Group pushing for upgrades to city playgrounds

The Larkin Park playground includes swings, play structures, and some older concrete surrounded by sand. Some Claremont families feel that the play equipment needs to not just be replaced, but also upgraded. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

by Andrew Alonzo |

Over the past several weeks, a group of residents has been trying to raise awareness of what they contend is the sorry state of Claremont’s playgrounds.

Better Claremont Playgrounds hopes to convince the City of Claremont to not only reassess what they say are outdated playgrounds that have not been significantly upgraded for some time, but also to upend the city’s “like for like” policy with respect to playground equipment. City Manager Adam Pirrie explained the longstanding practice refers to the “replacement of playground equipment with structures that fit within the existing footprint of the park playground equipment being replaced.”

“We’re all joined together by one focus which is to better our playgrounds,” said Sarah Rockne, a BCP member. “We’re not just here to make a bunch of noise. It’s actually that we’re wanting to see concrete changes within our city and how they put in playground structures and park features. We’re looking for action.”

Katie Tewell, another BCP member, wrote in an email that the group is asking the city to prioritize its youth by adequately funding more creative and inclusive playgrounds. “We strongly believe this prioritization of playgrounds will benefit the entire community, not just our youngest citizens,” Tewell added.

The Larkin Park playground includes swings, play structures, and some older concrete surrounded by sand. Some Claremont families feel that the play equipment needs to not just be replaced, but also upgraded. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

Pirrie said the city has heard the concerns raised by residents since February, when a playground replacement proposal at Lewis Park was presented at the community and human services commission’s monthly meeting. That followed a January 31 community forum hosted by the parks, hillsides and utilities committee in which commissioners approved two Lewis Park playground improvement options.

The issue had been on the minds of group members Allison Sutherland, Anna Collette, Anna and Jason Jacobsen, Helen McAlary, and others for years. It coalesced following the late January parks, hillsides, and utilities committee meeting, when residents expressed disappointment about the “like for like” Lewis Park playground plan. Thus Better Claremont Playgrounds was formed.

On February 17, Anna Jacobsen circulated an online petition at (search “Claremont kids”) seeking support to urge Claremont City Council to develop a playground improvement plan. The group envisions a plan that includes increased investment in city playgrounds, with more creative and inclusive designs, an enhanced community input process, a commitment to sustainable designs in line with the city’s sustainable city plan, and timeline and funding strategies to ensure accountability and project completion.

Once the group’s petition reaches 500 signatures, it hopes to see “effort, action, and change” from city officials, said Collette. The petition had garnered 296 signatures as of early Thursday.

After the petition went live, more parents began reaching out to city staff and attending city meetings to voice their concerns. The group also recently made yard signs that read, “Claremont Deserves Better Playgrounds.”

On March 6, the Claremont Community and Human Services Commission paused its Lewis Park playground improvements plan so city staff could host another community forum meeting at a later date. Then at the March 12 City Council meeting which informed the city council’s 2024-2026 budget priorities, the city council ended the night by voting unanimously for city staff to prepare a park facilities needs assessment.

“This assessment will assist staff in developing a holistic plan for the replacement of park facilities, including playgrounds, restrooms, lighting and walkways,” City Manager Pirrie wrote in an email. “The plan will allow the City to prioritize projects, outline the availability of funding to complete park facility upgrades, and implement a public process to engage residents to solicit feedback on improvements to our parks. Staff is in the process of determining the extent to which an outside consultant may be needed to help develop the plan, and is working to include appropriate funding in the proposed budget.”

Such an assessment was conducted in 2016 by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation which identified 10 projects the city should prioritize, including a $500,000 replacement of playgrounds at Blaisdell Park. The city completed the upgrade in November 2019, but spent only $200,000. The study also concluded that Claremont is home to four good quality playgrounds, 10 fair quality playgrounds, and two poor quality playgrounds, one at Griffith Park and another at Wheeler.

Part of the impetus for the push for the revamp is so Claremont can draw out of towners to its playgrounds, as do neighboring communities, the group said. Better Claremont Playgrounds members said the best local playgrounds are outside Claremont, at Heritage Park in Pomona, Glendora’s Gladstone Park, and Horsethief and Ladera Serra parks in San Dimas.

The group contends Claremont’s playgrounds appeal only to children up to age 5, further evidence that the “like for like” policy needs to be scuttled.

The group says the city has about $800,000 in its current budget that could be used to improve parks, most of which from Measure A funding. City Manager Pirrie said funding will become clear once the park facilities needs assessment is complete.

“Routine park maintenance is funded through the Landscape & Lighting District (LLD) and the General Fund,” Pirrie wrote in an email. “The upgrade and replacement of park facilities has been funded using restricted Park Dedication Funds, Measure A Funds, and grants as they become available. As funding and staff resources are available, the City undertakes park upgrade and facility replacement projects.”

When asked about the timeline for the Lewis Park playground improvement project, Pirrie wrote the city will “be developing a timeline that includes the consideration of funding options and public engagement” and “continue to work towards upgrading the playground at Lewis Park.”

“We just want the city to think outside of the box and to come up with solutions instead of more excuses,” said Collette. “The city as a whole is just getting by and checking boxes. They’re doing upgrades so they can check a box and say they’ve done it, but are they doing it well is a different story.”

The group hopes to urge City Council at its April 9 meeting to shelve the preparation of a park facilities needs assessment and instead focus on first developing a playground improvement plan.


Submit a Comment

Share This