the workload.

Another potential solution, McGregor said, is hiring someone to coordinate a presence at the park or provide supervision.

Originally, when the skate park opened in 2002, a contractor charged admission and monitored the park, Hood said. The contract was canceled in December 2003 because of low revenue.

While McGregor understands the city has to look at liability, safety and budget issues, he is optimistic that there is enough community interest to create a positive atmosphere at the park.

"At the end of the day, you have to have boots on the ground, and I think that's a viable option to keep the skate park open," he said.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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11 comments:

  • Rocky Avitia posted at 11:54 am on Thu, Sep 20, 2012.

    Rocky Avitia Posts: 20

    gail, my apology in advance if that sounded rude.

     
  • Rocky Avitia posted at 11:47 am on Thu, Sep 20, 2012.

    Rocky Avitia Posts: 20

    really gail, obviously you dont get it. i wonder what else you dont understand, maybe a shorter list would be what you understand... lol. lets say it moves to another park, it would be different becuase there are actually families at other parks, not like this park where there are no families, which is why they feel safe there. let me tell you this, the problem will be gone if there safe haven is taken away. I like your idea though of random stops, it wouldnt be hard since the police fill up there tanks literally 50 yards from the park, theres a police car there every ten minutes pumping gas, but of course all illegal activity will stop as soon as the bums see them driving up to the park. The only solution needless to say is to close the park, sell the skate equipment and get what they can from it. problem solved.

     
  • Gail Irons posted at 7:42 pm on Tue, Sep 18, 2012.

    Gail Posts: 8

    Really guys, charge a fee at a city park. If you do it for one, you need to do it for all city parks. Mr. Hood indicates that he sees the substance abuse happening, but what is he doing? It sounds like nothing, just letting it happen. Lodi PD should make random stops throughout the day. As for shutting the park down, the problem does not go away, it just moves to another park.

     
  • Rocky Avitia posted at 3:21 pm on Mon, Sep 17, 2012.

    Rocky Avitia Posts: 20

    [beam]

     
  • Rocky Avitia posted at 3:20 pm on Mon, Sep 17, 2012.

    Rocky Avitia Posts: 20

    i guess there will be more bums on the street since they can't hang out here anymore.. lol. [beam]

     
  • Rocky Avitia posted at 3:20 pm on Mon, Sep 17, 2012.

    Rocky Avitia Posts: 20

    just close the park, simple as that. [wink] Another idea... charge admission and from the revenue the city could hire a security guard, just a thought

     
  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 8:06 pm on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Jt, you are probably right about fixed cameras.

    I think I was reacted to Jeff Hood who stated, "I don't know if there has ever been a day where I've gone out there and haven't seen kids smoking marijuana, rolling marijuana joints or evidence of alcohol use.

    Seems to me if Jeff had had a camera each time he went and took pictures, he could post these pictures on a Lodi facebook account and ask the public to identify the law breakers in the pictures. Once we track them down, a $!,000 fine would go a long way as a deterrent and a funding source.
    In Japan, they do something like this to embarrass people into good behavior.
    ( public exposure of law breakers)

     
  • JT Hall posted at 11:37 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    JayTee Posts: 2

    Hi Darrell,

    While I don't entirely discount your proposal to install a camera, I would be remiss if I did not point out that cameras are no longer the deterrent they once were. ( see this article if you're interested in an example: http://wtop.com/58/3034979/Cameras-to-watch-the-speed-cameras )

    I work in electronic surveillance, and it isn't the panacea that many believe. Many small cities and towns bought into the idea of red light cameras. While they did reduce the accident rate, they've also failed to bring in the promised revenue. Now they often cost cities more than they make. Especially with incidents of vandalism on the rise.

    Your thoughts on moving the park to Micki Grove are intriguing. Perhaps, the city council should consider your suggestion.

     
  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 9:27 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Good point Mr Hall... however, the two city employees who work at Kofu Park spend about five hours each week picking up trash... maybe having a camera they control would be a solution. The fines and penalties would not only pay for their salaries but also the repairs to the park...

    There has to be a solution to make people pay for the damage they cause.

    I love your suggestion of requiring those who use the park to pay a small fee and purchase a permit to use the park..if you remember, Micki Grove was free to use years ago. Too many problems were happening there. They changed the entry requirements to pay a fee and that alone improved the enjoyment for families to use that park.

    In fact, maybe the solution is to move the skate board park to Micki Grove where the structure for collecting fees is already in place. Not as convenient as the current location, but that might solve the problem.

     
  • JT Hall posted at 9:03 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    JayTee Posts: 2

    Darrell,

    Video surveillance systems are expensive. To buy the equipment. Install and maintain as well. Hidden system are even more so. If you're going to point at the crap sold in COSTCO and other places, realize that you get what you pay for. Also, those systems are designed for home / small business use. Not outdoors. There's also the question of the data compression used by the recorder. More compression = more record time = less picture quality. Less picture quality = useless evidence.

    My suggestion is to require those who use the park to pay a small fee and purchase a permit to use the park. Those found on the site without the permit would be arrested for trespassing and theft of services. Those found being involved in questionable activities would have their permit revoked. Have the cops patrolling the area visit the site on a random basis and verify the people present are authorized to be in the park, or have the park and rec people do it and summon the police if needed.

    If this doesn't work, bulldoze it. The argument was made that if teens had a place to go, reprobate behavior would decrease. Obviously, this was not the case. They got along without it before, they'll live after it is turned into a memory.

     
  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 7:38 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    Humm, if it is that easy to see people breaking the law smoking and drinking illegally, why can't a hidden video system be installed where evidence of the crime be recorded. Then, large fines be imposed on the guilty parties or their guardians in order to pay for the expenses generated by the actual people who cause the damage.

    Why just tax payers pay the bill whose only crime is to work hard and pay taxes.

     

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