The state of Mooney Grove Park seems to have become a hot potato no one in county government wants to handle for fear of being burned.
The number of public complaints about the declining state of the county-maintained park – where benches lie broken, ponds are choked with decay, and trees are dying, if not already dead, from lack of water – has grown steadily for months while the park continues to go downhill.
In May, the board of supervisors formed the Tulare County Parks Advisory Committee to assess the situation at Mooney Grove and the state of the county’s nine other parks. While the body has held its first meeting, repeated requests for interviews with those who can make changes at Mooney Grove, have gone unanswered.
“What we’re looking for is their recommendations,” Steve Worthley, chairman of the board of supervisors about the TCPAC. “Frankly, our parks have been ignored by the county.”
They continue to be. Repeated requests over two weeks for interviews with the county’s park manager Neil Pilegard, interim General Services Director John Hess, Mooney Grove Museum curator Amy King, who is a member of the Parks Advisory Committee, and Supervisor Phil Cox all went unanswered.
The fact the TCPAC exists is a sign progress can be made, and it signals a willingness by elected officials to address the problem.
“We needed this, the public input. I’m very hopeful, because we have a number of goodhearted people who are interested in our parks,” Worthley said.
Yet the lack of response from the county’s civil servants leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of critics who say the problem stems from neglect and incompetence.
“If it was a private concern, anyone within 10 miles would get fired. I don’t think anyone at the government level cares,” said John Rogers, a resident who lives near Mooney Grove and has long been vocal with his complaints. “They’re starting to care now because they understand it’s not just some lunatic fringe that wants the park cleaned up. I’m not accusing anyone of corruption or anything like that. I just think the park hasn’t been a priority. It’s just disgraceful.”
Supervisors to Blame
In particular, Rogers blames the leadership of Cox, whose district includes Mooney Grove.
“If Phil Cox gets (re-)elected, the park is dead for sure,” Rogers said. “He’s neglected his duty. The only way we’re going to get things done is to replace some of those people. We’ve got to get the board of supervisors’ priorities straight.”
Rogers said he supports the campaign of Visalia City Council Member Amy Shuklian, who is running for the seat Cox currently occupies and has promised to make the park a campaign priority. On October 10, Shuklian addressed a meeting of the Real Mooney Grove Project, a nonprofit group formed to force the county to address its concerns about the park. Shuklian did not respond to a request for an interview.
Cleanup Should Start Now
Despite the formation of an oversight committee, Worthley and critics of the county agree revitalization efforts should start now.
“We did bump it (financing for county parks) up,” said Worthley. “We have a lot of what I call simple deferred maintenance, broken barbecue grills, stuff like that. We don’t need a committee to do that stuff. There’s been benign neglect of the parks. That was just an oversight on our part.”
Rogers could not agree more. He would even like to see Mooney Grove taken out of the county’s hands if a solution is not forthcoming soon.
“If they can’t do a better job than that, they need to make a deal with one of these conservancies and let them take care of it,” he said. “I’d be embarrassed if I was in charge of this park.”
Meanwhile, the TCPAC will hold its next meeting at 6 pm on Wednesday, October 21, at the County Administrative Office, 2800 W. Burrel Ave. in Visalia. The public is welcome to attend.