Carmel Valley community members’ grassroots efforts to preserve and restore Carmel Del Mar Park are making an impact.
Informally known as the Friends of Carmel Del Mar Park, they took their appeals about the lack of watering and maintenance that resulted in dying trees and slopes filled with dried brush all the way to the mayor’s office.
At the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting on Jan. 25, Steven Hadley, representative for City Councilmember Barbara Bry, said their voices are being heard.
Hadley said since the residents banded together to fight for the park, plans are now in the works to restore the slope with drought-tolerant plants and low-growing trees to replace those lost, fix the irrigation system and “bring it back into shape in a way that’s sustainable.”
The Friends of the “well-loved” and once-“magical” park, which is located at 12345 Carmel Park Drive in Carmel Valley, first spoke out at the Carmel Valley planning board in October 2017 and followed up at Carmel Valley Recreation Council meetings in December and January 2018.
Ruby Evans, the resident leading the efforts, found that due to drought watering restrictions, the irrigation to the slope had been turned off since July 2016. As a result, the dead and dying trees presented a falling risk for children playing in the park next to the school as well as a fire hazard to the entire community.
In November, residents noted the landscaping crew responded by cleaning up the slope that was four to five inches thick with pine needle detritus and dead vegetation. Since fall, Evans has also observed the sprinklers being used “as needed” on the slope but said that many sprinklers are capped, broken, blocked and the irrigation system is antiquated.
For some trees, the efforts came too late--in late 2017 four trees (three dead and one falling hazard) were removed from the park slopes and Evans believes more were lost on the slope above Carmel Del Mar School’s parking lot.
Evans has requested that the Carmel Valley Recreation Council create a subcommittee composed of city representatives and community members to facilitate restoration of the slopes.
“We believe we can help the city create a more efficient and effective method of irrigation and help address the impact of park goers hiking on the slopes and sometimes breaking sprinkler heads and trampling plants,” Evans said. “We may also be able to create a volunteer group to manually water the new trees as they get established.”
The slopes are not included in the Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) that surrounds the park which Evans noted were not under the same watering mandate as those trees have remained lush and maintained. The residents requested that the slopes be turned over to that MAD for enhanced levels of maintenance, however, it is a difficult task, one that would involve a citywide vote.
According to Kathryn Ruiz, deputy director for Community Parks I Division of the San Diego Park and Recreation Department, the city reviewed the request and per the engineers report, the MAD cannot assume responsibility for the slopes.
In an email to Evans, Ruiz confirmed that the city will be moving forward with the repair and restoration of the irrigation system on the slopes.
“While we will not be watering extensively, we do anticipate, given the ongoing dry weather, increasing watering to the slope to improve the health of the trees and shrubs already there, as well as helping to establish whatever new shrubs we plant,” Ruiz wrote.
Evans said she is encouraged by the efforts to re-establish and operate irrigation on the slopes, replace trees and plant more drought-tolerant shrubbery.
“I would like Park and Recreation to find a way to engage the community to help keep our parks and trees alive and well which is why I proposed a subcommittee,” Evans said. “I hope we can work cooperatively moving forward and prevent the unnecessary loss of any more trees.”
Last year, resident Benay Berl brought her concerns to the Carmel Valley Rec Council about the triangle planter of jacaranda trees at the front of the park, at the end of the greenbelt that leads down to the school and park from the community. She was concerned not only that the trees were not being watered but that there were plans for that triangle to be paved over as part of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements to the park.
The ADA-funded remodel of the park was an agenda item at the December rec council meeting and the engineering firm confirmed that it no longer has plans to pave over the planter due to community concerns regarding loss of the trees.
The city is in the beginning planning stages for a new playground structure and remodel of the restroom facilities at the park.