Park Redesign takes center stage at Westside Forum

Ventura officials meet with residents

By David Courtland 12/20/2007

Plans for a new community center and redesign of Westside Park drew the most attention from about 60 Westside residents attending a Dec. 13 community forum held by city officials in Sheridan Way School’s cafeteria.

“We’ve done a redesign of the entire facility,” architect Tyson Cline said, “with better circulation for cars, a new gym building and reconfigured playing fields to allow better use.”

The $3.6 million project, jointly funded by the city and the Ventura Unified School District, includes plans for two new swimming pools — a standard pool with lanes for competition and another with a slide and recreative features — as well as an expanded skate park.

“I’ve been complaining for a while that we have so many kids and not enough space,” said Anita Diaz, Westside Park’s manager. “Tyson took a lot of my ideas into account.”

City Engineer Rick Raines said the community center’s target opening date is spring of 2010, following about a year of work finalizing the design and another year of construction.

Raines said it has taken two years to bring plans for a center this far, as city and school district officials talked about alternative site locations and designs.

“We’ve nailed down all that preliminary stuff,” Raines said, “and we’re ready to jump right in and go forward with the project.”

But the forum featured more than a discussion of plans for Westside Park, with police officers, firefighters and representatives from other city departments on hand to answer questions and hear concerns or complaints.

“Police Chief Pat Miller wanted an opportunity for residents to have a friendly forum and meet directly with police, fire and all the city departments,” said Lysa Urban, a marketing specialist with the city’s civic engagement division.

“This is like City Hall making a house call,” Urban said. “For a lot of people coming to City Hall is intimidating. This is a chance to ask, ‘Who do I talk to about getting a pothole fixed?’ or, ‘Who do I talk to about graffiti abatement?’”

Miller was unable to be at the forum because of a delay returning from Washington, D.C., but that didn’t stop Steve Van from voicing his concerns about pedestrian safety near his North Ventura Avenue business.

“You’re playing dodgeball when you go down the sidewalk,” because of kids riding their bicycles on them as they’re going home from school,” said Van, whose other concern is litter.

“We need more trash cans,” Van said, adding Ventura may need a law similar to Santa Monica’s cigarette ban on its beach. “I’ve found 100 (cigarette butts) at one intersection.”

Van also favors increasing the police presence on Ventura Avenue by moving the substation now in a strip mall between North Garden and North Olive streets further north along North Ventura Avenue.

“The buses need to slow down,” continued Van, who thinks lower speed limits on North Ventura Avenue would save accidents. “They don’t have the braking distance for pedestrians.”

Juanita Vega said she was also concerned about children’s safety, and she likes the plans to expand the skate park.

“I like that kids would have a good safe place to go skateboarding,” said Vega, who says she doesn’t blame skateboarders for going elsewhere — like the parking lot of her daughter’s business — but worries about their safety.

“It’s such an athletic thing to do, (the park) is where they need to be,” Vega said.

Some city staff, such as Josie Herrera, spent the two-hour forum watching people flock to representatives of other departments without getting a chance to talk about hers.

“We run the elections, and make sure we’re in compliance with the Public Records Act,” said Herrera, adding that her office also records the minutes of city council meetings. But she had no regrets about participating in the forum.

“This is an exciting event, we’re happy to be here,” Herrera said.

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