Park and Rec board to weigh in again on Del Mar Mesa park name

Controversy continues to surround the newly opened Del Mar Mesa park as a petition has been signed by 768 supporters to reinstate the Elizabeth Rabbitt Neighborhood Park name. The San Diego Park and Recreation Board is expected to review its position on the park name on Thursday, June 21 at 2 p.m. at the Balboa Park Club Ballroom.

In April, the board voted 4-3 with two abstentions to change the approved Rabbitt Park name to Del Mar Mesa Neighborhood Park, at the request of Del Mar Mesa resident Gary Levitt. Dan O’Rourke, the resident who led the neighbor initiative to honor Rabbitt with the park name, was not present at the meeting and successfully petitioned in order for it to reheard.

The new park is located at the end of Del Mar Mesa Road near the intersection of Duck Pond Lane and Del Vino Court.

Levitt has said the renaming effort was nothing against Rabbitt personally but he did not believe that city policy was adhered to in the process to rename the park and did recieve the necessary community input, particularly from the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board.

Guided by Park and Recreation staff, O’Rourke said he followed every step of the naming process, which included support from the local recreation council (Ocean Air), Community Parks Area 1 Committee and the city Park and Recreation Board. At no time was he told he had to go the planning board.

As he went through the approval process, O’Rourke had unanimous support from each committee and the name was officially approved in March 2017. Requests by Levitt to change the approved name at the same local council meetings were met with “no action” or denial or until he got to the Park and Rec Board in April.

O’Rourke has stated while he has built a petition that shows “strong support” for the park to be named for Rabbitt, the opposition has not demonstrated a similar amount of support for the Del Mar Mesa Neighborhood Park name.

In October 2017, some of the Del Mar Mesa planning board members said they were caught off-guard when they found out that the park had been officially named without their involvement after they had long been associated with the park’s design, planning and financing. In a 6-2 vote with two abstentions (including Rabbitt, who is the board secretary), the board approved sending a letter to the city asking for an investigation into the naming process, including whether there was proper noticing.

That month Levitt resigned as chair of the board after 12 years. As of May, his replacement as chair, longtime volunteer Lisa Ross, had also resigned.

“It’s very disappointing to me how this was handled by city staff,” said Carmel Valley resident Ginny Barnes, who spoke out against the name change in April. “City Park and Rec staff blew it on this one.”

San Diego Park and Recreation Board policy states that parks and recreation facilities should first be named to identify their locations—the name of the community area, the names of nearby geographic features, adjacent schools and streets.

“They may be named for individuals, living or dead. who are of historical significance to the local area or who have made major financial contributions,” the policy reads. “Facilities within parks are more appropriate for naming after individuals than are parks.”

Posting on the site Nextdoor, O’Rourke questioned Barnes’ connection to the community.

Barnes was one of the founding members of the Carmel Valley Recreation Council after moving to the community in 1985. She spent 12 years on the Park and Recreation Board and chaired the park design committee for the Del Mar Mesa park when it was approved back in 2005.

While some have said that Del Mar Mesa Neighborhood Park is a “default name,” Barnes pointed out that back in its conceptual stage, the park was given the name Duck Pond Park as it was located adjacent to Duck Pond Lane and Levitt’s housing development.

“When discussing names it was made clear from residents that the park was for the entire community, built by Facilities Benefit Assessment contributions from the entire community and should be named to represent the entire community,” Barnes said, who wanted to make it clear that no one is asking for the park to be named for any individual.

Carmel Valley resident Anne Harvey, who lived on the property where Rabbitt lives now back in the 1970s, noted that the park not only serves the immediate neighborhood but it also serves the trails coming in from all directions, including those coming from Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.

Harvey said that the park is the only public facility on the mesa, the only opportunity for naming in the whole neighborhood and it should identify as the Mesa.

“Why shouldn’t it be named for the whole neighborhood?” Harvey asked. “It’s the more accommodating and inclusive thing to do. It should acknowledge all of the past contributors and inspire all of the future people who will be volunteers, take care and look after the park. It’s a neighborhood park and it should reflect that.”

As of April 2017, San Diego City Council established a policy to create uniform guidelines for naming and renaming city assets. It states as general policy, a name should assist the public in identifying its location—“the city shall first consider the name of the community area, the names of nearby geographic features, the names of adjacent schools and streets”.

The policy states that “outstanding individuals” may also be considered in naming to acknowledge individuals who have made substantial contributions to benefit the city, local community, park and recreation system or public library

.“Naming or renaming a city asset for an outstanding individual is encouraged for a person whose significance and good reputation have been accepted in the community,” the policy reads. “If it is not appropriate to name the larger city asset after an individual…then the city may name an area or portion of the city asset after an individual, including but not limited to a meeting room, structure, fountain or garden.”

A compromise has been proposed to honor Rabbitt’s contributions to the community by creating The Elizabeth Rabbit Community Garden within the park.

“In considering naming or renaming a city asset after an individual, priority will be given to those who made a sustained and lasting contribution to: the city of San Diego, the state of California or the United States,” Council policy states.

Harvey said she believes that the Rabbitt name does not carry historical significance, she was not a pioneer of the mesa. She pointed to the Del Mar Mesa Specific Plan, which details Del Mar Mesa’s history is as a farming settlement back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Much of the land adjacent to and within Del Mar Mesa was owned by members of the McGonigle family—their name marks Little McGonigle Ranch Road. Back in the 1950s, there was an attempt to build a commune on the Mesa, and in the 1960s and 1970s the area attracted a number of horse farms.

To O’Rourke, Rabbitt’s contributions as a neighbor are significant and he has called her “our pioneer.” She moved to the community back in 1995 when it was mostly dirt roads and few homes and when development started in 2001, O’Rourke said Rabbitt embraced her new neighbors with open arms and her farm became a central piece of the community. When for a long time there was no community park, her ranch sometimes served as one as she invited neighborhood children on her property to ride horses and interact with her farm animals.

“Sometimes you just do things for people because they are special, they enrich our lives and ask for nothing in return. That is Elizabeth. She did not ask for this honor...we had to talk her into it and she humbly accepted,” wrote O’Rourke on the latest petition. “Of course there are others that did more and were more influential in designing this community, congratulations! We love what you did and voted with our money to buy our homes here. We paid the crazy taxes to build this park and we certainly get a say in who we wish to name it after.”

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