Lots of Great Ideas for South City Park – But First …

Last night I joined about 60 other people who attended a public community meeting at Redding City Hall hosted by the City of Redding Community Services department. The purpose was to discuss ways to “reinvigorate” Redding’s South City Park.

I realize that the latest trend when discussing Redding is to not point out our scars, because any fool can point out scars, and that trend is to think positive, to look on the bright side, have a can-do attitude about our city and have hiiiiigh hopes, no matter what.

I get it. But we’re talking about South City Park. Anyone who’s lived in Redding for more than a week knows that if you play the word-association game and ask for the first words that come to mind when South City Park is mentioned, that words like “homeless” and “scary” and “unsafe” and “drugs” and “violence” will be among the responses.

Unfortunately, there’s truth behind those words. And damn, I get tired of sounding like Doni Downer, but the truth is –  like it or not –  South City Park, in its current state, is one massive, ugly scar. No amount of lipstick or concealer will change that present reality.

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South City Park photo source: City of Redding website.

But beneath that scar lies untapped potential galore. And I suppose that was the point of the meeting facilitated by Kim Niemer, Director of Community Services, and Mel Freilich, an architect from Nichols, Melburg & Rossetto (the later of whom caused me to wonder if NM&R already has some plans in mind for our pitiful park).

The meeting was  held at 5:30 p.m. Pizza and water were thoughtfully provided for those who’d just come from work. Residents were encouraged to bring their ideas “as we work together towards a solution”.

Be part of the solution. Bring your ideas, energy and talents. 

Niemer began the meeting by clarifying that despite how some media had mischaracterized the meeting as being about the homeless in the park, the focus would not be about homelessness, but rather, to develop a list of activities for South City Park for further consideration.

I confess, my first thought when I saw the original email about the South City Park Re-boot meeting, was to wonder if the South City Park Re-boot included first booting out the street people who’ve claimed the park in increasingly high numbers to the point where no sane family would bring children there. How crappy is that park? That park is so crappy that if someone said they’d dropped children off there to play, CPS would probably be called in to investigate a possible child-endangerment situation.

It turns out that although the city hasn’t figured out where to house our homeless, it has decided that South City Park will no longer be that place. Its solution to reclaiming South City Park is to erect a fence around its primary perimeter. This may end up being effective to keeping street people from continuing to treat the park as their collective de facto bedroom and bathroom, but it just means those people will be squeezed out elsewhere in town. Fencing off areas, whether it’s Library Park or the post office stairwells or around so many businesses, is a desperate act by desperate citizens in a desperate city at the end of its rope. The upcoming fence around South City Park reminds me of walking through a smoke-choked casino to reach the casino’s non-smoking section. The barrier’s there – sort of. But either way, the smoke’s still there. I see it. I breathe it. My clothes stink like it.

South City Park fencing plan.

Back to the meeting, where the walls displayed large pieces of paper covered with images and descriptions. People were given stickers to place on the ideas that most appealed to them. 

But first, there were a few speakers, starting with  former Redding Mayor Rick Bosetti, who’s also the general manager of the Colt 45s, never one to candy-coat an issue, even if the meeting’s goal was to accentuate the positive.

“We just want to see people using it,” Bosetti said of South City Park. By “people” Bosetti did not mean those park regulars he described as “smoking crack, shooting up, living in tents, selling drugs and participating in the world’s oldest profession.”

That last part got a chuckle.

Bosetti said that last year the Colt 45s saw their attendance numbers drop because of the public’s fear of venturing into the park. Plus, he said the transient numbers in the park increased.

He was pleased to report that the fencing and gates would ensure that those areas would only be accessible to the public during events.

“We want to provide a place to do cool stuff and have fun,” he said.

That — do cool stuff and have fun — seemed to sum up everyone’s goal for South City Park, including representatives from Sons of Italy. They spoke of wanting a place in South City Park so the organization could expand their Paesano Days and have a designated area for bocce ball, and how they looked forward to the installed fencing too, because last year they had to hire 24-hour security  to protect their belongings during those weekend activities, a big strain for a small non-profit. And speaking of security, another Sons of Italy member mentioned that in previous years they had trouble getting vendors to commit to coming to South City Park for Paesano Days. Why? “Because they were afraid.”

Oh, that again.

Someone from the tennis community was there, too, saying that they’d like to grow tennis in Redding, and South City Park would be ideal to have 12 courts for not just tennis, but pickleball and basketball. He envisioned a small clubhouse with a full-time tennis pro, too.

How cool would that be? Very.

Next came the folks from Shasta Dogs, who said that South City Park would be a great location for all kinds of canine activities, like fly ball and agility training and rallies and even dock diving.

