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Parks & Recreation Commission (View All)

Parks Commission Study Session

Minutes
Monday, August 15, 2016

City of Ashland
PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
STUDY SESSION
Minutes
August 15, 2016

ATTENDEES
Present:  Commissioners Gardiner, Landt, Lewis, Miller; Director Black; Superintendent Dickens and Dials; Assistant Manuel
 
Absent:  Commissioner Shaw; City Council Liaison Mayor Stromberg; Executive Assistant Dyssegard
 
CALL TO ORDER  
Chair Gardiner called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. at The Grove, 1195 E. Main Street
 
ANNOUNCEMENT
Gardiner announced that the regular Business Meeting originally slated for Monday, August 22, 2016, was cancelled.
 
PUBLIC INPUT
Mike Majchrzak of 2283 McCall Dr. Ashland was called forward.
 
Mr. Majchrzak spoke with regard to the affordable housing project slated for McCall Street across from the YMCA soccer fields as well as the proposed APRC Dog Park project. He voiced nearly full support for the Dog Park with the exception of the number of proposed on-street parking spaces. Majchrzak highlighted the various uses (large dog park, small dog park, a community garden and others) and said the eight proposed spaces would be insufficient. With the development of an affordable housing subdivision across the street, on-street parking spaces would be scarce. Parking on the south side of the property would be too far away for people taking their dogs to the dog park located on the north side.
 
Majchrzak proposed including twenty to twenty-four parking spaces. He recommended angling the parking on the property adjacent to the dog park rather than competing for parking spaces on McCall.                   
 
USE OF NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS FOR RECURRING EVENTS DISCUSSION; PARK PATROL UPDATE
Black introduced the topic, stating that it was part of an ongoing discussion about an event held each Friday afternoon in Railroad Park. He said volunteers prepared meals to feed the homeless and others in attendance.
 
Black reported attending one Friday as an observer and said it was affirming to see people working together in an organized way to address unmet needs for the homeless. Volunteers provided the food, creating an event that functioned much like a potluck. Organizers tracked the number of people served and worked toward connecting those in need with appropriate services. Black applauded efforts to address issues with vagrants by patrolling Railroad Park after hours and encouraging people to move away from the Park at night. If a situation called for it, they could ask for assistance from Park Patrol.      
 
Black asked the Commission to focus on two issues – the event itself and whether or not recurring events should be permitted in neighborhood parks. He indicated that such an event drew people from beyond the neighborhood, thereby negating the purpose of a park planned for those within walking distance.  
 
Jason and Vanessa Houk of 137 5th St. Ashland were called forward.
 
Mr. Houk noted that he and his wife had been operating the weekly event since November of 2015. He stated that meals were provided for the homeless as well as for other members of the community such as the elderly and lonely people. The number of people attending the Friday meal typically ranged from 40 to 60, with 15 to 20 volunteers supplying the food and assisting with the logistics of setting up and tearing down when the event concluded. Remaining debris was packed out of the park.
 
Mr. Houk stated that event organizes partnered with other organizations such as the Culture of Peace Commission whose participants held a talking circle before each meal, creating a safe place for people to talk about issues or concerns. He noted that the talking circle was a successful element and the event as a whole was generally a positive experience. Ms. Houk agreed, stressing benefits for the community that went beyond care for a vulnerable population. The goal, in her words, was to “to create a world where people take better care of one another”.  
 
Mr. Houk commented that there were occasional incidents in which the police were called. He indicated that there were times when troubled individuals had a negative impact: disrespecting the neighborhood and disturbing the peace. He stressed that volunteers work diligently to disperse those who are inclined to linger in the park, identifying places for people to stay and ensuring that environmental impacts are minimized. He noted that drawing people away from the downtown activity centers and providing a meal helped to relieve pressures that could occur when people were begging for food in areas where tourists congregate.
 
