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Parks & Recreation Commission (View All)

Parks Commission Study Session

Minutes
Monday, July 18, 2016

City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
STUDY SESSION MINUTES
July 18, 2016


ATTENDEES
Present:  Commissioners Gardiner, Landt, Lewis, Miller, Shaw; Director Black; Superintendent Dickens and Dials; Executive Assistant Dyssegard; Assistant Manuel
 
Absent:  City Council Liaison Mayor Stromberg
 
CALL TO ORDER  
Chair Gardiner called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. at The Grove, 1195 E. Main Street
 
PUBLIC INPUT
There was none.
 
PARK RESTROOM AND FACILITY USE POLICIES AND COMMUNITY GROUPS PARTNERSHIP DISCUSSION
Chair Gardiner began by noting recent concerns or questions about the use of certain park facilities, warranting a review and some discussion.
 
Black said a community group organized and implemented a free weekly meals program for community members, including homeless persons, on Fridays in Railroad Park. APRC heard concerns from community members about the program’s possible closure due to park impacts associated with the event but he was not aware of any closure. He suggested that the Commission talk about impacts of certain activities in Ashland parks.
 
Black said one complaint brought forward by residents was the number of vehicles parked along the street adjacent to Railroad Park. It was inferred that some of the vehicles were being used for camping. He noted that camping on the street, at a park or on any City property was prohibited by municipal code. Ashland Police would be stepping up patrols in that area in response to citizen concerns, including possible illegal camping. He noted that a direct impact of increased usage of Railroad Park was heavy use of the restrooms, particularly at night.
 
Black reported that APRC staff occasionally found that the automatic locking systems in restrooms were bypassed or damaged in an effort to continue to use the facilities at night. If restroom doors were left ajar in the evenings before automatic locks were triggered, the locks would not engage and doors remained open during the night. This was not yet verified at Railroad Park but it had been identified at other Ashland parks. Parks custodians found people camping in Ashland Creek Park restrooms and damage was observed. Another APRC policy violation noted by APRC staff was smoking during the night in park restrooms. Increased litter was also an issue in parks and Railroad Park showed evidence of increased debris.
 
Black detailed a few complaints that arose due to the weekly Friday meals program but said event organizers were willing to help minimize impacts on parks. He stated that no formal tracking system had been implemented to verify that meal participants were camping overnight in the park.
 
Parks Superintendent Dickens confirmed that restroom issues were significant, naming the Calle, Railroad Park, Garden Way Park, the YMCA Park and Ashland Creek Park as hot spots for litter and trash and the unauthorized use of restrooms and associated vandalism. He stated that damage to the locking mechanisms was known to have occurred in Lithia Park as well. 
 
Dickens said extra efforts to reduce the number of camping incidents in parks might include pruning back the blackberry bushes and similar vegetation. Such actions could discourage camping and reduce the impact on park facilities.
 
Black emphasized that most parks were not reservable but were “first-come, first-served.” He noted that because of the regularity of the Friday meals program, several complaints had been received from other park users wishing to use the Railroad Park picnic shelter at the same time. Event organizers subsequently expressed a willingness to move their event elsewhere within the park if necessary. Commissioners explored moving the meal event from park to park each week to increase outreach within the community. Organizers replied that consistency of time and place was the best way to reach those who were most in need of the meals service.       
 
Black reiterated that tracking restroom use would assist APRC in determining the extent of use and identify illicit nighttime use. He stated that further action could be taken to confirm that the restrooms were secured for the night. Black advocated for further tracking prior to taking such action.   
 
Black stated that the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission would participate in identifying solutions for homeless camping. He encouraged the group to approach Ashland City Council with suggestions about minimizing camping on streets and recommendations for the health and safety of homeless persons.       
 
Open Discussion
Shaw commented that street camping at Railroad Park had been occurring for many years. He stated that although there was an awareness about it, he would prefer to have specific tracking data before taking further action.
 
