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Park lighting debate splits council

Let there be light — or not?

A proposal to add lighting to existing and planned parking lots at Fairview Park is coming up for Costa Mesa City Council approval Tuesday — and, potentially, additional debate — as part of the city’s $131.8-million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.


But while city officials and the council majority say the lights are needed for a multitude of safety reasons, particularly for children using the area’s sports fields, one council member contends that the lights would further encourage nighttime activity in a park not designed for it.

“If we’re having the gate open after dark for people to come into the park, that’s a really bad idea,” said Councilwoman Sandy Genis. “Once you do that, you really have to light the entire park, which would be prohibitively expensive ... I don’t want to be encouraging people to be in Fairview Park at night, and I see it as a potential security issue.”


What’s more, Genis said, the $650,000 proposed toward the lights and others near the park might better be spent elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of stuff we could do with $650,000,” she said. “That’s a lot for doing something that I don’t think is consistent with the long-range planning for the park.”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger disagreed.

The lack of lighting at the Fairview Park lot has been an issue for years, he said.


After practice or games at nearby Estancia High School or the Waldorf School’s field, children who then go to the Fairview Park lot to be picked up by their parents do so without any lighting help, he said.

“The goal is not to have kids walking in the dark,” Mensinger said. “No park is a nighttime park. Streets aren’t nighttime streets, but you have to put lights on them because you have safety issues.”

Councilwoman Wendy Leece sided with Genis, calling the lights “a luxury we can’t afford” from a “wish list” that only benefits a small constituency.

“I don’t think there’s an outcry from the community for $650,000 to be spent on these lights,” she said, adding that “we gotta get arms around the pension issue before we go off and put lights in a park.”


Genis and Leece said the parking lots at Estancia, Waldorf and Canyon Drive — which are already lit — should be sufficient and residents don’t have to use the Fairview lot.

“The question is: What’s wrong with this parking?” Genis said.

She called for more data and research on the matter, and possibly input from the newly reconvened Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.

Leece said residents in the Lower Birds neighborhood may take offense to the lights, and that any environmental issues and how the lights relate to the park’s master plan must be thoroughly addressed.

“I liken this to the rush to privatize the baseball fields at TeWinkle Park,” Leece said, in reference to the nixed proposal last year to have an athletic entertainment company manage the park’s sports fields.

“That was the fast track,” she said. “There really wasn’t any respect for the Mesa del Mar neighbors whose homes would be most affected by increased use of the TeWinkle fields. It came down to a legal issue, and that’s what this may come down to also.”

Ernesto Munoz, Costa Mesa’s public services director, said the issue is primarily about safety.

“There are a number of events at the park that are utilizing the parking in the evening,” he said. “And we don’t have any lights there. That’s a problem from a safety standpoint.”

Munoz said the energy-efficient LED fixtures would be focused, not spill into the adjacent habitats and have motion detectors which would change the lights to their full brightness upon sensing movement. They could be adjusted so as not to be set off by raccoons or coyotes.

“We want to be sensitive to the habitats,” Munoz said, adding that the lights could also help the police department spot illicit activities in the parking lots.

Mensinger said the lighting issue “has been made it out to be bigger than it is.”

If approved, and after designs are submitted, the costs could also be significantly less than $650,000, he said.

“We’ll work with all the stakeholders so that the lights work with the environment,” Mensinger said.

If approved, the lights wouldn’t change the 208-acre park’s standard operating hours from dawn to dusk.

Also within the proposal is lighting at the northern terminus of Pacific Avenue, where a small parking lot is planned, and improved lighting at the northern end of Canyon Drive, near Waldorf School. Both are Fairview Park access points.