Mr. Houk indicated that continuing to hold meals in Railroad Park would not be sustainable for a variety of reasons. APRC had received a complaint about sharing the park with those wishing to hold their own celebrations. In addition, the outdoor venue was often too hot in the summer or too cold in winter, discouraging people from attending. Houk stated that a public indoor space would be ideal. The event was originally held in Pioneer Hall and organizers would prefer to return there for a variety of reasons.
 
Officers Matt Carpenter and Jason Billings were called forward.

Officer Carpenter reported that the issues where a police presence was needed were fairly common. Patrols in and around Railroad Park had Increased, incenting people to comply with Parks regulations. Infractions had been minor and included urinating out-of-doors, intoxication and camping in and around the park. Carpenter commented that a recent fight between two individuals was really a minor annoyance. He reported that the incident occurred after the Friday meal in Railroad Park but it was not known whether the antagonists had participated in the event.   

In response to a question by Gardiner, Officer Billings noted that they had received complaints about people camping along the street that border Railroad Park. He stated that the police actively worked those as a violation of City code. 

Gardiner asked the Houks whether they would consider moving the meals event from park to park to lessen the impact on any one park. Ms. Houk replied that some thought had been given to the idea but it seemed problematic. She stated that organizers would be particularly concerned about seniors with limited ability to travel. Communicating the scheduling changes to those who attended would be difficult as well. She noted that consistency was an important factor when reaching out to those who were homeless.

There followed a discussion regarding the need for cooking facilities and the importance of hot coffee regardless of weather. Places to sit and stay warm and dry in all weathers were also factors. Houk emphasized that Pioneer Hall would provide a secure location and increased efficiencies. Needed services could be accessed more readily and troublemakers could be asked to leave if necessary. Ms. Houk spoke to the importance of keeping the peace for all those involved.     

Lewis noted that he appreciated the need for an indoor facility. He questioned whether recurring events were appropriate for neighborhood parks generally and whether neighborhood parks were the appropriate avenue for relieving pressure from the downtown. He spoke about the unsettling nature of incidents that disturb the peace. Houk highlighted the importance of feeding the hungry and providing access to a hot meal.
 
Landt inquired more specifically about moving the event to Pioneer Hall, given the limited mobility of seniors who attend and the difficulties in communicating the change. Houk responded that Pioneer Hall was close enough to Railroad Park that most people would be able to attend. Because it was also the original location for the event, people would be more comfortable with that location as opposed to somewhere new. He stated that the event would have continued at that location if it were not for the inability to pay rental fees and meet the insurance requirements. Ms. Houk added that a Tuesday night meal was provided by a church nearby on Tuesday nights, increasing familiarity with the venue.
   
Black recapped the two issues as follows:

  • Appropriate uses for neighborhood parks
  • Should they function as relief valves for community issues elsewhere?
  • The use of Pioneer Hall for the recurring meals event held on Friday afternoons
He explained that Pioneer Hall functioned much like a Community Center in that it was open for public uses. The requirements for liability insurance varied from $1 million to $2 million depending upon the level of risk. The Hall functioned periodically as a homeless shelter during cold weather and liability insurance for those days was provided by the City of Ashland. Legal opinion tentatively identified the meals project as one where APRC would be exempt from liability, as defined by the concept of recreational immunity.   
       
Landt noted that the City of Ashland typically addressed homeless issues. He suggested further research to determine the appropriate responsibilities. Landt also indicated that the weekly meals event in Railroad Park seemed to result in relatively minor impacts that were not sufficient to warrant any changes to Parks policies or to move the event from park to park.

Discussion thereafter focused on ways to relocate the event to Pioneer Hall. Ways to address rental fees and the required liability insurance were explored. Superintendent Dials stated that Pioneer Hall was often reserved for other events with Friday availability decreasing as reservations for holiday events were received.

Lewis supported Pioneer Hall as the venue of choice for the meals event. He emphasized the benefits for all concerned, stating that he would be willing to assist with the problem solving process. He also recommended involving the Culture of Peace Commission and other groups interested in facilitating the meals program.     

