The City Council voted 4 to 1 this week to immediately remove the 110-foot concrete slide from Gilman Park after the city's risk manager said it poses dangers that could lead to costly lawsuits.
About 50 residents came to Tuesday's council meeting and more than 20 spoke for three hours about the slide and Gilman Park. Many pleaded with the council to save the custom-built slide, which was installed at the park in 1979.
Nan Reger, a 27-year resident, brought pictures from her scrapbook of herself and her family playing on the slide over the last 13 years. She called Gilman a "dream park," and said "it really brought tears to my eyes to think of that slide disappearing."
But Kim Housewright and other neighbors told the council that the park is a magnet for rowdy teen-agers who break bottles and ride trash cans down the slide at night.
"The slide is more of a hazard than it is a benefit," said Housewright, whose home abuts the park.
Reger, however, said the slide is not to blame. "The teens have used the park for many years for their pleasures, and I don't think the slide had much to do it," she said.
The city will landscape the slide's site and put in new play equipment, spending $36,000 in redevelopment money, the council decided. The city will also improve the lighting and place signs at the six park entrances warning of $500 fines for nighttime trespassing.
Councilman Don Bankhead and Mayor Molly McClanahan said they understood the value of the slide as a play site, but were forced by fears of lawsuits to have it removed. The city is self-insured for the first $2 million of any claim.
Risk Manager Paula Chu Tanguay told the council that in the last five years she has received four reports of injuries involving the slide. Three cases did not lead to claims because the people had misused the equipment, she said. In the fourth case, a claim was filed against the city Nov. 10 for $4,168 on behalf of a boy who allegedly broke his leg while playing on the slide, Tanguay said. The city is investigating the case, she said.
The risk manager cited a recent case in Newport Beach in which a man received $3.1 million for head injuries he sustained when he crashed his bike on a city path. The city knew the path needed maintenance before the cyclist was injured, according to court documents in the case.
Tanguay told the council that the city's liability has increased because of public testimony about the slide's dangers.
"As members of council, you now have notice" of injuries on the Gilman Park slide, Tanguay said. "You know there is abuse (of the slide), alcohol and drug use," she told the council.
Many slide supporters vowed that they would never sue the city over injuries sustained from use of the slide. "It should be perfectly clear that people should use the park at their own risk," Reger said.
"I think that concept would evaporate rapidly with a major head injury," City Atty. R.K. Fox said.
Bankhead agreed, saying: "It's very difficult to see how the City Council could even consider keeping this slide, given the liability."
Councilman Chris Norby was the only one who voted to keep the slide. He disagreed that the city would ever have to pay large settlements.