Visalia Makes City Parks Safer

Visalia Neighborhood Preservation Manager Tracy Robertshaw and the Visalia Parks and Recreation Commission have been busy making Visalia a better place to live. Last year, Robertshaw presented an ordinance to ban shopping carts that has been a huge success. During the last city council meeting, she put forth an ordinance banning repeat criminals from using the parks for up to a year.

The parks and recreation commission recently promoted the idea of making a children-only section in Wittman Village Park to discourage drug users and homeless from sleeping in the playground area. The decision has been put off to first consult with the Visalia city attorney to get a clearer understanding of what actions they can legally take.

According to Robertshaw, “The idea for the change to the park rules was a group effort between police, code enforcement and parks and recreation. As a group, we have been looking at ways to improve the usability of some of the troubled parks in the community. We are hoping that the changes will bring more families back into the listed parks. (Lincoln Oval, Seven Oaks, Pappas and Provident Skate Park).”

The most recent change proposed was targeted at repeat criminals. City departments have been working on a new ordinance to “maximize the community enjoyment of city parks by prohibiting activities and behaviors that interfere with that objective.” On November 17, 2013, the item was presented to the parks and recreation commission and the support for the proposed changes was unanimous.

At the city council meeting on August 4th, the members approved 5-0 an ordinance amending the Visalia Municipal Code Section 12.32 to suspend persons from using parks who have been arrested for certain crimes.
The council also amended park hours for Lincoln Oval Park, Pappas Park, Provident Skate Park, and Seven Oaks Park. The objective said Robertshaw, “was so families could enjoy the parks.”

Under the current code, if a police officer arrested a park visitor for prostitution, or possession of drugs, they could only be banned from the park until 6am the next day. Robertshaw recounted an instance where she apprehended an individual with an illegally concealed weapon in a park. That individual was sent to jail but was back in the park three days later. Under the new ordinance, Visalia’s code enforcement and the police will be able to ban such individuals for up to a year from all Visalia parks. “We know who the problem people are,” said Robertshaw.

The council and staff feel that city parks are for families to enjoy and there is no reason for individuals with concealed weapons to be there. According to the staff report, “The proposed ordinance states that persons found in possession of illegal drugs, (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and PCP) drug paraphernalia, illegal weapons, acts of prostitution, commits a crime of violence on another person inside of a city park, or chronically violates state or municipal law would be prohibited from using any city park, trail or recreation area for a period of up to 12 months.” Robertshaw added that “violators will be able to appeal the suspension by requesting an administrative hearing.”

Because Lincoln Oval Park, Provident Skate Park, Pappas Park and Seven Oaks Park had significantly higher calls for service in 2013, they were targeted as good candidates for restricting their hours. Because the lighting is limited to the sidewalks, Robertshaw stated that there would be no good reason for people to be using those parks after dark.

For that reason their hours will be changed to 8am to 8pm in the summer and until 6pm in the winter. All other parks will remain open from 6am to 10pm.

Each of these four parks had more than 100 calls for police service. None of the other parks in the city system had that combination. Lincoln Oval Park, as the third smallest park within the city, has both the most calls for service as well as the highest call-to-size ratio, at an average of 250 calls per acre in 2013.

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