The last weekend of September, birders from as far away as Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay Area descended on Laguna Grande Park to get a look at a great crested flycatcher – notable for its yellow belly and fluffy crest – which had been spotted in the park by Audubon Society members. The Friday before, Seaside firefighters responded to what appeared to be an out-of-control campfire.
It’s emblematic of the different realities that make up 42-acre Laguna Grande, owned mostly by Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, with edges in Seaside and Monterey. It’s home both to well-used playgrounds and picnic areas, as well as pervasive homeless encampments.
For the first time in anyone’s memory since it was established in 1976, the Laguna Grande Park Joint Powers Authority – an agency with representation from the park district and the two cities – met on Sept. 30 to talk about improvements to the park. Members of the agency are Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson, Seaside City Councilmember Alissa Kispersky and MPRPD board member Kevin Raskoff, who’d assumed his role on the board just 11 days prior.
“We all want a remedy here, which is to restore this beautiful park and make it feel safe,” Roberson said.
Neighbors who live near the park have been clamoring for action for years, caught in the confusing triangulation of three agencies and who to call for help. They were eager to share ideas for improvements with the reconvened JPA. The team behind FORTAG (the Fort Ord Rec Trail and Greenway) envisions a bike ramp connecting to Fremont Boulevard, where now a steep drop makes the park inaccessible from that side. Monterey Community Development Director Kimberly Cole described plans for a network of trails and interpretive signage.
Monterey resident Kathie Buaya said she envisioned a more active recreational park would dissuade people from setting up encampments. “One reason the homeless situation has gone on long is because we have no activity there,” she said. “Once we have a bike path or a dog park or kayakers, the [encampments] will stop.”
In June, public works and law enforcement officials undertook major cleanups; Monterey carted away four truckloads of trash and Seaside hauled off three. “Laguna Grande Park, particularly the heavily wooded area, is a challenge and has been a challenge for years,” Deputy Seaside Police Chief Judy Veloz said.
The JPA will meet again after city and MPRPD staffers meet to start crafting next steps. “It makes me hopeful that we don’t have to start from square one on this,” Raskoff said.