Landt called for clarity with regard to liability insurance and whether it would be pertinent if rent was collected. Further complicating a case for recreational immunity was the fact that Pioneer Hall was owned by the City of Ashland and APRC managed rentals for community uses. Further research would be needed to identify liability responsibilities and under what circumstances.

There followed discussion about approval authorities and other related business issues. Landt recommended against setting a precedent by continuing to work on homeless issues that were the responsibility of the City of Ashland. He stated that the City was tasked with finding solutions for the homeless and while APRC could be part of the solution, it was not a directive.
 
Lewis reiterated that he too wanted to be part of the solution. He agreed that no major changes to Parks policy would be needed but that other issues remained. He reminded the Commission that it was important to debate appropriate uses for neighborhood parks.        
 
Black highlighted the preference for holding the event in Pioneer Hall, requesting that event organizers formally present a request for the venue and under what terms. He suggested that the matter then be taken to the City Council for a recommendation regarding the venue and sponsorship of the associated costs and liabilities.
 
Black noted that a Parks Master Plan described the uses for parks, including defining the differences between a regional park, neighborhood parks, sports parks and others. He proposed that APRC review the current Master Plan and update as needed. Black relayed that neighborhood parks, for example, were designed for use by residents who were within walking distance and were typically not reserved or set aside for regular events. He compared the differences between a weekly function drawing a large number of people on a regular basis versus a special event such as a wedding or charitable activity that happened only occasionally.              
 
Gardiner supported additional research and discussion. He suggested that an APRC work session or Subcommittee should be dedicated as a time to work with organizers to devise a suitable solution for the weekly meals event. Black stated that APRC would continue to host the meals event in Railroad Park until a solution was found and agreed upon.
 
Landt reminded Commissioners that the Performance Audit underscored the importance of maintaining a separation between the City of Ashland and the separate entity that was APRC. He highlighted the possible waiver of rent and/or insurance to enable the meals event to be held indoors, cautioning that taking on a City responsibility and financing it by waiving standard fees and insurance requirements would weaken the fiduciary separation between the City of Ashland and APRC.   
 
Lewis noted the importance of evaluating the cost/benefit ratio and possibly recommending the meals program to the City as a valuable contribution that was beneficial to the City as a whole.
  • Park Patrol Annual Report

Officer Carpenter noted that there were now seven officers on park patrol duty seven days a week. Hours were generally 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and patrols covered many of Ashland’s parks. A priority for the Park Patrol was Lithia Park. Carpenter stated that the Patrol cited approximately a dozen people in the last two weeks, with drugs and alcohol the most common violation. Dogs in Lithia Park were a constant concern, with about sixty dogs and dog owners walking in the park against posted rules during the two-week period. Camping in the parks was another ongoing issue. A recent survey by the Park Patrol identified campers in three areas within Lithia Park. In addition, the roof of one of the restrooms seemed to be a hot spot for parties. In response to a question by Gardiner, Carpenter stated that violators are often given a warning first, with citations following if the activities continued.      

Officer Billings noted that campers tended to move elsewhere for a time, returning as the day progressed.    
 
Carpenter noted that the Patrol worked to maintain visibility in the City’s downtown core where there were a few strong personalities that sometimes upset the peaceful activities of Ashland’s residents and visitors. Carpenter stated that APRC was working with the City Attorney to develop criteria for using the Trespass Ordinance for those types of activities.   
 
Landt conveyed a health and well-being concern, reporting that he’d noticed up to a dozen people using the Skate Park without helmets. He stated that in his opinion, helmets should be a top priority. He explained that helmet use at the Skate Park should be as important as motorcycle helmets because of their clear health-related purpose. Dials stated that APRC supported that goal and, when police discovered someone not wearing a helmet due to a lack of fund (such as an incident recently reported by Officer Carpenter) every effort was made to donate a suitable helmet. 
 
ELECTRICAL OUTLETS IN SHELTERS REVIEW
Black reported on occasional complaints received by APRC about the availability of electrical outlets in parks. He noted that not every park had outlets but those with outlets were available upon request with one notable exception – Railroad Park. Complaints were typically generated because people used the outlets to charge cell phones and other electrical devices.     
 
