After years of hearing complaints about the condition of Mooney Grove Park, Visalia City Councilmember Greg Collins had a brain storm: What if Visalia took over the maintenance of Mooney Grove?
During a public forum hosted by the Visalia Times-Delta last month concerning recreational activities in Tulare County, the discussion kept returning to Mooney Grove.
Participating on the panel, among others, were Collins and Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian. Collins responded to public complaints about the condition of the park by suggesting that the city could fold the maintenance of Mooney Grove into Visalia’s system.
“Here are the keys,” Shuklian said in jest.
Collins then took the “keys” and said, “where is the check?”
Starting the Conversation
As a result of Collins’ and Shuklian’s exchange, Collins requested that Visalia city staff put an item on the June 19 consent calendar. His proposal, to discuss with the rest of the council, was to research the possibility of taking over Mooney Grove in exchange for the county’s handing over the funds they use every year to maintain it.
Collins started the discussion by saying that old-time Visalians have fond memories of Mooney Grove, and they all have a story to tell about their reunions or events at the park.
“Unfortunately, Mooney Grove today has slipped into a state of mediocrity. Many trees have died, boats are gone, the pond is covered with algae, and there seems a lack of will to resurrect this park.”
A resident submitted a letter before the meeting to each council member from which Collins read. The letter described the park as dirty, unkempt, and the author was appalled that 50-plus trees had been removed with only their stumps visible.
Residents haven’t been the only ones complaining about the maintenance of the park. Tulare County Parks and Recreation employees have reported that animals and trees have been abused and that historic features in Mooney Grove Park have not been maintained. The employees have also alleged misuse of state and local funds, inadequate training, hazardous work conditions and a hostile work environment.
Clyde Slusser, a former Senior Parks and Grounds Worker for 11 years, blames Parks and Recreation Director Neil Pilegard.
Slusser says that the problems with Mooney Grove “all boil down to ego and lack of management. There is no organization, no procedures and it is an unsafe work environment.”
Collins lamented that the Visalia City Council could do nothing and the park could continue to deteriorate. “We could say that’s not our problem, but this council is pro-active with problems like this.”
“Mooney Grove is a County Problem”
Councilmember Steve Nelsen did not agree with Collins. He said that it would be irresponsible for the city to take on a park that is four times larger than Riverway Sports Park, a facility that is still not completely built out.
He said that three months ago the council heard a report on the condition of Visalia’s parks and that three of them need a new sprinkler system.
He added that park staffing is at 1985 levels and that they have been forced to do more with less. Nelsen was not in favor of adding another burden to an overtaxed staff.
“The deteriorating condition of Mooney Grove is a discussion that needs to be made at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors,” said Nelsen.
Collins disagreed that taking over the park would stress the city staff. “Just for the record, this should be a zero sum game. If we go forward we would ask for the entire amount and there would be no impact on our forces,” said Collins.
Councilmember Bob Link countered by saying that Visalia always does everything first rate and he predicted the city might use a third more money than projected.
Mayor Warren Gubler commended Collins for thinking outside the box and bringing the issue to the forefront but agreed with Nelsen.
“I’m not convinced that this is a project for the city.” Gubler added that if the county does not have the will to change the park now “then the voters can use the power of the ballot box.”
Park is Not Deteriorating Says the County
“Absolutely not” was the response from former Tulare County Supervisor and current Councilmember Phil Cox when asked if the county would hand over Mooney Grove.
He added, “I took great offense at the people saying the park was being neglected when in fact it never was.” He continued, “There are a very small handful of people just screaming and yelling that Mooney Grove is dying and that it is terrible. Just because Chicken Little screams the sky is falling doesn’t mean the sky is falling.”
Cox finished by saying, “The county has done a great job, and continues to do a great job, in maintaining Mooney Grove.”
Collins replied, “Time will tell. We may be having this conversation again. People will continue to complain or the county can step to the plate.”
Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian was in attendance and approached the dais. “The county is stepping up to the plate.” She said that the county has a new and fresh attitude towards the park and is cleaning it up and considering bringing the boats back for the weekends.
The council voted 5-0 not to put this item on its regular agenda for the next meeting.