Where I live in Pasadena, California is a stone's throw away from the wealthy enclave of San Marino. Many a prominent people have lived there and were founders of this city. Railroad baron Henry Huntington, Gen. George Patton, Don Wilson. Now, two of these names mean nothing to those that live outside of this area, but trust me, they are historical names here.
San Marino has very little in terms of industry or even a tax base like another wealthy city in this area, Beverly Hills. But it has something that has stuck in my craw for a long time now. A fee to use the only park in the city, Lacy Park. And, better yet, it is for those that do not live in San Marino.
In a rare moment of agreement with the Los Angeles Times http://latimes.com, columnist Steve Lopez got a taste of what the city has been doing for many years now.
When Mr. Lopez took his wife and 4 year-old daughter, the non-residents over 5 years old had to pony up $4 dollars each. Oh, and this is on weekends only.
For the Forth of July fireworks show, non residents have to fork out $10 dollars each for the privilege of stepping onto the hallowed grounds of Lacy Park.
Did I mention that this park also has a gate all around it?
Now, some will ask, what is wrong with a city making some money to maintain a public park.
Well, for one the residents of San Marino do not pay any admission fee. They want non-residents to pay up. Also, there is a little something called the state government, which has doled out quite a large sum of money for park upkeep. Usually, governments like public parks not to charge fees and if they do, it should be also charged to the residents.
Unfortunately, it is clear what the city of San Marino is doing. It is keeping those who they deem "undesirable" from just walking into their precious park and, oh my goodness, having a good time with their children and or enjoying the peace and serenity.
Here are some quotes from city leaders that Mr. Lopez wrote in his column.
Councilwoman Betty Brown explained why the fence was built in the 1970s,
"In the 1970s there were a lot of people coming and smoking pot in the park. It was an unpleasant place because so many people were bringing their kids there."
Now, I do not advocate smoking pot in the park, but is that not what a park patrol and police departments exist for? If there is a strong law enforcement presence and a zero tolerance, that is one way to discourage that problem. And, I believe some of those potheads were probably children of those who lived in San Marino. Just a thought.
Matt Ballantyne is the city manager. He said that because of the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 which kept property taxes from going through the roof and bankrupting home owners, cities lost a lot of money that ended up in the state capital, Sacramento, and was doled out to individual counties and cities. And, Mr. Ballantyne cited the lack of a tax base that could pay to keep the park open every day. Huh? A public park usually is open every day of the year and usually closed from 10pm to dawn. And, going back to that park patrol or police presence, there should not be a problem keeping the park "open"
The topper comes from city councilman Bob Twist, who had this logic,
"Its a private park and belongs to the city, so the city has control over it."
Really? Since when do "private" parks get state funds? And where does it say on the sign that Lacy Park is a "private" park? And, if it is a "private" park, does the city really have control over it?
I really understand that a high end city like San Marino wants to preserve its way of life, not to be bothered with the same dilemmas that all the surrounding cities have, like the riff raff that use public parks. But, charging those who do not live in the city, to go on land that everywhere else is free, smacks of beyond elitism. It is discrimination.
A solution of this problem is that the city take total control of the park. Not accept any government funding of any kind in any way. Sell the park to private ownership but with the stipulation that it must be maintained as a park. Then charge everyone an entry fee with a discount for San Marino residents and a higher fee for non-residents. Thus, everyone gets to put their money where there mouth is.
But a city showing blatant discrimination as San Marino is doing is over the top. It has been going on for years and, thanks to an intrepid columnist at the Los Angeles Times, maybe something can be done about this.