Black explained that the outlets were difficult to secure. He detailed the various ways APRC protected the outlets from vandalism and extended power for special events. He asked that the Commission consider whether Parks had an obligation to provide power to those requesting it. Black acknowledged that there were legitimate reasons for requesting power such as the preparation of food for an outdoor event. The challenge was to keep the power available for legitimate uses when monopolized by individuals who continually used them as charging stations.
           
Black reported that communities elsewhere dealt with this issue in a variety of ways. Seattle, for example, provided a map depicting electrical outlets throughout the City. Other communities kept their outlets locked at all times when power was not specifically authorized. Black stated that the issue was so pertinent to today’s world that vendors sold solar charging stations for parks. He surmised that the current use for electrical power negated the purpose intended – that shelters provide respite from the weather and/or facilitate outdoor recreational activities.  

Lewis stated that he observed electrical use in Railroad Park daily and it was apparent that the use of the shelter had been lost for picnicking families. He detailed the places where electrical outlets should probably remain, such as the bandshell in Lithia Park where musical events are held.     

Officers Carpenter and Billings affirmed the vandalism of outlets and surrounding issues such as drinking.

Black recommended the removal of electricity except for the special cases such as the bandshell or special events. He encouraged further discussion at the business meeting.

TENNIS COURT PETITION DISCUSSION
Dickens reported that upgrades for the existing courts began in 2011. Court surfaces at that time were in bad shape. All the courts were re-sealed, with the more deteriorated court surfaces repaired using armor coating. Armor coating was a crack seal repair system that allowed cracks to expand and contract without increasing in size. The product was recommended by two separate companies who assured Parks staff that repairs using the system would protect the courts for five to seven years. He stated that problems with the fix were discovered approximately two years after implementation.
 
Dickens explained another method of building courts called the post tension concrete method. It was similar to materials used to build bridges. Concrete forms were prepared and tension cables positioned across the forms, at 33,000 psi per linear inch. When concrete was poured into the forms, it provided an extremely hard surface that provided extensive longevity. Eventually very fine cracks occurred but they were not detrimental to the game.

The post tension concrete method was expensive at about $45,000 to $60,000 per court. 
 
Dickens recommended the system as a long-term solution that would be cost-effective. The new surface would allow courts to be multifunctional – hard enough to facilitate bike polo and other games that tended to harm the existing surfaces. He indicated that the only real drawback to the post tension method was that it was a hard surface that could be punishing to people playing tennis for any length of time.     
 
Landt requested cost estimates and the projected longevity for revitalizing the courts using asphalt versus the new system for comparison purposes. Lewis asked about completing renovations in phases as a way to cushion the budgetary impact.  

Dickens noted that an immediate fix of the more destructive cracks would be costly at $20.00 per linear foot of crack repair. That cost would be offset by extending the life of the court surface temporarily until the $400,000 plus cost to redo all of the courts could be added to the Capital Improvement Budget. Black suggested that resurfacing with asphalt would allow enough time to plan for such a large budgetary impact.

Luther Lyman of 321 Clay St. #101 Ashland spoke from the audience. 
Mr. Lyman noted an alternative solution that consisted of a sturdy carpet held in place by sand. The carpeting had permanent lines measuring the distances. If a slower court was desired, sand was added. If people wanted a faster court, the sand was removed. He recommended researching its use at a High School in Billings, Montana.

Ed Laskos of 1420 Fielder and Gail Patton of 822 Michelle Ave. Ashland were called forward.
 
Mr. Laskos reminded the Commission of the vested interest that Ashland’s community had in the annual Big Al’s tournament. The tournament had been offered in Ashland for 41 years, bringing in players from Oregon and California to enjoy all the amenities offered by the City. This event could not be held if Ashland’s tennis courts continued to deteriorate. Laskos was appreciative of the refurbished courts at Helman School. He requested the refurbishment of Hunter Park as well.   
 