Lewis noted that the YMCA Park was a definite gathering place for campers during the day. He differentiated between occasional use and institutional use, stating that he would be willing to discuss solutions for mitigating the impact of a weekly event on any one park. He indicated that a rotation through the parks might be advantageous for both the meals program and for APRC. There would be greater outreach for the group and the move from park to park might lessen the impact on Railroad Park. Miller agreed, stating that the rotation itself could be consistent so that once people knew where the event was held each week, they could adjust their schedules accordingly.            
 
Mr. David Wick of 250 Eagle Creek Lane in Ashland was called forward.
Wick said he is an ambassador for the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, a citizens’ group dedicated to promoting a positive community for the benefit of all. He said his Commission was authorized by Ashland City Council to conduct its business and sixteen credible people serve as Culture of Peace commissioners. Wick spoke briefly about the initiatives currently underway by the Peace Commission, including participation in the Friday meals program. He stated that the program facilitates a safe place for young people to gather and talk about their world while learning to create a sense of community. Wick emphasized that coming together was a positive thing for everyone. 
 
Wick explained the origins of the Friday meals program, noting that it began as an effort to move people from the downtown area and respond positively to their needs. Wick advocated for use of Ashland’s resources, including the parks system, to facilitate their higher purpose. He stated that the Peace Commission conducted a meeting before each meal to allow people to speak in a supportive environment. The overarching goal was to work toward promoting well-being for all.    
 
Wick said the Culture of Peace Commission is aware of some objections from neighbors of Railroad Park. His commission conducted a survey and received mostly positive responses about the meals program.
 
Ms. Robin Benatti of 1261 Quincy in Ashland was called forward.              
 
Benatti said she moved to Ashland one year ago after visiting the City over many prior years. She outlined her experiences in providing meals for the homeless as part of her mission in food. Benatti shared that many who attend the Friday meals program have formed an informal “Potluck Brigade” and people share what they bring, creating a shared community. She talked briefly about her background and eventual acceptance of the homeless, by listening to their stories in a compassionate way so they can experience acceptance and healing. She said those who are young and able-bodied are willing to earn their way but find hurdles in their paths.
 
Finally Benatti explained that her goal was to reach out to the neighborhood: part of an effort to integrate the neighbors of Railroad Park with others who attend from elsewhere. The meals program makes it easier to get to know one another, facilitating the growth of a peaceful community. Benatti stated that she would like to see a format similar to the National Night Out used to entice people to come to see how these gatherings work.
 
Commissioner Discussion
Gardiner highlighted the larger issue of guiding staff in their relations with individuals using the parks – particularly with groups or community event organizers. He explained that there was a balance to maintain when creating a beautiful parks system and keeping it in good shape. In return for doing so, APRC asked park users to follow park rules in order to mitigate intensive use. He stated that APRC works to be fair and equitable and that all people are invited to enjoy the parks, including those who are traveling through. Rules that apply to uses in parks include a no smoking ban and proper attention to dogs on leash.
 
Gardiner commented that camping in parks is also prohibited. He noted that illegal camping is sometimes linked with defacement of park property, including vandalism of restrooms.
 
Gardiner expressed appreciation for the speakers who came to explain their services and what they hope to accomplish. Because of the first-come, first-serve policy in most Ashland City parks, people have free access to park amenities. It is understood that use comes with responsibilities.        
 
Wick agreed noting that there had to be rules and accountability for all people, including those gathering for the meals program. In response to a question by Gardiner, he stated that the rules were reviewed in a meeting prior to each meal, and personal responsibility was advocated. Wick suggested working together toward a solution for those in need of restroom services during the night. He talked about porta-potties as one possible solution.        
   
Lewis responded, noting that APRC would review the issue and determine whether a new policy should be developed or whether Railroad Park was the appropriate venue for free meals and the homeless population.  
 
There followed a discussion regarding the times when park restrooms are not available for public use – from approximately 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Dickens reviewed the auto-lock process, noting that if restroom doors are not closed, the mechanism does not engage.    
 
