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California City Solutions: Half Moon Bay Replaces Beloved Park Structure with Mothers' Support

October 17, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. The Half Moon Bay’s Ocean View Park Playground Structure was submitted in 2014 for the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement award category.
 
Ocean View Park housed the largest play structure in Half Moon Bay, making it a favorite of many children and families. The 20-year old play structure, with an outdated design, however, was difficult to repair because parts were no longer being manufactured. After a safety inspection found a variety of hazards for children, it was cordoned off and closed in February 2011. Facing budget problems, the city was unable to fund a new play structure at Ocean View Park. The community could not bear the thought of losing one of its beloved parks so they joined efforts with the city and some local organizations to make a new plan.
 
The city’s challenge began in November 2007, when a federal judge ruled that it owed $37 million to a developer for inadvertently creating wetlands on his property. The city issued bonds to pay the $18 million settlement, allocating approximately $1.1 million annually through 2040.
 
Additionally, the Great Recession took another major toll on the city’s budget and tourism industry. Half of the city’s General Fund revenues come from hotel and sales taxes, and with gas prices and unemployment rates high, fewer people were traveling to the small coastal city.
 
To stay afloat, the city adopted an aggressive downsizing strategy. The number of full-time city employees dropped from 59 in 2007 to 15 in 2014. In 2011, the city outsourced law enforcement to the county sheriff's office and recreation to the city of San Carlos. Now the city now relies on third parties for code enforcement, public works, building inspection, information technology, animal control, legal counsel, library and janitorial services.
 
The loss of the play structure meant that nearly 5,000 children and their families would be forced to find a new place to play. When Hope Atmore, Fiends of Half Moon Bay co-president, read in the Half Moon Bay Review that Ocean View Park was closing, she told her then four year old son and his response was, “They can’t do that.”
 
Atmore contacted Kristen O'Brien, president of the Coastside Mothers’ Club (CMC), and the two arranged to meet with the city to see about replacing the play structure. The city was very interested in replacing the structure but did not have adequate funds to pay for replacement equipment. CMC took up the cause and formed a partnership with the city and the Half Moon Bay Rotary Club.
 
Fundraising efforts to design, build and replace the playground structure began in March of 2011 when CMC began soliciting donations and developed a fundraising strategy to raise $65,000. They sold namesake tiles ranging $100-300 for a fundraising wall. CMC held celebrity bartending events, barbeques, sought out individual donations, corporate sponsorships, and grants. More than $1,300 was raised by the kids in the community through bake sales, lemonade stands and a four-day play-a-thon organized by a local five year old.
 
Although the city could not afford to fully replace the playground, it did make a contribution of $10,000 for the cause. Then Mayor Naomi Patridge stated, “I’ve been very impressed with our community’s creativeness and dedication to the fundraising efforts”.
 
While the park remained closed for its dilapidated conditions, the community was missing one of its favorite parks. A local resident and father, David Eblovi, volunteered to help fix some of the worst problems identified in the original report so that the playground could temporarily remain open. He secured custom-made replacement parts, which were certified by local safety inspectors, but it was confirmed that full replacement was still inevitable.
 
More than 30 children and their parents assembled at the park for a kick-off event and to collect ideas for a new play structure. Miracle Play Systems, the original manufacturer of the playground, presented a variety of catalogs to the families. During the event, children and parents were encouraged to provide feedback and select equipment they preferred for the new playground. CMC gathered hundreds of ideas and organized them into one design, which was brought back to the community for further input. “This hands-on learning opportunity will teach our children how to work together to solve a problem” said O’Brien.
 
Ocean View Park’s new play structure reopened in September 2011. The namesake tiles provide a decorative wall and surround a new sandbox, representing the children and families who have contributed to the new playground and their community.
 
“This was something that was personal for everyone, and it was easy to find partners for this,” said Council Member Marina Fraser, who helped organize the cooperative effort. “But it’s not cheap, and it’s not a piece of play equipment you can just pick up at Costco.”


 
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