Residents rally to save Carmel Del Mar Park

A group of Carmel Valley residents are lamenting over the Carmel Del Mar Park that was. In the park neighbors said the trees are weakened and dying from a lack of water and the slopes that used to be coated in fuchsia blooms is now just barren. Where shrubs used to grow green there is only dirt and on the slopes around the corner playground, the bushes are brown and dry.

“It’s a magical place. It’s a special place, connected to a special school, the first Del Mar school in Carmel Valley and it’s been neglected,” said Allison Healy-Poe, a lifelong Carmel Valley resident and graduate of Carmel Del Mar. “It was once a really nice park and it’s like somebody just unplugged it. It just curled up and died. It’s a community tragedy.”

Ruby Evans, whose home abuts the slopes at the park, has been leading a grassroots effort for improved services at the park, which shares its neighborhood use with over 500 kids from Carmel Del Mar School.

The residents raised their concerns at the Oct. 23 Carmel Valley Community Planning Board and a similar plea was made at the Carmel Valley Recreation Council meeting.

At the rec council meeting in October, resident Benay Berl expressed concerns about the formerly “magnificent” jacaranda trees at a triangle at the front of the park, at the end of a “well-loved” walkway that leads down to the school and park from the Carmel Del Mar community.

“These are treasures,” Berl said of the once-lush trees. “When you got to this place and the jacarandas were in bloom, it would take your breath away.”

Evans said the primary concerns are falling and fire hazards, pointing to 40-foot- tall dead eucalyptus trees on the slopes that present falling hazards for the children in the park as well as a fire hazard to the entire community. The entire slope is thick with four to five inches of pine needle detritus and dead vegetation and Evans said that fire risk weighs heavily on the residents’ minds after what happened with the Northern California wildfires last month. Residents say they have made brush management complaints with the fire department as well as complaining to the landscape company.

On Nov. 1, the group gathered with a promise to meet with San Diego Parks and Recreation staff but they did not attend. Steven Hadley, a representative from Councilmember Barbara Bry’s office was there to hear and document the neighbors concerns.

The residents’ complaints have made some noise — that afternoon there were several bags of pine needles that the landscaping company had removed and some residents noted puddling that showed at least some water had at least been turned on somewhere. Evans noted that 10 times as much pine needles as those removed that day still remain on the slope so crews need to keep clearing the slope to prevent the needles from building up again.

“What you’re already seeing is the city responding,” Hadley said, encouraging residents to keep working.

The message to keep pushing and to contact the mayor’s office was not heartening to neighbor Rod Peck, who has lived in Carmel Valley since 1985, pre-dating the school and the park—he said he has complained about the lack of maintenance in the park for over 25 years.

“There are signs that say ‘keep off the slopes’ and the only people who keep off are the people who are supposed to be maintaining them,” Peck said. “Twenty years of complaining has done nothing.”

Evans said one of the main problems now is that the city is under a mandate to conserve water and the slopes were the first places that the water was turned off. Evans said that, according to the area manager for the park, the irrigation to the slopes has been turned off since July 2016. Especially frustrating to Evans is that the Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) which surrounds the park is obviously not under the same mandate because they never stopped watering and the slopes and trees remain lush and maintained. For the community to connect to that MAD or another one would require a citywide vote.

Evans said she was told the sprinklers would be turned on “as needed” manually, however, critical sprinklers are capped, broken or blocked and the irrigation system is antiquated.

“The remaining viable trees need water and maintenance,” Evans said. “Whomever is determining the ‘need’ for water has been proven wrong as evidenced by the dead and dying trees and vegetation. The sprinklers need to be repaired, blocking vegetation needs to be cleared, and watering needs to be increased significantly to save the remaining trees.”

Evans said the watering policy decision has had damaging effects all over the city. In Balboa Park, the city lost 10 percent of the estimated 15,000 trees in the park to the drought. In June, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Tree Balboa Park, an effort that will bring 500 new trees and a new state-of-art irrigation system with help from a $378,300 grant from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Neighbor Gail Jacobson recalled a similar $750,000 grant the city received in late 2016 to plant 500 street trees in urban neighborhoods to boost the city’s tree canopy and help meet some goals of its Climate Action Plan. She said when taking into account the high cost to buy, plant and irrigate trees and given what they represent for the quality of life and the environment, the city needs to be looking at this issue from a more holistic view.

“If trees are so important, let’s protect what we have,” Jacobson said, noting that there could be some unique irrigation solutions out there that the city could pursue. “If we won’t take care of the trees, they won’t take care of us.”

Evans said that there needs to be some accountability from the city for the park getting to this state of disrepair.

“This is a very caring, committed community that loves that park and loves those trees and that has not been tapped into at all,” Evans said. “There is no communication about what the plans are and what the budget restraints are. The park could be part of a community clean-up or the community could raise money to replant, there are a lot of things we can do to help but we don’t have that line of communication going. I’d like to get there as we address these more critical concerns.”

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