Black stated that the Parks organization provides services during a proscribed period of time, just as a restaurant opens at a certain time for service and closes its doors when services are no longer offered. He explained that APRC does not provide services at night, primarily due to the lack of staff to service the facilities. He suggested that the lack of restroom facilities and shelter for the homeless be discussed further with the City of Ashland. He indicated that APRC had no infrastructure for tent camping within the City’s parks, nor facilities to meet the needs of overnight campers. He cited the degradation of sites, the treatment of waste and increased fire danger as significant obstacles.
 
Miller noted that car camping or RV camping on public streets was a municipal violation, something he had been unaware of. Landt noted that changes to the municipal code might be appropriate then camping could be dispersed throughout the City. Once camping was concentrated, logistics became problematic. He indicated that the City of Ashland would have more tools to address issues with regard to the homeless and other overnight campers.      
 
Lewis called for further discussion of the weekly meals meetings as there were other issues yet to be reviewed such as access to electrical connections and inappropriate graffiti on park pathways. He noted APRC’s reputation for working toward solutions while fulfilling their responsibilities as elected stewards of parks and associated facilities.   
 
Landt suggested that three hours per week was insufficient to generate any changes at this time unless further research indicated a much deeper issue. He recommended gathering additional data. Gardiner agreed, highlighting the opportunity to approach the issues and concerns with a global focus with regard to all Ashland parks. He stressed upholding park regulations.         
 
Dickens asked whether Friday afternoons and evenings were the best time for the weekly gathering, noting that birthday parties were often celebrated on Fridays in parks.
 
Black noted that the Friday meals operation seems to be going well. He indicated that more information would be helpful and tracking would be instituted. He stated that no further action was necessary at this time. 
  
Wick added that the operation was a positive for the City of Ashland. It gave those in need a venue that was away from the downtown and allowed for a peaceful resolution.  
 
Shaw reiterated that additional research would assist APRC and the Parks Commission in determining the best possible location for the meetings as well as addressing the more pressing infrastructure issues. Miller advocated for porta-potties in high use areas. Lewis noted that access to electrical outlets in the parks should be taken into consideration as well. He suggested signage to reduce camping in the streets and parks.      
 
There followed further discussion about the timeframe for gathering data to assess the impact of regular events in Railroad Park and other parks where camping tended to take place. Landt advised that any changes, such as earlier closure of the restrooms, be approached with caution.   
 
In response to a question by Superintendent Dials, organizers noted that the Friday timeslot was chosen because of the availability of volunteers and a lack of conflicting events.  
 
Black reported that one complaint had been received asking for signage that posted park hours more clearly. He pledged to measure impacts and gather information about the meals program.
  
Wick reiterated that APRC could provide valuable assistance by contributing to a culture of peace. He invited those present to attend the gathering.
 
STAFF UPDATES
Black updated the Commission about a Golden Spike dedication to be held in Railroad Park at noon on the 28th of July. He stated that the dedication commemorated the connection of rail lines from California to Oregon. Black noted that the event had been spearheaded by Dam Merrill, a long-time Parks staffer with a passion for railroads.  
 
Black reported on the finalization of the Performance Audit. He stated that the consultant had sent the final version for review by the Advisory Committee and Commission adoption. Black stated that the final version added priority levels and other adjustments as recommended by the Advisory Committee and the Commission.
 
Dickens invited the Commission, staff and the public to a free pump track demonstration at The Grove on July 24, 2016 from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. He stated that track sponsors traveled throughout the country giving demonstrations featuring skateboards, scooters and bikes. 
 
Dials highlighted a bike-a-thon sponsored by Jackson County on July 23. The 51-mile Up and Down Ashland bike ride would showcase the Cascade/Siskiyou bikeway. Participants would be treated to a meal and beverage at the conclusion of the ride. The event would begin and end at Emigrant Lake.  
 
Dials also noted that “Island Night” would be held at the Daniel Meyer Pool on July 23, 2016, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The low-cost event would feature live Hawaiian music, hula dancing and other activities.
 
ADJOURNMENT
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 8:15 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
 
Betsy Manuel, Assistant
 
 
 
The Minutes are not a verbatim record. The narrative has been summarized to reflect the discussions made. Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission Study Sessions, Special Meetings and Regular Meetings are digitally recorded and available upon request.   
  

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