City gearing up to take on Bartlett Park

What to do with the 28-acre Bartlett Park has been an issue for Huntington Beach leaders at least since the 1990s, and maybe even the '70s.

The land was deeded to the city in 1971 by the developers as part of the Quimby Act, state law requiring that a percentage of land to be developed must be used for parks and recreational facilities.

The land officially became the city's property in 1999 when a member of the Newland family, which owned the site, signed off on it, said Huntington Beach historian Jerry Person.

Since that time, little has changed within the nature-heavy park, partly because of funding problems and partly because of the presence of historical artifacts. But in the wake of an apparent murder-suicide within its boundaries, council members are pushing yet again to clean up and add some recreational amenities to Bartlett Park.

David Dominguez, city facilities, development and concessions manager, said Bartlett Park is home to cultural resources, including a likely Native American burial ground in the western portion.

"There was some research that was done, but no one really knows to the full extent what might be there," Dominguez said. "There's been a couple of excavations that were done a long time ago. One of the documents we have from the 1900s talked about truckloads of skeletal material. And then in 1935, they found some other burials there."

The possibility of more artifacts requires special care be taken in order to work around the area, he said.


Bartlett Park had been used primarily as a nature park, residents today use it in various ways, including riding BMX bicycles, walking their dogs and jogging.

The park's terrain varies. The northern and western portions are relatively flat. The east is rugged and densely occupied by willow trees and scrub. A flood plain is located in the southern region.

"There's a lot of ad-hoc uses over the years," Dominguez said.

Along with the recreation, the park has also been synonymous with illegal activity. A multitude of homeless camps can be found throughout the area, often in the dense concentration of willow trees. Residents have also complained of drug and alcohol consumption taking place.

Huntington Beach police has reported 16 incidents at the park in the past three years, including the apparent murder-suicide in July. Drinking in public, battery and public intoxication were reported in 2011, while possession of a controlled substance, battery on an officer, vandalism and unauthorized camping were reported in 2012.

Resident Liz Gaston has lived in the Bartlett Park neighborhood for about 20 years and has complained about the illegal activity in the park.

"It was always a place for kids to hang out and be up to no good," Gaston said. "I know the people who live on Coldwater have phoned the police multiple times over the years, because they see people coming here at night, park their cars and come in."

In 2009, the Huntington Beach City Council looked into the possibility of developing the park. Dominguez said residents didn't want it overdeveloped with skate parks and baseball fields; they wanted to maintain the natural feel.

"They [the city] were trying to put a 9-hole golf course out there at one time," he said. "They talked loosely about a sports complex, but nothing ever went forward."

Gaston was at the hearing in 2010 when the council approved a master plan for Bartlett Park. She said she was disappointed when told no progress would be made because of the lack of funding. The plan, however, is still in effect today, Dominguez said.

Some of the suggested changes outlined in the plan include removing the chain-link fence around the park and replacing it with a more aesthetically appealing barrier. It was also suggested to add two tot lots: one in the northern region near Yorktown and another one off Coldwater Lane. Talks about building a bridge at the bottom of the flood plain and trails throughout the region took place.

But Dominguez said there always seemed to be issues with what the city wanted to do. If paths were to be made, they needed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the city wanted to touch the flood plain, it would have to go through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or Orange County Flood. If it wanted to prune the willow trees or clean that area, a permit would be required by California Fish and Wildlife, Dominguez said.

There was also the issue of funding. The City Council may have approved the master plan in 2010, but money for the project wasn't available at the time, Dominguez said.

He said the city had some funding set aside in this year's budget to get the ball rolling again. City staff hope to start construction on the trail and tot lot by the summer, Dominguez said.

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the city budgeted $200,000 for staff to complete an environmental impact report. The city has set aside $130,000 in the proposed 2013-2014 budget for Bartlett Park designs.

"We don't have the actual construction money identified yet, but we're hoping once we get to the MND [mitigated negative declaration], then that's going to tell us what we can and cannot do," he said.

Gaston said she admires the natural beauty found at Bartlett Park as she hiked around with her two granddaughters and her daughter-in-law, who married her son at the Newland Barn on the western bluff of the park.

"I really think the people in this neighborhood would be happy to see anything done here," she said. "It's gorgeous. It would be a huge asset for the city to have this park developed."

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