After that a man spoke up about the need for more gymnasiums and multi-use recreation spaces for youth, something he said was a “dire need” in Redding.

So many great suggestions. So much potential for South City Park.

The audience was asked to talk among themselves in groups and discuss other ideas, which they did. One woman, who asked that I just use her first name – Barbara –  said she and her husband retired here two years ago, because her husband loves to fish. She said there’s a lot she likes about Redding, but a lot she doesn’t.

“I love the library,” she said. “But I don’t like to go there because there are so many homeless. It doesn’t feel safe.”

Barbara said she was inspired to attend the meeting because she was excited by the possibilities at the park, things like festivals.

“But I want to be able to go to the park and not feel afraid.”

From the audience Barbara asked Niemer to identify the big empty “brown spot” on the map, and Niemer replied that it used to be a children’s play area, but it’s since been removed.

I remember that play area well, and didn’t even know it was gone. How could I? I don’t recall the last time I ventured more than a few feet inside the park, and that was to interview some homeless people for a story.

But I remember a different South City Park, the one of my childhood — and to some degree, my children’s childhood — where the park belonged to everyone, especially families, and it felt safe. When I was a kid, there was even a small swimming pool there, and swings and all kinds of playground equipment. From my child’s perspective, that was a very cool park, right in the middle of town.

Last night’s community meeting included some families, some of whom brought children who participated. One little girl with a long French braid stood on tip toe to reach the paper and write her wishes for South City Park. Of all the ideas proposed that evening, hers was probably the most simple, but most important.

Silly wabbit. Parks are for kids.

“I want a new playground a big one with slides, swings and other fun things …” she wrote.

And that’s exactly what we should give her, and all Redding’s children.

But first, we need to find humane solutions for those troubled souls who’ve claimed South City Park as their home all these years, people we’re evicting from that space. Yes, a fence may shut them out, but they’ll still be here; somewhere.

Maybe that’s another community meeting for another day. Skip the water and pizza. Bring booze, chocolate and lots of scratch paper.

In the meantime, for those who missed the meeting, in your dreams, how do you imagine South City Park?

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Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Tim says:

    It might seem a bit 70’s, but my vote is for a fitness trail/parcourse looping the park. The path is halfway made already and the stations are inexpensive ($6000 + install: https://www.fittrail.com/10station.html ) with low upkeep. A stream of fit adults looping the park might also act as something of a patrol to help spot & report illegal activity. To help make people feel safer, maybe add a few of those blue emergency phones like they have on many college campuses… And with a bit better sidewalk along park marina and some signage, it could tie South City Park with Turtle Bay & the River Trail.

    Redding already has a dog park, I’d rather see agility stuff placed at Benton. Maybe just allow dog owners to run their dogs inside the fenced K1 baseball field when not in use…

    I didn’t realize the playground is gone, that’s very sad. Definitely bring it back, but maybe emphasize activities promoting STEM.

    I keep hearing about pickball. If they can pretty much just paint additional lines on existing tennis courts that seems like a no brainer.

  2. Avatar CHRISTIAN GARDINIER says:

    We all would love to see South City fixed up and there is ALWAYS money to do that. And, it does seem that the city has indeed found a place to house the homeless, jail or The Mission…. And there is never money to do that. When we can all meet to develop solutions with the enthusiasm of developing parks and recreation, we could figure this out. Many cities have found that in the long run it is cheaper and more beneficial for everyone to house the homeless. Please look at this org that has a 91% success rate. When will the City of Redding and our community develop a task force to address this problem? https://www.theroadhome.org/

    • Avatar Tim says:

      The road home spends $4,400/night to house 1 homeless family. It recently had to sell its shelter to the state of Utah in order to have enough funds to continue operating but is still slated to permanently close that shelter in July. This is despite the LDS contributing $20 million/year — equivalent to $20 per SLC resident. That would be like Bethel contributing $2 million/year to the mission – not gonna happen…

      Winters there are also brutal: ~100 homeless people die each year in Salt Lake City — something that keeps the chronic homeless population of 2,000 low. That would be like 38 homeless dying each year in Shasta County – double the record 19 in 2017…

      And that supposed 91% success rate boasted about since 2012? Bunk… A recent state audit found bad data, inconsistent methods, ever changing goals, etc such that the statistics were meaningless: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2018/12/10/audit-says-its-impossible/

  3. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Good story, Doni. Had meant to attend but neglected to place on calendar and simply forgot.

    First saw SCP in 1973 while on a cross-country trip from Tennessee with Dad. Had just driven through Lassen Park in my VW bug and stopped for buttermilk, wheat berry bread, cheese, and fruit at Safeway (our trip diet) and spent a leisurely hour in the park before continuing west past Whiskeytown Lake and on to the redwoods and coast. Never thought that either I (’78-present) or he (2000-2015) would be lucky enough to live in such a beautiful place.

