B. 4/22/98 – D. 4/22/19: RIP Midtown Monarch Paradise Park

On Earth Day April 22, 2019, I watch out my living room window as the excavator scoops up the remains of the 20 year old Midtown Monarch Paradise Park, a Wildlife Habitat Demonstration Garden in Midtown Ventura funded by two Earth Day grants and built by the community on a vacant city lot and hillside near the terminus of Prince Barranca at Ocean Ave Park.

Long an area plagued with drug and sex traffic, the abandoned lot now planted with natives became home to a thriving ecosystem welcoming an increasing diversity of birds. As plants naturalized over the years, it became a hub for overwintering monarch butterflies, migrating raptors including bald eagles, a nesting and hunting area for Coopers hawks, owls and ravens, and more. People from around the world travel to Ocean Avenue Park to see Prince Barranca fill with monarch butterflies on warm fall days. In spring, wildflowers wowed them.

The excavator driver skillfully pivots and smacks Matilija poppies about to burst into splashes of white and egg yolk, severs the vast carpet of purple sage, knocks out vibrant fremontia covered in palm sized bright waxy flowers, and levels a tall elderberry with creamy umbels just forming. 

Already destroyed: the field of lupine, the sprinkling of orange poppies, the slope of honey colored and scented encelia, fuschia mallow, sky blue ceanothus, and the plain but important narrowleaf milkweed, which feeds monarch larvae.

He drops the plants unceremoniously onto the city lot already cleared of its eucalyptus grove and other native flowering shrubs to send it to its final resting place in a landfill.

All of this destruction of native and non-native wildlife habitat went down in the midst of nesting season so Brisa 29’s development of 29 two and mostly three story luxury townhouses at 1570 Thompson Blvd. could move forward after years of limbo.

Craig Mattey of JMAC purchased 1570 Thompson from V2V and made a deal with the city to develop 29 units and on the city land, a walking path to connect Thompson through the development with Ocean Avenue Park. While he cannot build on city property, his 29 unit development benefits most from the courtyard and landscaping that will be.

Saved from destruction by City Council decree was a mature sycamore tree planted in 1998 to honor L.M. Paquette, my grandfather. Born on Poli, “Manny” moved in to the Ventura volunteer fire department when he was orphaned at 14. Manny never left Ventura or the Fire department; he spent his career and retirement caring for our community.   

That sycamore tree was only saved because I learned of the construction project two days before clearing began. For a number of reasons, the project was able to move forward even though it had been over 12 years since we had attended and spoken at hearings, reviews and council meetings.  
Until I contacted city planning and they checked the records and informed him, Mattey knew nothing of the sycamore or of the City Council’s requirement to hire an arborist to save it.  While unknown if an arborist was employed, the sycamore was moved to a nearby parking lot where it bakes in the sun. 

A sycamore near the intersection of the development, city land and my own that is on my property is also still at risk should heavy equipment operators be careless as they excavate and regrade the lot, which is primarily composed of concrete and asphalt fill from CalTrans.

Most of the trees and habitat are gone for good. But today several more eucalyptus trees on city land are at risk as they curtail the views of the three-story units that tower over the neighborhood (and my house including units that were to be reduced to two floors with decks facing east toward landscaped area and not west into my yard. City staff is investigating). 

These eucalyptus trees deserve our protection: they provide critical habitat to overwintering monarch butterflies. A Cooper’s hawk nest has been active there for many years. It will challenge the developer to landscape and to sell the units with these trees extant. These trees matter to us and to the species that inhabit them and require our vigilance.

As infill projects like this continue, neighbors need to be notified better, particularly adjacent residents and homeowners. According to city staff, changes to this project were “minor” and so unnecessary to send notifications, but they are MAJOR to us. We only knew that construction was commencing from a courtesy letter from the developer. Because we were able to immediately consult with staff, we’ve been able to address several problems with the project and have them remedied.

Join us Monday May 5 at Ventura’s City Council during the public comment period. Let them know that neighbors need to know. Speak for the trees. Thank you.

Gwendolyn Alley teaches writing at Ventura College, has degrees in English, Ecopsychology, Education, and Environmental Studies, and blogs about wine at http://winerpredator.com. Twice an Arts Fellow for the City of Ventura, she’s also been commissioned to create a spoken word piece for an arts installation in Pasadena, and awarded a grant for a performance about the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mud Flow.  She is currently open to opportunities to work and live elsewhere.