City aims to keep Benham Park family friendly

By From page B1 | April 29, 2013

Heading off trouble in Benham Park was the subject of a report and a discussion at the Placerville City Council meeting on April 9.

Benham Park, located at 3701 Benham St. in Placerville is a 4-acre city park. Contained within the park is the Placerville Aquatics Center, two tot-lots, basketball court, Scout Hall, picnic facilities and a turf area.

During the second quarter of 2012 and continuing through the summer and fall, the city received a number of  reports of unwanted conduct at Benham Park — from profanity and harrassment to public intoxication, assaults and narcotics violations. The Placerville Police Department made 17 arrests and issued citations last summer which resulted in marked improvement, said Placerville Community Services Director Steve Youel.

In an effort to create a family safe environment, the Placerville Police Department has increased vehicle patrols and foot patrols and added directed enforcement and special enforcement activities, said Placerville Police Chief George Nielsen. The  SHIELD (Specialized Help in Enforcement-like Duties) program has been expanded and SHIELD volunteers have been deployed to Benham Park as well as other city parks to act as deterrents to unwanted activity and as additional “eyes and ears” for the Police Department.

With summer approaching, some of the unwanted activity has begun to resurface, said Nielsen.

Recreation park staff is currently pursuing partnerships with El Dorado County and the Office of Education to extend the swim season and offer extended-day program activities. Expanding the swim season will increase the number of families returning to the park, said Youel in a staff report.

A proposed park rules ordinance will come before the City Council for review in late April or early May. Parks and Recreation Commissioners have been working on rules and ordinances for the park since September and the list of their recommendations is now with City Attorney John Driscoll.

“They took a global approach and I’m going through the recommendations for specifics about what may affect the park, ” said Driscoll. “Then I’ll meet with Steve Youel to word the ordinances.”

Councilwoman Carol Patton objected to having only ordinances for the park. “A list of rules might be a more passive approach and could be drafted easily and quickly. Ordinances are legally binding and need more time to put together.” Also, Patton said, she didn’t want to see a list of “no, no,no.” “The park should be inclusive and open to everyone, but they need to mind their manners.”

“Ordinances look at major problems like alcohol and hours of operation and rules address more routine things like making sure the embers from your barbecue are cool before throwing them out, ” said Driscoll. “Penalties for rule violation might be temporary ejection from the park, but the more serious infractions of ordinances would have stiffer penalties.”

Chief Nielsen said a combination of rules and ordinances would be the best approach. “There must be some sort of consequence or a violator learns that there is really no authority to deal with unacceptable behavior.”

Brian Barnes, Placerville resident, said he uses Benham Park frequently with his friends. “There are homeless people there and that can be a problem and some drug activity. People let their dogs poop anywhere.” His suggestions were to clear out the homeless, provide doggie bags and require dogs to be on leash and for people to get to know their community members better. “There’s not too much to do in this town, so it can be easy to get into trouble.”

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jackie Neau suggested involving the community youth in the solution. “Instead of imposing a lot of nit-picky rules, get involved with the kids. It’s their hangout too.”

The City Council approved a motion to continue to monitor and implement programs and activities to improve the conditions at Benham Park with a 4-0 vote. Vice mayor Carl Hagen was absent on the Cap to Cap trip to Washington, D.C.

Wendy Schultz

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