Ms. Patton reiterated a concern about the damage caused to the Hunter Park courts where bike polo was allowed. She expressed appreciation for the group, noting their willingness to assist with the clean-up session that was held in preparation for this year’s Big Al’s tournament. Patton advocated for a dedicated space for bike polo, in an effort to forestall the excessive wear and tear on the courts that tennis players use. She stated that divots, tears and cracks were becoming a safety concern, jeopardizing opportunities to hold tournaments such as Big Al’s. She reported that some of the divots were 3/8” deep.

Patton reiterated that allowing bike polo to take place on tennis courts had led to issues concerning others who assumed they too could use the courts for skateboarding, scooters and bikes. She reported that those using the courts for unauthorized sports were not receptive to going elsewhere for their entertainment even though signage clearly stated what was permitted and what was not.  

Black indicated that he understood the dilemma tennis players faced once bike polo was accommodated at the courts. He noted the APRC mandated to create space where people could recreate, stating that the accommodation was temporary until a more permanent solution could be found. He explained that building a dedicated space was difficult to justify given the costs involved, particularly for a sport that was so new. Black stated that it was not APRC’s intent to impose one sport upon another and he committed to continued research for options that would satisfy both types of users.      

Landt explained that there should be multiple functions for each element in the Parks system in order to reach the most cost effective and efficient use of space. He suggested designating one or two courts as multi-purpose spaces. Future budgetary planning could include conversion of the dedicated courts using the reinforced concrete so that the courts were strong enough to function for other uses.

Gardiner stated that APRC was responsive to as many requests for recreational opportunities as was possible. He talked about the incorporation of a foot golf course onto a portion of Oak Knoll Golf Course in an effort to provide more opportunities for family-oriented sports. He emphasized APRC’s fiduciary responsibility to limit infrastructure to sports that could stand the test of time. 

Landt reinforced the concept, stating that resources were limited and care must be taken to accommodate different needs realistically. He referred to the concept of proportionality when explaining that there were more tennis players using the courts than people dedicated to other uses such as pickleball and bike polo.
 
Landt suggested that the path forward might begin with a grant to provide seed money for a multi-use court. Community support could help offset building costs, with APRC providing as much funding as possible and the maintenance to keep the courts in good condition.     
  
Dickens stated that funding could be considered for the next budget biennium. He noted that there was no budget for resurfacing at this time but once APRC determined a direction, planning for repairs could take place.

Black indicated that an evaluation of the cracks could begin right away. He informed the Commission that he was working on a presentation for the Budget Committee that would detail progress on current projects listed in the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP). He stated that maintenance issues had resulted in changes to the priorities set within the plan. Black intimated that receiving approval for any new projects in this biennium was unlikely.

Black relayed that the CIP report would be reported to the Budget Committee on September 8, 2016. He commented that APRC could review the report in September to ascertain the status of current projects and review the projects that would not move forward in this biennium.

UPCOMING STRATEGIC PLANNING FOR BN 17-19 DISCUSSION
Black referred to the current biennium, stating that there was almost a year left to attend to priorities and begin the planning process for the next biennium. He noted that a new Commissioner would likely be elected in November to take the place of Commissioner Shaw who had chosen not to file for re-election. He advocated waiting to begin the strategic planning process after the new Commissioner was elected.
 
STAFF UPDATES
Landt reported that changes to the Performance Audit were well received by Ashland City Council. The controversial language regarding use of the extra funding for potential equipment purchases were removed from the final version prior to the presentation. The purchase of the Harshman property was also approved. 
 
There followed a brief discussion regarding questions from the Council about the purchase price and the possibilities for an easement instead. The business case used to answer those questions was well taken, particularly when the importance of Hitt Road for trail connectivity as a corridor for firefighters and as wilderness protection and treatment was stressed.     

As an afterthought regarding a solution for the Friday meals project, Gardiner suggested that Thursday at Pioneer Hall might be a good fit. Thursdays were set aside to provide shelter for the homeless during difficult weather. Gardiner noted that no fees were charged for that service.  

ADJOURNMENT
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 9:10 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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