Encompassed in San Clemente are eighteen parks, both smaller neighborhood parks and larger community sports and recreation complexes.
To meet the demands of our increasing population and the growth of our recreational programs and the furtherance of boys,’ girls,’ and adult team competition, over the past ten years, San Clemente has built four parks, three in Talega: Liberty, Tierra Grande and Talega; and the Forster Ranch Community Park. The previously padlocked Steed Park reopened with an infusion of City financial support and the addition of a skateboard facility, and San Gorgonio Park was renovated.
Still lacking sufficient recreational arenas for our ever-increasing population, two new parks have been on the front burner for the last four years, one a large sports complex with an aquatic center, a privately-funded miniature golf course, five soccer fields, three baseball fields and a football gridiron – currently named LaPata/Vista Hermosa Community Park (LPVH). The other a very small park, actually a tot lot, however, a special park for both abled and disabled children. It’s called Courtney’s Sandcastle in honor of one of our City’s wheelchair bound youngsters, Courtney Faye Smith.
Both forthcoming parks have stumbled due to contractual and financial problems. LPVH has experienced delays and setbacks and contractor agreement fulfillment. Courtney’s has been in the works for nine years, first planned as a part of Steed Park. Next, it was destined to the Marblehead Coastal development due to the welcome intervention of the late Jim Johnson who had verbally pledged funding support. However, Sun Cal eventually assumed development responsibilities of that project.
Everyone is aware that that developer’s funding fizzled with the bankruptcy of its lender, Lehman Brothers. Presumably, the new park will be funded from City resources and monies paid by Target for land purchase across from the recreational complex.
At a recent meeting of the Courtney’s Sandcastle subcommittee formed by the San Clemente Parks and Recreation Commission, (which is chaired by Mayor Lori Donchak, and includes park commissioners Bill Thomas and Bob Maltinski, Jr. Women’s’ Club representatives Mina Santoro and Melissa Echelberger, park designer Dick Fisher, Courtney Sandcastle’s original advocate Lori Shelton, and City staff members Tim Shaw, landscape architect, and Carla DiCandia, recreation manager, and community representative Raad Ghantous), the merger of the two newest parks was urged. The committee recommended the Parks Commission support the movement of the Sandcastle tot lot from the Marblehead Coastal location to the LPVH site, which has ample space for this addition. Hopefully, by now, the City Council has acted by approving the merger of the two parks, the sports complex and the tot lot, designating the two as part of the “Vital Few” funding commitments of the City.
Added Al King, Director of Beaches, Parks, and Recreation, “We remain focused on bringing the LPVH Sports Park and new Aquatic Facility to our community. This exciting project along with the completion of the Marblehead Coastal Parks will result in San Clemente being among the premier communities in Orange County for park, sports and aquatic facilities. Although development of our Courtney’s Sandcastle Boundless Playground has been impacted by the current economic recession, there exists a great deal of community energy directed towards getting this important project completed.”
The San Clemente Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Foundation has contracted with the City to serve as a major fundraiser for the combined park and has also been given the charge of honoring donors to various facilities and amenities such as ball fields, swimming lanes, trees, drinking fountains, benches, and paving tiles though granting them naming rights.
The largest such donor to date is Pacific Coast National Bank, which has pledged $100,000 to have a baseball field as its namesake. The Foundation directors are hopeful that a unified effort of local service clubs, businesses, and community organizations will concentrate on obtaining sizeable contributions to this worthy cause.
Another key money raising player in this particular park venture is a LPVH park committee consisting of representatives of the Park Commission, the Park Foundation and the City of San Clemente. This group, headed by Assistant to the City Manager, Laura Ferguson, and originally instituted by Councilman Wayne Eggelston, has been meeting for the past three years to assist with park design; identifying values to park features, fixtures and fields; potential funding sources, grant availability and reviewing signage recommendations. This group sponsored the initial and very successful groundbreaking ceremony anointing the first phase of LPVH park development. Local city officials and prominent athletes including former water Olympian, Mitch Kahn; Houston Astros third baseman and San Clemente resident, Geoff Blum, and USC All American footballer Brad Budde spoke on the importance of sports and recreation to our community. The ceremony commemorated the first phase of park development, which included installation of ground preparation; all utilities: gas, electricity and water; and building of park curbs, roads and parking areas, all of which have been completed.
Now, phase two, the completion of playing fields, buildings and water pools is slated to begin. To kick off this phase, both of these committees are planning another “above the ground” celebration, tentively scheduled for April 17-19, 2009 on the park site. The intent is to host a three-day event with carnival games, local bands, community organization booths, service clubs and youth sports groups all involved in enthusiastically recognizing that the final stage of “their park complex” is about to begin.
The next step for LaPata/Vista Hermosa Community Park will be the bidding of contractors for this next phase. Previously estimated at thirty-two million dollars, City officials are hopeful that bids will be considerably lower than previous estimates due to the realities of a deflating economy. Park architect Tim Shaw believes it will take about 18 months to build the park once started. Bids are to go out in February or April and construction, hopefully, will begin in May or June. If all goes well, the LaPata/Vista Hermosa Community Park will be completed on or around December, 2010. It’s at that time, the current mayor can declare, “Let the Games begin! b