A group of Mokelumne River Village residents — at times yelling or booing — voiced their adamant opposition to opening up a piece of property on Awani Drive for public access to the river.
At the community forum, about 100 people, mostly from the neighborhood, responded to the idea of opening an abandoned city-owned property to kayakers and canoers.
“Our neighborhood was meant to be a village, not a thoroughfare,” Diane Pendergraft said.
But supporters of more public access for kayaking and canoeing said having responsible paddlers in the area might actually help clean up the property.
“What you have now is an attractive nuisance. You would be better off to create a controlled park,” Lodi resident Mary Fuhs said.
The two-hour meeting at times got tense as residents said they were concerned about increases in parking, crime, traffic, litter and noise if the city opened the 3.7-acre property to the public.
The former landfill site has never been developed, and is currently used as a pathway for kids to get to the train trestle to jump into the river or for homeless to set up camp.
City officials wanted to see if there was interest in more access points before drafting plans or pursuing any state grants available for restoring and protecting river parkways.
After listening to about 15 residents speak against people accessing the beach through the neighborhood, city spokesman Jeff Hood said they will consider other sites or see how Awani Drive residents feel about making the beach property available to kayakers already on the river.
“I wouldn’t say anything is off the table, but we heard the residents loud and clear, and we will focus on something that has the greatest amount of support,” Hood said.
Mokelumne Village homeowner Joan Morrison read a letter outlining the residents’ concerns.
She said the city would need to study traffic, the effects of a park on housing values, the geology of the site, the effects on air and water, the increase in noise and the insurance liability for the city before pursing a project there.
“We will do whatever is necessary to protect our home values and ensure the quality of life that has existed since Mokelumne River Village was built,” she said.
Residents said they are already constantly dealing with trash, drunken brawls, random dogs trying to attack through fences, people hopping the fence, stolen mail, people looking into garages and homes, and even people using garden hoses to shower after going to the river.
Mokelumne Village resident Nancy Brakensiek is concerned the number of transients will increase in the area with a park.
“All the homeless, carand van-living people are now going to have riverfront property,” Brakensiek said.
Lodi resident John Donati said he is concerned that if an access point is opened, more people will trespass on Mason Beach, a private beach in his neighborhood.
On Tuesday afternoon, he had to tell six men with beer in their hands to get off the private beach.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, people who said they would like to see the area opened to the public were booed or talked over.
As Lodi resident and occasional kayaker Kathy Ikeda shared her thoughts on the benefits of opening the property, a man told her to sit down.
“All my friends who kayak are all very good stewards of the community. ... The people who would use it would be a benefit to your community and help with some of the things you are seeing in your community,” Ikeda said.
When the Lodi Paddle Club of about 50 to 60 kayakers does their evening paddle on Wednesday nights, they pick up trash along the way, said Dan Arbuckle, owner of Headwaters Kayak.
He agreed that kayakers are advocates for the environment, and said he is often disappointed to see tents belonging to transients and trash on the banks of the river near Awani Drive.
“If you had more of an upstanding community going through there, it might help what’s going on there,” he said.
He encouraged city staff to continue looking at ways to make more access, even if the Awani Drive site does not work out.
“We are so thankful that the city is looking at the growing needs of the paddle community. We think canoes and kayaks are an asset to our community, and we support more access,” he said.
Lodi resident Jay Bell blamed local officials for not ensuring public access when private land was being developed. He read passages from a 1975 California law that was supposed to guarantee that as private land is developed, a public access point is created too.
There are three neighborhoods along the river that did not comply with state law, Hood said. Rivergate, River Pointe and Mokelumne Village were developed after 1975 and all have private beaches, but not public ones, he said.
After some of the heated exchanges, Brakensiek said she wanted to make it clear that homeowners are not concerned about the sports enthusiasts. She is instead concerned there will be an increase in crime from people similar to those who are currently trespassing and causing problems.
“We are not against kayakers. A lot of us in the community kayak. The huge concern is not the kayaking community, but the people who are looking in and doing stuff,” she said.
Mike Broyles, who bought his first home recently in the Mokelumne Village neighborhood, said he could provide “qualified support” for the project if it done correctly.
As a doctor, he has concerns about the site formerly being a dump site. He also said it is important to make the area safe, especially for families.
“We need to make sure it encourages responsible use and discourages irresponsible use,” Broyles said.
In 1992, the city explored access at the Awani Drive site, but ultimately decided against it. At the time, the city thought there was a possibility of developing a launch area west of the tracks, but all of that area has been developed, Hood said.
“Things have changed in 20 years because of a loss of other options,” he said.
One of the reasons the city is looking at additional access points is to help broaden different forms of recreation around the community, said Jim Rodems, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services.
“We sit adjacent to the wilderness area, the river and lake that are the gems of Lodi but are highly underutilized,” he said.
When grants or other funding is available, it is important for the city to consider it, because parks and recreation has been slashed by 25 percent over the last few years, Rodems said.
“We are shrinking, but that doesn’t mean we stop providing services for our community,” he said.