Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cheap Bastid Stripe--How the City Out-Cheap Bastided Me

OK, it’s been a year or so since the City of Vista, California did this service “just for me”. You see, I have my very own stripe. It was given to me by the City.

Of course, I asked the City for a street light at the corner of Citrus and Eucalyptus a couple of blocks South of where I live. That intersection is dark at night. Pitch dark. And dangerous. It’s especially dangerous if you’re heading east and turning onto Citrus. The right hand turn is downhill and blind. It’s blind during the day and you have to know what you’re doing and it’s worse at night when the fall away is pitch black—even if you know that it’s there.

So I sent a letter to the City—the Mayor and City Manager specifically. I got an e-mail from the City’s traffic engineer. In it I was informed that there was no budget for a streetlight but that if I wanted to I could have one installed by SDG&E (San Diego Gas and Electric) and pay for it myself. “Say, what?” I don’t have that kind of money and I was referring to a matter of public safety.

So I sent that message back to the guy. His response was that they would paint a stripe along the side of the street so that it would be more visible in the dark. Now, I didn’t think that this was much of a solution. But it was better than nothing. And about 3 weeks later, the stripe magically appeared. It’s still dangerous. Eucalyptus street is still built up with a minimum of 6 inches of asphalt higher than the gravel shoulder with full grown 3 foot diameter eucalyptus trees within 3 or 4 feet of the pavement but, hey there’s a budget crisis! The City just finished a new $55 million Taj Mahal city hall 2 blocks from that spot and it’s being paid for by a half cent sales tax over the next 40 years that’s not generating enough revenue to retire the bonds. Go figure.

But, I’ve got a stripe. Perhaps it’s just as good because now Vista is proposing turning off half the streetlights in the city in order to save money. Too bad they didn’t spring for “reflective paint” on my stripe.

And, as further proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I also managed to get the fences repaired at the charter junior high school that’s right next to “my” stripe. The junior high has got a huge field of about 4 or 5 acres that has a football field and track plus a baseball field and practice back stop.

It’s also home to both the city’s “Pop Warner” football league and to a local “Babe Ruth” baseball league. That’s good. Both of those organizations pay money to the school district for use of the property.

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that my goal wasn’t for the fence to be fixed. Rather it was that the gates be left open.

Weeknight evenings and weekends would often find people walking or running around the track. Mothers would push strollers in a gaggle, exercising and visiting. Joggers of all ages, genders and ethnicities would run. And, especially on weekends, there would typically be a constant “pick-up” soccer game going on. Young Hispanic men from our neighborhood would be running, kicking and enjoying themselves.

Never, ever did we ever see any tempers flare or gang activity or anything else. Just people enjoying themselves, the outdoors and being active.

We used to go down to the track fairly often for a different kind of workout. Carolyn and I would start out together running a warm-up half mile or mile then she would keep on chugging while I would do a series of “ladders”—pushing my heartrate from resting, to aerobic to anaerobic, recuperating and then starting over again.

Then, we started to encounter the gates being locked more often. One Sunday we were looking for an open gate and came across a young guy just on the other side of the fence. “How’d you get in,” we asked? “We crawled under the fence over there,” the young man pointed. We went to where he pointed and proceeded to pull the bottom of the fence up from where it was curled and leaving a gap and easily got through the fence in a crouch.

Later we discovered a 3 foot tall hole in the fence which was even easier to use although it required climbing over another shorter fence. But it was actually easier.

This was also kind of tough for some of the little kids, strollers and Moms who would come down to the field to enjoy being outdoors.

So, “good citizen” that I am, I sent an e-mail to the Vista Superintendent of Schools requesting that they find a way to leave the fields accessible and that this was a terrific asset to the community.

My response came from the Assistant Superintendent for Facilities (quite a title, huh?) who told me in true PHD’ese that there were concerns about vandalism and gang activity and trespassing and littering.

Our observation had been that there was never any graffiti sprayed on buildings, etc. We never saw any gang colors or anything remotely close. But this is a level of government and they’ve got their bureaucracy.

To make a long story short(er), the school district sent maintenance people on a jaunt around the fence of the school to anchor the bottom of the cyclone fencing firmly to the ground and they found the hole in the fence (which had been there for at least 6 months) and fixed that.

The end result, my attempt to do something good resulted in a totally abandoned field of dreams except for those who “pay to play”. Too bad. I always thought that recreation was supposed to be free. I always thought that large fields like this were meant to be enjoyed by all, and respected by all. I always thought that in a community where there is a lot of poverty, where there is a plurality of Hispanic citizens, where there is crime, etc. that having a field like this available for casual use was a good thing.

Now the football field, track and ball field look lonely and forlorn. Nobody’s there using it for the joy of use. Pop Warner and Babe Ruth are just too “organized” and too expensive for most of the people in this neighborhood.

It’s a shame. One of these days though…I’m going to win the lottery and buy the fields then tear down the fence and open it up to everybody—not just those who pay. I have been sorely tempted to sneak to the fence some dark night with wire cutters and open it up but have this fantasy of calling my wife from jail late at night to come bail me out.

I thought I was doing a “good deed” and ended up getting fenced out.

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