    Lots of good times there in years past playing tennis, picnics, taking kids to playground, attending events. All ideas noted above have merit and I especially like Tim’s, since SCP is easy walking distance from our home. Allowing dogs to be walked on leash in the park would also be attractive to many.

    Kudos to those who are giving of their time, energy, and resources to make SCP and Redding a better place, where all who follow basic rules of behavior are welcome.

  4. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Regarding Tim’s idea: people could park at Un-Safeway, walk across Cypress to do their fitness routine, then walk back to Un-Safeway to do their grocery shopping. A boon for Un-Safeway which might even lose that moniker if SCP were no longer the cesspool is currently is. I really thought – and hoped – that having the new cop shop between SCP and City Hall would solve the squatter issue. Didn’t happen.

    Much as I love my dog – a darling Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who recently replaced our 17-year-old Springer that we lost in April – I can’t see dogs and people sharing that space. Again, Tim’s idea about using the baseball field is better. Dogs on leash ONLY. The city could provide bag stands and receptacles so that owners would have no excuse for not picking up after their dogs. The first time an outfielder slipped on a poop pile would shut down that plan. As Doni said, “But first . . .” As long as the homeless, criminals, and riff-raff loll about on the library and City Hall grounds, no one is going wade through the throng to use even a fenced SCP.

    Swings and slides and merry-go-rounds and jungle gyms. Picnic tables and even standing barbeques. Wouldn’t that be wonderful a place for Redding families?

  5. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    The Fence is The Wall. To the extent that it will work, It’ll keep everyone from using that part of the park, unless I’m missing something. Are we going to have guards at official border crossings? Until Redding effectively addresses the homelessness problem, that whole area seems lost.

    I’m an avid tennis player, but I would remove the tennis nets and lines and make two dedicated pickleball courts out of each tennis court. Playing tennis on courts with pickleball lines is a nightmare—tennis players HATE it. In addition to tennis at Sun Oaks, there is a somewhat thriving pick-up tennis scene on Saturdays at Sequoia Jr. High. I don’t see the area’s tennis players migrating to South City Park, ever. (Alternatively, retain two tennis courts and convert the other two to pickleball.)

    A city park with zero facilities for kids seems weird, but I question whether that area’s aging demographics require a kid’s playground. Are parents and grandparents going to drive past neighborhood parks to take their kids to South City Park? I might, if the playground is pretty darned special (as Kids Kingdom in Enterprise Park once was). Otherwise, no.

    Pickleball and bocce are two activities favored by seniors that fit the area’s demographics. As for drawing kids, I think you’d need to do something that’s fairly unique to the area. We already have our skatepark at Caldwell Park. A climbing tower isn’t feasible, but maybe a really cool bouldering complex? Kids love to climb.

    • You’re right. The Fence is The Wall.

      Your sentence sums it up exactly: “Until Redding effectively addresses the homelessness problem, that whole area seems lost.”

      The tennis people made a point that this was not to compete with Sun Oaks, but to offer more tennis options.

      I

      • Avatar James Montgomery says:

        Well, walls DO work. Consider the Berlin Wall, which kept nearly everyone in effectively (for better or worse.)
        Also consider the Israeli West Bank Wall, which is effective enough to cause international protests.
        Walls certainly make borders easier to police, but of course they still need some policing. How many guards would it take? Would it be worth it? Would solid citizens come? Who knows?
        SCP certainly is a scar now! That much is certain.

  6. Avatar Russell Hunt says:

    The park has been fixed up many times. Do I need to be the reality god ? It’s the Rescue Mission which kicks everyone out for cleaning. That’s where they go. The 30 days/ 30 days out policy never let’s the homeless save up their money for a place to live. The City owns the building at Parkview and Market St. That could be a day center for the homeless. But nooooooo as John Belushi would say. The Bosetti spiked fence only moves the homeless down the street to Parkview River Park. And the residents of the Parkview Neighborhood are screaming about the invasion of their hood. Yes, wide spread crime. Ultimately the Mission needs to be moved or the park needs to be sold for office buildings. Revamping the park, under the current circumstances , will be a huge waste of time and money.

  7. Avatar Russell Hunt says:

    Let us not forget that the City has a plan for a huge park over the Benton Landfill on Buenaventura. Do we go forward or re-invent Disneyland at SCP ? An organized camp for the homeless needs to be created with the least interference on neighbors and the downtown. My vote is for City owned property on Metz Rd. at Eastside Rd. This is north of Haven. Deed it to a newly created non-profit to avoid lawsuits. Build sheds by private groups. Plant trees. Provide fire camp bathrooms. A garbage bin. Provide a bus stop. Have security. The costs of doing this is far less than continuously cleaning up after homeless campers. And police calls will be less frequent with constant security.

