No walk in the park as City Council discusses amenities for Harvest complex

March 10, 2017
Santa Paula News

It was no walk in the park when the City Council grappled with recommendations made by the Recreation Commission regarding the new complex at the Harvest at Limoneira.

The council discussed the issue at the March 6 meeting attended by Recreation Commissioners and where members of the public addressed the issues. 

Recreation Director Ed Mount told the council that the community and the commission have been discussing the amenities that would be at the new 37-acre park since last year. Fourteen acres are “passive” parkland while the balance is geared to sports and other activities. 

Harvest developer Limoneira-Lewis is providing $6 million for park development; an additional $5 million became available in lieu of a civic center complex that had been slated for the area.

The Harvest at Limoneira will have 1,500 homes, commercial and retail as well as a clubhouse, gymnasium and pool for development residents who will pay fees for private use.

The 37-acre park will be open to all users.

The community responded to visual concepts and surveys at meetings held in September; Mount said the public was also provided with construction and maintenance costs as well as the city’s Master Park Plan created about a decade ago and based on amenity deficiencies.

In all, 207 participants either attended meetings and gave input or completed questionnaires regarding the new park.

The Recreation Commission was then charged to come up with a park plan and added amenities, a duty that Mount said they took seriously.

“We have four out of the five commissioners here this evening,” he told the council. “The only one not able to make it tonight is Commission Chair Karen Berry, who is ill.”

Mount said commissioners studied the costs, maintenance and projected use as well as benefit to youth, families and seniors. 

The basic park would have three soccer/football fields with lights, a $954,905 expenditure; a softball field with lights at $481,898; three basketball courts with lights for $263,670; two barbecue pavilions costing $224,500; a horseshoe pit for $36,400; two restroom facilities totaling $390,000; a $30,000 maintenance shed; two trash enclosures at $40,000 and two parking lots at $520,000. Trees, planters, walkways, turf and trash cans and other miscellaneous items would total $2,946,045.

The initial list totals $5,997,418 Mount told the council, “Pretty close to the $6 million.”

The commission’s first priority for additional amenities is an amphitheater seating 275 at a cost of $988,075.

The fifth priority with the commission that had ranked top with the public is a swimming pool; a Junior Olympic sized pool would cost about $1,220,000 to build but is expensive to maintain and staff.

Other priorities included the additional of four tennis courts with lights ($702,000) as well as a tot-lot, additional softball field with lights, more restrooms and barbecue pavilions and an extra storage shed.

The amphitheater said Mount could be the scene of concerts, special events, movies in the park and other public assembly activities. 

An additional softball field would offer more play space for baseball loving Santa Paulans. 

Mount said the Junior Olympic pool, although the top amenity picked by the public, has financing challenges: He checked other agencies with pools and found “They usually have 38 to 50 percent deficit,” in revenue causing dipping into the General Fund. Fillmore, he added, reported the pool costs them $100,000 a year to subsidize.

The developers would like to move forward as soon as possible to start the design phase said Mount so construction would start next year with a completion by February 2020.

Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi asked if the Santa Paula Unified School District was in any discussions for joint use agreements.  

“That wasn’t brought up,” said Mount who noted the school district is probably waiting to see the final park plan.

“From what I’ve seen, it looks like woefully inadequate parking,” said Gherardi. 

Parking, said Mount, has been addressed and “one of the parts of the agreement is Limoneira Co. will have a commercial site right near the park,” where parking will be available to park users on evenings and weekends.

Tim Jones of Limoneira-Lewis said the new school planned near the park would also have parking, a subject he said was brought up “virtually every single meeting” of the Recreation Commission.

Procter said the issue of the pool is “Of course, Murphy’s Law,” as the pool is the most expensive to build and maintain.  

Mount noted park maintenance alone for the park not including the pool is estimated at about $500,000 a year.

And, he added, “There’s different levels of service too, the Disneyland services,” and basic.

During public comment former Mayor Mary Ann Krause said she supports a pool. 

“We feel like we were promised a pool in East Area 1, that was one of the amenities that people voted for…I think it’s important for children,” to learn to swim but there is no access to the high school pool.

Swimming is “An excellent form of recreation for adults and children,” and therapeutic especially for those with joint replacements. 

Ventura College closed their pool, and others are no longer taking applications for pool use.

Said Krause, “I think because it was so important that you at least owe it to the community,” to do a cost analysis to find the true cost of a pool.

Optimist Club District Lt. Governor Cathy Hicks told the council the community needs an amphitheater and event area that would benefit nonprofits. 

A market is there, she noted: At the Citrus Festival Friday, Saturday and Sunday we had local bands and we were packed.”

“Speaking as a member of the Recreation Commission I am also an advocate for an amphitheater,” that Tim Hicks said would expand opportunities for local events. 

Hicks noted the Easter Seals Pool had closed and “Why haven’t we worked with the high school to get a joint use agreement?” for their pool.

Councilman John Procter said he could envision the amphitheater but “The only thing about that is 275 people is very small…I was thinking something like Libbey Bowl,” which seats more than 900 people.

Councilman Martin Hernandez agreed on “doubling the size of the amphitheater” and suggested a feasibility study be completed so the council would have a better grip on costs especially for a pool.

Gherardi said the pool and amphitheater would be assets but the council must make sure of its choices as well as guarantee covering costs.

“This is a one-time opportunity to build something for the future…if we don’t think big outside the box, if we don’t do it right the first time,” Gherardi said the council would not be able to revisit it.

After more discussion she asked Jones about a park construction timetable and he said nine months would be needed just for design and plan checking.

Gherardi asked if the decision could be delayed a month.

“To see a sign that says park coming versus a park under construction,” does make a difference for a housing development’s grand opening, he noted.

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