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Park Management Plan Will Return
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Once the haunt of drug users and derelicts, Jacob Myers Park has now become so attractive to family groups, it is being overwhelmed by the crowds and in summer, the park hosts frequently have to close the gates by noon.

"It's a good thing. Everyone loves the park," Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick recently told the Riverbank City Council. "But now we need a management plan. To keep it nice, orderly and in repair."

Presenting such a plan at a recent council session, she failed to get full approval for the resolution requiring a 3-0 vote when councilmember Jesse James White voted against imposing a $5 per car parking fee, if only for summer weekends and holidays.

Among comments from the council, White said he supported seeking grants rather than charging fees for parking. Mayor Virginia Madueno recalled there was some public opposition to parking fees a few years ago but she felt visitors would now accept a fee aimed at ensuring their safety and maintaining the park as a pleasant place to visit.

Vice Mayor Sandra Benitez said as a longtime resident she had found the park a wonderful place to play as a child, seen it deteriorate into a haunt for the homeless and drug users, and now rebound to again become a fine attraction for family oriented visitors.

Now, Fitzpatrick is awaiting the outcome of a state grant application that would fund addition of 200 more parking spaces and is holding talks with San Joaquin County officials about visitors parking along Santa Fe Road and walking into the park.

That done, she plans to return to council with a revised plan in December or January so it can go into effect before the summer season starting in May.

Her current concerns are parking along Santa Fe Road causing congestion, complaints from adjacent landowners and safety issues; the park exceeding capacity on summer weekends causing difficulties with crowd control and ability to handle emergency situations; alcohol in the park; cost of supplies and manpower, park host turnover and exhaustion; and sufficient funds to handle risk management.

Possible solutions, she suggested, are establishing and enforcing a no parking zone on Santa Fe Road; charging a $5 parking fee on weekends and holidays only from May through September; adding as many parking spaces as possible and reconfiguring trailer parking; and establishing park capacity as being met when the parking lot is full.

Further solutions include using the parking funds to hire two reserve sheriff's deputies, rangers or security officers to assist with park closure at capacity and enforce the no alcohol rule; also using those funds to offset the rising costs of park supplies and equipment and annual tree cuts to ensure public safety; and continue grant writing to complete Phase III including some redesign of the main entrance and more parking lots.

Parking at the area's eight-acre east end, (the developed and most congested region) consists of 130 slots with the possibility of adding about 20 more slots. If the city wins funds for another 200 parking spaces, they would be in the western, undeveloped area of the park. It is debatable whether some visitors would be willing to park there and walk back to enjoy the more popular developed area.

Park hosts and other staff are aware some visitors are illegally bringing alcohol into the park but they lack the authority to keep it all out. Deputies, rangers or security staff would be able to enforce the no alcohol rule. The same is true of turning away would-be visitors once the parking lot is full and the gate closed.

The park is overcrowded and its capacity must be determined and enforced, Fitzpatrick noted.

So many people crowd into the area adjacent to the beach, barbecue shelter and restrooms, an emergency situation requiring police or medical attention could endanger the public. Despite working to the point of exhaustion, staff is hard put to keep up with providing supplies and clearing up trash. There were long lines for the restrooms this past season and the city was almost forced to bring in portables as well.

Park host Bob Eden noted the city must provide a budget and keep up with felling and trimming trees in the park - one that fell accidentally this year cost $1,300 to clear - or risk lawsuits for damage to persons and property.