Van Buskirk Park is close to 11-year-old Cesar Santos' house, and it comes complete with three slides and various climbing equipment on a soft surface.
But there's a problem: Vandals have created a large hole in the bottom of Santos' favorite slide, a three-seater that allowed him to race with his friends or ride solo down the middle "bumpy one." The hole, which appeared sometime last week, slowed them down and now the slide is boarded up.
"Now it's no fun," Santos said Friday while sitting on the playground equipment.
Replacing the slide would cost $5,000, said Parks Superintendent Steve Dutra. And with an unusually large amount of his budget already going to vandalism cleanup, he doesn't know if the slide will be replaced.
Dutra expects the cost of park cleanup to reach $25,000 this fiscal year, which ends this month. Compared to historical annual clean-up costs that he said were $4,000 to $6,000, Dutra is frustrated.
"This is my 27th year in the profession and now it's not 'if we're going to experience problems' but 'when.' It's a daily grind," he said Friday. "Every day the (parks employees) do a good job with the resources we have to try to provide our customers with a clean slate, but the minority of the customers are ruining it."
The problem is getting so out of hand that Dutra will entertain just about any idea to stem it, ranging from park adoption programs to speaking at neighborhood watch groups.
Van Buskirk Park, on North Pleasant Avenue, has lush green grass and the neighborhood appears tidy. But gang-related spray paint covers almost every surface of the slides and climbing equipment, much of it including expletives.
The vandalism isn't limited to that park and it's not concentrated in any particular area of town, Dutra said.
Even Lodi Lake Park has seen unprecedented vandalism. Damage and theft estimates reached $10,000 in the past 10 days, though that cost has since dropped because eight stolen paddle boats were found drifting in the Mokelumne River.
But there's no getting around replacing four damaged fire extinguishers for a total of $160, or hundreds of dollars worth of other equipment at the lake.
Bathrooms at Legion and Emerson parks, both on Hutchins Street, have been closed three days in the past two weeks because toilets were literally ripped from the wall, Dutra said.
"Every penny we spend to address those issues takes away from other needs," Dutra said, mentioning resurfacing baseball diamonds, painting buildings and replacing worn playground equipment.
• Six commercial life jackets - $40 each
• One 24-inch ring buoy with rescue line - $120
• Marine first aid kit - $40
• Marine battery - $70
• Damaged switch panel - $100
Source: City of Lodi
To make suggestions or ask Parks Superintendent Steve Dutra to
brainstorm with a neighborhood group, call 368-1012.
Two part-time police officers patrol the city's parks for a total of 12 hours a week, but Dutra and Lt. Chet Somera are working on ways to keep a closer eye out for vandals.
Some parks have cameras, Somera said, so the department is going to try to use that system along with undercover stings.
Dutra said he thinks the best chance at slowing the surge of vandalism is community involvement. He encourages residents who live near parks to call police as soon as they see vandalism, rather than waiting until later to report it.
Some cities have adopt-a-park programs, which take more city employee hours but it's something Dutra's willing to consider. He'll try just about anything, and offered to speak at Neighborhood Watch meetings.
"We're not asking them to be police, we're not asking them to do our job. We're asking for advice," Dutra said. "The community is in this together."
Contact reporter Layla Bohm at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What you can do
To report vandalism, call Lodi police at 333-6727.
To make suggestions or ask Parks Superintendent Steve Dutra to brainstorm with a neighborhood group, call 368-1012.