Modesto’s plan to remake its tiny downtown park next to the Ralston Tower low-income senior complex includes removing roughly two-thirds of the grass.
That will be replaced with such amenities as a shaded central plaza, fitness area, a spot for board game tables, and walking paths.
There also will be a low fence around the roughly one-third acre park with entrances but no gates, more efficient and brighter lighting at night, security cameras, and benches with armrests that make it difficult for someone to lie down.
While the park will be more inviting for seniors and families, it may not be for the homeless who now gather there and hang out or sleep on the grass.
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“It’s just another way to get rid of us,” said Tiana Duncan, who said she has been homeless for five years and goes to the park occasionally to see friends. “It’s going to be hard on a lot of (homeless) people. A lot of people go there.”
City officials presented the proposed redesign at the City Council’s Safety and Communities Committee meeting Monday. The committee endorsed the redesign and forwarded it to the full council for adoption.
The committee also endorsed paying for the $1.1 million project through applying for a state grant and using some of the federal funding the city receives to help disadvantaged and low-income areas of Modesto.
The council is expected to take up both matters this month.
Parks Planning and Development Manager Nathan Houx said Modesto should know within six months of applying whether it will receive the grant. He said Modesto’s application would be very competitive, and the city would seek other grants if this one were denied.
He said Modesto could secure the funding and start construction in summer 2020 under the best of circumstances. The city hired O’Dell Engineering in 2016 at a cost not to exceed $60,005 to develop a master plan and for other work associated with the project.
Modesto has held a series of meetings to gather input about the redesign, including a December meeting at Ralston Tower, which drew roughly 30 residents and staff and board members. The 11-story tower has about 190 residents.
“I think it will get my tenants out of their apartments to talk to each other and exercise,” said Ralston Tower property manager Janna Creighton. “It will be a good meeting spot for them.” City officials also say families will be drawn to the redesigned park.
Creighton said residents like the new amenities and that that the redesign will discourage homeless people from hanging out. She said residents have reported some of the homeless panhandling them, using drugs and engaging in other bad behavior. Creighton said some residents don’t use the park because of the homeless.
Residents also were concerned that all of the older, bigger trees remain. Houx said the plan is to keep them, while removing two smaller ones and planting six more trees.
Several Ralston Tower residents who were in the park and spoke with The Bee said the majority of the homeless don’t cause problems. But some do, including those who constantly ask for a cigarette, spare change or food. Depending upon the resident, that can be seen as annoying or threatening.
Ralston Tower resident Anita Montano said she generally likes the proposed changes but wishes there was more grass for residents’ dogs. And while she said she has concerns about the homeless who are mentally ill and the potential threat they pose, she said something must be done to help them and the other homeless.
“The city has to do something,” she said. “They are human beings.”