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Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of the Northstate conducted its first cleanup project at the park in January and intends to return for its next work day in the spring.
About two months ago, I called for ordinary citizens to take back South City Park from the thugs and druggies who have been blighting the place. I guess I should not be surprised that people who voluntarily worked in third world conditions were willing to step forward.
“South City Park looked like it needed some help,” said Marilyn Thomas, the secretary of the returned Peace Corps group. “There’s a fear about going there. Obviously, we’re not going there at 2 a.m. to clean up. But the situation kind of said ‘Peace Corps’ to us. There are poor people hanging out there. We’re realistic and still idealistic.”
During the first foray into the park, about 20 volunteers filled garbage bags provided by the city but did not find the place as trashed as expected. They did come across a few syringes and needles, which were placed in special containers. One homeless fellow hanging around the park joined the clean-up effort, Thomas said.
South City Park was the last sizable park in Redding to get adopted, said Kim Niemer, the city’s community services director. City officials are glad to see volunteer interest in South City Park, but they, too, are realistic.
“We’ve certainly had an uptick in the number of homeless people using the park. We’ve tried to program it in the way that makes the most sense. I think we have reached an understanding,” Niemer said. “We do our best to refer homeless people to the mission and other service providers.”
Law enforcement calls to the park seem to vary with the weather, according to Officer Joseph Labbe, of the Redding Police Department. As the temperature rises, so do the number of calls. Alcohol consumption, drug use and the typical issues that accompany drinking and drugs remain a constant problem, although there have been fewer calls regarding violent crime of late, according to Labbe.
South City Park has long attracted homeless people because of its location near social service providers, including the Good News Rescue Mission. Some church groups distribute food to homeless people at the park. However, people hanging out in the park have gotten younger, more aggressive and more violent over the past two to three years, Niemer said. One upshot has been increased vandalism, especially to the rest rooms.
Despite the problems and the reputation, South City Park still accommodates a great deal of organized activity. A girls softball program makes good use of first-rate softball fields during both the spring and fall. A community tennis group plays on the tennis courts nine months a year. Tiger Field (a full-sized baseball park) is constantly busy when the weather is good.
Thomas, who served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan, said she hopes her group’s presence will help change the atmosphere in the park.
It certainly can’t hurt. Typically, the number of ne’er-do-wells in a park is inversely proportional to the number of children and adults legitimately using a park. And, although it has been considered in the past as a potential site for a new courthouse or police station, South City Park serves a legitimate recreation need.
“This really is our downtown park,” Niemer said, “and it’s not easily replaced in the corridor along Market Street.”
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and co-author of Guide to California Planning, a reference book and college text. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at email@example.com.
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