  8. Avatar George Koen says:

    Bring the park back? Absolutely! Continue to ignore the homeless? Never.

    COR has been thoroughly informed on proven, humane solutions, yet continue to foolishly, via cruel and unusual punishment, criminalize those the should choose to guide and help.

    Philosophically, Redding sits atop a carpet under which we sweep the ugly issues. The trouble with that is we end up with a lumpy and smelly carpet which eventually must be replaced.

  9. Avatar CODY says:

    I think this is a good idea: a fitness trail/parcourse looping the par
    If there is enough room there – seems a bit small for something like that.

    Perhaps the City could find a Parks Director with more experience and a better vision/outlook. The park should have never fallen into such a state where the only solution is a fence. (I realize there are other factors in play).

  10. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Naturally, for me, I’d want a dog park. However, homeless people have dogs, too. And homeless who don’t have a furry pet that barks would still use the park. So it wouldn’t work. I loved playing tennis in that park during the cleanliness of the past. And the realization of a place for our youth is essential for sure. There are some good ideas presented here. But coming up with ideas on how to utilize the park is not going to end homelessness and its critical problems. Somehow, we need to come up with concrete solutions for those who live on the streets, or this new culture will continue to grow and take over.

  11. Avatar Jeff Haynes says:

    Get rid of the recycling center behind Safeway, while we’re at it get rid of all of the recycling plants within the city and replace them with one at the City Transfer Stations, including Anderson and Shasta Lake City If one draws a line from the Mission to the recycling center, what do you have right in the middle of that line? South City Park. Starve the beast and it will move further into the shadows. The Safeway at Churn Creek Rd and Cypress Ave removed their recycling plants and the transient problems were greatly reduced. Safeway in Chico did the same with similar results. That also would go a long way towards solving the Un-Safeway problem as well.

  12. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you for an excellent article Doni. I’m impressed by all of the ideas that people presented during the meeting. And I’m impressed by the responses of readers who have thought a lot about the future of this park.
    I so dislike that this land is surrounded by major traffic. I cringe at the idea of families trying to cross any of the streets to get to a family friendly park. I wish this property could be sold and the park of our dreams could be established somewhere else in town. There are some great little community parks in this town. Again, thank you Doni.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      You’re so right, Joanne. When we used to be brave enough to walk to the library and Un-Safeway, crossing Parkview and Cypress was a harrowing experience. Perhaps it’s time to forget what the park once was and construct more multi-use buildings – offices, restaurants, and apartments with ample parking.

  13. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    I’ve cruised past South City Park at least three times this week and through the fencing could see no one, homeless or the housed, in the park. Maybe walls work too much? Redding has become a panopticon.

    • Avatar Candace C says:

      Hi R.V. , I get your point but I’m not sure I’m ready to agree with you that the lack of use of the walled off SCP is tantamount to Redding being a panopticon. That’s pretty bleak. I do agree that the way the powers that be have chosen to (not) deal with the plight of our homeless population in a reasonable and humane manner is indeed very bleak. Also, full disclosure, I may be a boneraf because I had to look up “panopticon” and not being a metal follower I may very well be misinterpreting and a lot of people are probably more familiar with what you were referring to. Anyway, thanks for inadvertently steering me towards looking up something new to me because now my interest is peaked.

  14. Avatar Candace C says:

    R.V. Whoops! I meant to say “bonehead”. I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a “ boneraf” , lol. Sounds sort of like a word describing a foul called in a boomerang throwing tournament (?).

  15. Avatar Candace C says:

    R.V. That is if I’m pronouncing it “bohn-er-aff”. Ya, I’m THAT person. Sorry, it’s late. My sincere (off topic) apology.

  16. Avatar Candace C says:

    R.V. … piqued. Argh

  17. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    The panopticon was a concept for prisons developed by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. You still see some prisons using that design, with a central tower encircled by jail cells. The idea was that prisoners would believe they were constantly under surveillance and thus behave, even though they weren’t constantly under surveillance. Modern electronic surveillance has made the concept obsolete.

  18. Avatar Candace C says:

    R.V. , Whoa, I was waaaay off base, lol. I just looked the term up again. Unfortunately last night ( late night…) I thought you were referring to the metal band Panopticon’s album “The Scars of Man on The Once Nameless Wilderness.” When I looked up the band part of what they spoke of was how we humans are moving towards experiencing the natural beauty around us by looking at it on our computer screens instead of being out in it. Anyway, thanks for setting me straight, good lesson for me about late night posting. Forehead slap is in order.