McClatchy Park is a rose-filled oasis in downtown Modesto, but the city says the green patch is becoming a nuisance, home to drug deals and public drunkenness.
City leaders want to try fencing off the park to the public and beefing up enforcement against quality-of-life offenses such as public urination.
The City Council's safety and communities committee voted 3-0 at its Monday meeting to move forward with the plan. Councilmen Dave Lopez, Garrad Marsh and Joe Muratore sit on the committee. The full council will review the idea next month.
If approved, the city will fence off the park for six months, then decide whether to block public access to it permanently. The park would be available to rent for private events.
The postcard-size space is on the corner of 15th and I streets, across from the McHenry Mansion. The McClatchy Co. and The Modesto Bee gave the city the park as a gift in 1995.
City officials say the park has become a magnet for homeless people. Nearby business owners complain that the park's "problem patrons" buy and sell drugs, use profanity and commit "unsanitary acts," according to a city report.
Church groups and charities distribute food at the park, but a lack of bathrooms creates a sanitation problem, said Director of Parks and Recreation Julie Hannon.
If the park is restricted, the city will work with the groups that hand out food to find other locations, Hannon said. Fencing off the park and renting it for private events will make money for the cash-strapped city, Hannon said.
Terry Swehla, a certified financial planner at Waypoint Financial Advisors, works in the building next to the park. Swehla told city officials Monday night that the park has been a trouble spot for years. "It's not just the trash, it's frankly unsanitary things that have happened literally on our doorstep," Swehla said.
One option to solve the problem, city officials say, is to have the McHenry Mansion Foundation take control of the property. Making the park private property would give police more leeway to intervene there, Chief Mike Harden said.
The park is a picturesque spot ringed by dozens of rosebushes and a neatly trimmed hedge.
On the lush lawn Monday night, a group of four men who appeared to be homeless lounged on a blanket.
Guy Perea, 60, said he visits the park daily to "regroup and smell the roses." He said he's filed an injunction in Stanislaus County Superior Court attempting to stop the city from fencing off the park. Perea said he considers the park safe. He and other people who frequent the park tell police when they see illegal activity there, Perea said.
But Perea said he saw the city's point of view. "They think the people using it now aren't up to the par of the people who they want to use the park," Perea said.