The tone at Wildomar City Hall was quite possibly more morose Wednesday night than it has ever been.
During the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, the public and council members weighed in on parks’ options should Measure D fail at the ballot box next month.
The city has maintained that if Measure D doesn’t pass on June 7, the city’s three parks will close. The Measure proposes a $28 annual parcel assessment to fund a Community Facilities District to oversee parks’ maintenance.
“The county spent $7 million (to improve our parks) and all we had to do was come up with $28,” Wildomar City Councilwoman Bridgette Moore said.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Moore added, “I have spent 11 years and my son has spent 11 years working on these parks. We’ll never have the money to open them again (if Measure D fails).”
“This is just a sad thing to talk about,” Mayor Pro Tem Ben Benoit said. “I don’t want to make any decisions tonight.”
Mayor Marsha Swanson also expressed sadness about the possible task facing the council.
“I don’t ever want to look at these options again," she said.
Those options put forth by city staff include selling one or all three of the city’s parks or leasing them, or simply holding on to the land in hopes that the parks can be reopened at a later time.
But council members were in no mood to make definitive plans.
Frustrated and emotional, Councilman Tim Walker said, “I’m planning on not making any of these decisions.”
Councilman Bob Cashman was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
Nearly a dozen public comments were heard during the meeting. Most speakers passionately argued in favor of Measure D and advocated against selling the land should the June 7 ballot initiative fail.
“Losing the parks – we’ll lose a sense of community,” said longtime Wildomar resident Jerry Hall, who recently moved to Murrieta.
John Lloyd, chairman of the Wildomar Blue Ribbon Parks Advisory Committee, was diplomatic and to the point.
“We need to decide if we want to have parks as a citizenry,” he said. “If the answer is no, then we need to close the parks. I really hope we don’t get there.”
The advisory committee was formed to provide input to the city on how best to proceed with the parks. Earlier this year the committee presented the City Council with the idea of the tax initiative and a special election, and council members unanimously voted in favor of putting the Measure to the voters on June 7.
As recent as last year the city had an assessment in place, but a lawsuit by Wildomar resident Steve Beutz challenged the legality of the tax. In 2010, the courts ruled in Beutz’s favor and the assessment was invalidated.
Several speakers chastised an alternative parks proposal put forth by Wildomar resident Gil Rasmussen. The proposal advocates for closing down Heritage and Windsong parks due to budget constraints, and supports keeping Marna O’Brien open by using volunteers to maintain the facilities. A similar model is used at Como Park, which is part of the Wildomar Cemetery District.
Rasmussen sits on the cemetery district’s board of directors.
Under an agreement with the district, Wildomar Little League built baseball fields on 3 acres of unused cemetery land. League volunteers maintain the fields.
But Tim Underdown, president of Wildomar Little League, vehemently criticized Rasmussen’s proposal.
“As president of Wildomar Little League, it’s a battle to keep volunteers to maintain what we have behind the cemetery,” he said.
Rasmussen was on hand during the meeting. He addressed the board but did not get into the specifics of his proposal because he said the details were discussed during .