At the Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners meeting on Zoom today (July 15), the Veterans Gardens and bocce courts project at the Palisades Recreation Center moved closer to approval by the City.
The 61-page board report noted that in August 2019, an agreement was reached between Your Park organizers and the City that required modifications, specifically involving signage. Supposedly that agreement was not followed.
Board member Joe Halper suggested that signage be addressed and that a vote for this project today would include no further donor names. He also said that the construction materials used in the project are not familiar to RAP and that there should be an annual review by City maintenance, which would take into account the maintenance of the wood on the picnic tables.
RAP Vice President Lynn Alvarez said, “What we say on plaques matter. We were clear in 2019 that we agreed to honor military branches, not individuals.”
She asked that plaques that honor individuals be removed from Veterans Gardens. The individual military songs had been okayed, but “This has morphed into all about the individual – that someone is being honored because there was a donation. This is not in the spirit of what we approved,” she said.
Commissioner Tafarai Bayne said, “I share what Alvarez is saying.”
There was talk about whether the entire project should be held and brought back to another meeting.
“My concern is that Your Park has made certain assumptions from RAP staff and has taken registrations for league play,” Halper said. “Can we accept the project and deal with the signage separately?”
The commissioners, who also include President Sylvia Patsaouras and Nicole Chase, then listened to public comment.
A resident said that an environmental impact study had never been done and that neighbors who live adjacent had never agreed to grills. “There is zero enforcement at this park, there are no fire extinguishers, and because this a very high fire severity zone, you can’t cook at these grills seven months of the year.” He said that neighbors finally got the park staff to put up signs and locks on the grills, because teens were using them late at night.
Bill McGregor, a member of Your Park, disputed the resident’s claims saying, “The plans were 100 percent approved by RAP staff and grilling is allowed.” He said that the park had agreed to honoring an individual on the signs, and also the donor.
A second neighbor said that letters had been submitted to RAP and that a noise impact study had never been done. “There are no sound walls or sound barriers,” the resident said. “As neighbors we have not had our concerns taken into consideration.”
Another resident said, “This is a privately funded park in the middle of a public park.” She also complained that the noise, the grills and teenagers partying late at night were not there when they moved in. “I have an issue with Joe Halper; his name is on Your Park, so of course he’ll be voting for this,” the resident said.
(Halper later clarified that his son and daughter-in-law, unbeknownst to him, had made a donation in his name. He had asked that his name be taken off.)
Jimmy Dunne, who won Citizen of the Year honors for leading the construction of the park, said “We have worked so hard with Rec and Parks. Now we have leagues with seniors and families that have been well received by the community.” He said those that didn’t want the barbeques were a few dissenting voices.
The commissioners decided to go forward with the approval, after amending the agreement that dealt with signage. That part of the agreement will have to come before the board again for approval.
McGregor told the board that the new amendment didn’t agree with what they had earlier agreed upon. “In making this amendment to change its approval of the individual honored and the person making the donation, we relied on it in getting public commitment.”