City staff is fed up with a string of vandalism at Lodi parks that is putting a strain on an already tight budget.
On Aug. 19, vandals at Katzakian Park set a fire in a trash can, torching the bathroom. The fire, which happened at 6:30 a.m. that Sunday, burned the stucco and damaged the roof, said Jeff Hood, interim director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. The fire department had to put out the fire, and the restrooms are still closed. Earlier this month, people pulled down dusk-to-dawn security lighting in the youth area of Lodi Lake. The city had just finished an $8,000 repair after the same thing happened two months ago.
While the city will likely find a way to fix the restrooms, the lighting will not be replaced.
"We can't keep replacing things that are going to be destroyed in a couple of weeks," Hood said.
For now, city staff's only solution is security cameras placed in parks. But they are expensive, so Hood has suggested community associations or neighborhood groups consider sponsoring a camera in their favorite park.
The city has no witnesses who saw the vandalism. Hood suspects it is transients who often camp in the parks. There has also been vandalism at Kofu Park, Salas Park and DeBenedetti Park, which just recently opened.
"It's almost every single park, and the problem is, like at Katzakian Park with the restroom fire, that's a repair we are going to have to do somehow," Hood said. "When we spend money replacing vandalized structures, that is money we can't spend on simply maintaining our own facilities."
Hood would rather use the money to maintain or repair its buildings, sprinkler systems, park benches or playground equipment, he said.
There has always been vandalism problems, but Hood said they have recently increased. Before, people would steal copper, vandalize a gate or fence or graffiti a restroom.
"Now, they are destroying light poles and torching restrooms," he said. "It's really taken a step up lately, and I have no idea what the motivation is. Pulling down the lights doesn't get them anything."
Because the city and the department's budget is so limited, Hood said the staff is limited in monitoring parks for vandalism.
But the city has purchased two cameras in the parks department and one in the police department as a way to deter vandals. The city already has a similar camera at Hutchins Street Square.
The three cameras can be installed at different parks and are easily moved, so the city can put them in problem areas, Hood said. They are high resolution, take picture in the day or night and have an audible warning telling people that their picture is being taken. They have a motion censor and take hundreds of photos a day.
Hood said he did not want to reveal where the city is placing the cameras. He would like to buy more, but there is not enough money in the budget.
Any homeowner associations or neighborhood groups that have a park in their community could sponsor a camera, Hood said.
The cameras cost about $6,500 each, which includes the motherboard, the camera, a flash, the motion detector, protective housing and a solar charger.
"I would certainly welcome the donation of a camera, and we would put it up in their favorite park," Hood said.
Anyone interested in fundraising for a camera can contact Jeff Hood at 209-333-6893.