Little League parents cry foul over College Park crime
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
Some residents claim College Park has become a hotbed of illegal activity and say it’s time the city took action.
At the March 28 Claremont City Council meeting angry parents of Little League athletes and people who live nearby described drug use in the bathrooms, arson, and violent behavior from a growing number of unhoused people who spend time in the park. The situation reached a crescendo last month when the fire department had to be called to put out a blaze near the playground, which forced the cancellation of a Little League game.
The parents said another earlier fire, set by a person apparently attempting to cook food on one of the metal bleachers, had also been extinguished.
As distressing as the fires have become, parents say the condition of the restrooms presents the biggest problem. Several coaches said they have witnessed people using intravenous drugs or smoking methamphetamine in the bathrooms closest to the baseball fields. They report also having seen unhoused people bathing in the stalls, often changing clothes in plain view. The problem has gotten so bad that the baseball players cannot use the facilities unless a parent, or sometimes two adults, can be present.
“In the last few months there has been a rise in vandalism at College Park,” said Jessie Rodriguez, a Little League coach and a parent. “We have seen our bleachers burned multiple times; we have seen the barbeque pits used as bonfire stations. But the worst part, I have personally seen people smoking crack and shooting up heroin in the bathrooms.”
Rodriguez moved to Claremont in 2004 and has three boys under age 12 who participate in numerous sports in town. He is at College Park five days a week and, as a result, has witnessed what he described as a deteriorating situation.
“I am here to ask for you to please help us keep the parks safe,” Rodriguez said. “If anyone thinks this is an issue with people being unhoused or homelessness, it is not and that is not why I am here. What I am talking about is people doing drugs. For all that I know, the people doing drugs have a home and maybe they just go to this public space to do it. I want to make sure that we are clear, and that my request is for safety. Our Little League families can no longer use restrooms because of how filthy they are and because of the fear of someone sitting in there using drugs.”
The parents want the city to install additional lighting around the playground and restrooms, which they say are too dark and therefore encourage bad behavior. They have asked for additional portable toilets near the baseball diamonds to augment the single portable now in use.
“I am very concerned with the increasing amount of homeless in the city but primarily College Park,” said Daniela Castro Kent, a lifelong Claremont resident. “The laissez-faire attitude the city has taken with them has allowed more frequent drug use and paraphernalia left behind in the park. I understand Claremont has a bleeding heart for vulnerable populations; however, the vulnerable population that needs protection — from parents, police, and the city alike — are our children. The unhoused have options, many of which they do not wish to take advantage of, but for our children, this is their first shot at life.”
College Park is sandwiched between the Metrolink tracks to the north and a row of houses on Green Street to the south. It has two access points, a long driveway off College Avenue near Oakmont Outdoor School and another off Elder Drive. The layout of the park, tucked away from any direct street access, gives it a distinctly hidden ambience. The park houses Claremont’s only Little League facility, with three diamonds, bleachers, and a snack bar. It’s also the location of the popular pooch park.
During a visit to the park Tuesday afternoon, there was no sight of unhoused people at 4 p.m. as the Little League teams were just beginning practice. The men’s restroom was clean, as was the adjacent playground.
Certain Little League parents have not been shy about calling the police as the situation has reportedly declined. In response, CPD has made regular patrols of the park during Little League games, and the parents did credit the police as responding quickly to their complaints.
Claremont Police Chief Aaron Fate said his officers have made a number of arrests at College Park, but that the district attorney’s office almost always declines to prosecute misdemeanors committed by unhoused people. For example, Fate said the man who set the fire near the playground has been arrested by Claremont police 26 times.
Lieutenant Karlan Bennett said the police now patrol College Park day and night, including an extra detail during games. In an effort to deter unlawful behavior, police are taking a zero-tolerance approach to anyone drinking or doing drugs in the park. Bennett echoed the frustrations expressed by Chief Fate that the lack of prosecution from the DA creates the impression among some offenders that there are no consequences.
“But we are still going to be out there doing our job,” Bennett said.
Community Services Director Jeremy Swan said the city is currently evaluating what type of lighting will best address the issue of darkness around the restrooms. He expects to know in a couple of weeks what approach the city will take and, depending on the eventual cost, it could be handled without asking the City Council for approval.
Mayor Pro tem Sal Medina’s home on Green Street is adjacent to the playground where the fire was set. “You could see it from my house,” Medina said, adding that during his frequent afternoon walks he has noticed more unhoused people in the park recently.
“Currently we have a meeting scheduled with members of the board of Little League, the Little League president, myself, the city manager, and Mayor Reece with regards to how we can help the Little League continue and be safe,” Medina said. “One of the things we did ask for was additional patrolling so we have both park rangers as well as PD patrolling more regularly making sure the space is safe.”