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Not so fast, urges commission on Wilderness Park parking

As the city looks to mitigate parking issues relating to the increasingly popular Wilderness Park among residential streets, commissioners are recommending a halt in the process.

Last week, the Claremont Traffic and Transportation Commission unanimously urged the city to conduct a Wilderness Park master plan in order to take a deeper look at the city’s wilderness space before addressing individual streets and their parking issues.

The recommendation was made after reviewing a proposal to restrict parking on Via Santa Catarina—located near the Wilderness Park in Claraboya—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The request was made by Via Santa Catarina homeowner David Jacks with a petition signed by 4 other Via Santa Catarina residents, claiming noise and litter from those parking along their street was decreasing the “quality of life.” Despite Mr. Jacks’ petition, residents crowding the traffic and transportation commission meeting had a different message for the city: Don’t privatize public streets. Commissioners agreed.

“The street belongs to the public,” said Commissioner Opoku Acheampong, noting that the city is the one that pays for the maintenance of streets in Claraboya and throughout Claremont.

“I do not like the idea of privatizing a street,” added Commissioner Chaim Rinde. “My house is near an elementary school. On one hand I liked it very much when my kids were elementary school age, but on the other hand, any kind of activity in the school affects me, and clogs the street.”

Parking on the south side of Via Santa Catarina is currently restricted 24 hours a day. Permit parking is allowed on the north side from dawn until dusk, with a special permit given to residents. Restrictions were first put in place last February after complaints of issues relating to crime, loss of privacy, and concerns for emergency access and use of the Wilderness Park at night. The Jacks’ new requests aim to increase parking restrictions as visitors to the Wilderness Park are “using the street as a parking lot and taking away the residents’ peace,” according to the report.  

In 9 responses to a city-conducted survey of the residents of Via Santa Catarina, 6 were in favor and 3 were opposed to 24-7 parking restrictions. Those opposed commented that “permit parking is very inconvenient and 24-7 will make it worse.” Another wrote that in 8 years he has “never experienced a single disruptive incident. A decision should be based on data.”

While those who signed the petition were nowhere to be found during the public comment portion of the meeting, about 20 people came forward to voice opposition to around-the-clock parking restrictions. Sue Wessler, a resident of Via Santa Catarina, said she enjoys seeing people use the entrance of the Wilderness Park by her home and does not feel it poses a problem.

“If one or 2 people don’t like living there, don’t like the environment, they should change their environment rather than ask the environment to change for them,” Ms. Wessler said.  

Increased parking restrictions adds yet another layer of inconvenience for residents who already have to deal with obtaining parking permits for house guests, said Shelly Schuster, another Via Santa Catarina resident. Mr. Schuster said the welcome sign at the entrance of the park nearby adds further irony to the ordeal.

“Nothing says ‘welcome’ like ‘you can’t park here,’” he said.

While the city suggested the possibility of restricting streets like Via Santa Catarina in order to redirect parking for the wilderness area onto Mountain Avenue, where there is a “large amount of available parking,” commissioners and residents alike felt the relocation would cause the city further problems.

“Putting the cars and trucks on Mountain Avenue where it’s very steep is a concern,” voiced Commissioner Chuck Freitas. “It takes only one breaking loose to cause considerable damage.”

Several members of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy (CWC) also added their opposition to the request, stating that restrictions go against the city’s commitment to maintaining access to Johnson’s Pasture, as was established with the passing of Measure K.

“You really need to avoid setting a very dangerous precedent,” said CWC President Lissa Peterson. “If you say yes to Via Santa Catarina neighbors, you’ll have to say yes to neighbors of other city parks, schools and churches when one of them collects 4 or 5 signatures.”

Though recognizing it’s not an immediate solution, Ms. Peterson suggested the CWC would be willing to collaborate with the city in creating a Wilderness Park master plan that would address usage of the park, adequacy of the trails, parking, signage and other issues.

“We can address the whole big picture and solve these problems,” Ms. Peterson said. “It’s a stepping-back solution.”

The council took her up on the suggestion, sending a recommendation for a master plan including the Wilderness Park and Johnson’s Pasture as a whole to the council, charged with the final decision in this matter. With the paid parking lot at the north entrance of the park slated to open in the coming months, a long-range look into the parking issue is vital, according to Mr. Freitas.

“With the hundreds of people who come to the north Mills entrance, it won’t take them long to figure out they won’t pay a parking fee if they go to Mountain Avenue at the Johnson’s Pasture entrance. Then we create the same problem we are trying to correct at the north Mills Avenue entrance,” Mr. Freitas said. “All solutions should be considered. You cannot look at [the Wilderness Park and Johnson’s Pasture] in isolation.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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