On April 14 the Tulare County Board of Supervisors (BOS) reviewed the Tulare County Grand Jury report on Mooney Grove. Members of the public have been approaching the BOS for more than a year, during which time the condition of the park has actually declined. In response to public concerns and criticisms about the management of the park, the Tulare County Grand Jury launched an investigation.
Because the report has not been made public, it was difficult for Tulare County residents to comment. A few people rose to speak but their questions were not answered because the head of Tulare County Parks and Recreation, Neil Pilegard, did not attend the meeting. Jean Rousseau, County administrative officer, made the presentation to the BOS. According to the information provided by the County there were eight findings and five recommendations.
These revolved around park activities, the drought, tree diversity, animals, entrance fees, mobile vendors and special events. Report finding number 7 simply said, “There are currently a number of proposals for changes in Mooney Grove Park.”
It is unknown what exactly the Grand Jury meant by this statement, or if this was the Grand Jury’s wording in its entirety. The County’s response was that there is the Mooney Grove 20-Year Conceptual Master Plan–and that is the only plan that has been approved by the BOS. The County response went on to say that the BOS is always seeking business and community partners to bring new activities and recreational features to the park.
The Grand Jury report, and the County’s responses, were extremely vague and resolved none of the problems expressed by concerned citizens during the past year.
At the March 24 BOS meeting one such citizen said that he couldn’t understand how a county that is number one in agriculture, which feeds the world, can’t get it together to take care of a park. The public has expressed concern over what has been called the filthy pond, the proliferation of trash, crumbling bridges, sidewalks, fountains and monuments, the concession stand being closed and disappearance of the row boats. None of these issues were addressed by the Grand Jury report according to the information provided by the BOS. The actual Grand Jury report is due to be released to the public sometime during the next few months.
After Rousseau finished his report, Supervisor Steve Worthley did address some of the public’s concerns about the park. He acknowledged that the conceptual plan is too broad a document and “just gets dusty sitting on a shelf.” The plan was drawn up seven years ago and, while revised earlier this year, has thus far only produced the agriculture museum–which has cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Now acknowledged as an asset to the community, the museum was initially met with opposition. County residents say they want a beautiful park in which to picnic and bring their children to play, which were the original wishes of Hugh Mooney. They do not want park money going toward the staffing and maintaining of a large museum.
Worthley suggested that a Mooney Grove Task Force be formed by members of the Tulare County Historical Society and other community members. The task force would not only advise on how to finally implement the conceptual plan, but could address the immediate needs of the park.
The task force would have a set timeframe and parameters to accomplish repairs such as fixing and replacing the barbeque pits and benches. He suggested that an initial amount of $50,000 might be approved by the BOS to complete this type of urgent park maintenance. Once the task force has formed, and they start implementing the improvements, Worthley said, “It will be a great opportunity to promote the park and move forward.”
Also in the works is a Parks Advisory Committee. Its bylaws are currently being written up and the committee should be ready to go in May. The Parks Advisory Committee would advise the BOS on all of the county parks, of which there are 12. The Mooney Grove Task Force would not be part of the Parks Advisory Committee, but they would collaborate on certain projects.
An interesting revelation about how the County plans on dealing with Mooney Grove’s feral cats came out in response to the grand jury report. According to an article in the Visalia Times-Delta, in 2013 the Tulare County Animal Control received 26 cats from Mooney Grove. Two were adopted and the other 24 were euthanized. According to Pilegard this method of trapping and euthanizing has been practiced for more than 20 years in the park.
After spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on euthanizing cats, Tulare County is now embracing the trap, neuter and release (TNR) program. TNR has been offered to the county for free.
Dr. Nan Kuswa, owner of Companion Animal Medical Center, said that “we have had continued discussions about TNR where I do think they are going to officially OK the program.”
In Tulare County’s response to the Grand Jury report, one of the few paragraphs Rousseau did not read during the meeting, said,” the County is exploring a variety of alternative methods of addressing some of the problem species in the park that would allow a humane way of addressing some animals, while maintaining the park environment. One of these methods includes the feasibility of a trap, neuter, release program to address feral cats.”