Park-use debate continues

Debate continued Wednesday night between preservation advocates and residents in favor of bringing youth athletic fields to Fairview Park in Costa Mesa.

More than 30 community members lined up behind the microphone during public comment to make suggestions to the Fairview Park Citizens' Advisory Committee, which is considering how to the use the southeast quadrant of the park.

The area encompasses 45 acres of land and 8,500 user-defined trails, according to a report by Bart Mejia, senior engineer for the city's public services department.

Since its creation in April, the committee has produced a number of suggestions for the space, including a dry land wildlife viewing area, baseball and softball fields and multi-use athletic fields.

Committee member Brett Eckles supports the construction of athletic fields in a portion of the 208-acre park and stressed the need during his presentation to the committee.

Eckles' data shows that 10,618 children use the city's 11 multi-use athletic fields and six baseball fields the city owns or contracts to use for youth sports.

Gordon Bowley, president of Costa Mesa United, said the city's youth is badly in need of sports facilities and advocates placing fields in the southeast portion of the park.

"When our founding fathers were planning our city, I can understand where they would not have seen over 4,000 participants of youth sports," he said. "The youth in our city are badly underserved."

Orange County Model Engineers use about 20 acres in the park's southeast area to run train tracks for their model trains, known as the Mackerel Flats and Goat Hill Junction Railroad. The 100-member nonprofit organization has provided complimentary train rides for adults and children in the community for 25 years, said organization member Hank Castingetti.

The group approached the city to extend its operating license in the park in September, hoping for a 25-year renewal, but was granted five years by the council.

Castingetti pointed to the park's natural beauty during his presentation, showing photographs of the animals present at the park and the grounds, asking committee members where else in the community they could see such beauty.

Though many parents and athletes attended the meeting to speak about the need for additional athletic fields, Castingetti was adamant that it not become another developed area of Costa Mesa.

"Huntington Beach would never develop the sand on its beaches for a sports complex," he said. "Like the song says, you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

Dozens of community members brought their children, many dressed in athletic gear, to the meeting to support of the proposed athletic fields.

Scott Mahaffy, league commissioner for Costa Mesa's youth flag football league, said he's seen a dramatic increase in the number of children participating in Friday Night Lights since he started the program.

"I had to turn away 200 kids this season because we didn't have enough field space," he said. "There is a need for fields for our kids."

The archaeological angle continues to be a key element in the debate over the development of Fairview Park.

Joyce Perry, a member of the Acjachemen tribe, indigenous to Orange County, spoke passionately about Fairview Park's preservation.

Perry said the land is not simply of economic value, but provides what she calls a "snapshot into the history" of her ancestors.

"It's a connection to our identity and our identity is connected to our homeland," she said.

Harold Weitzberg, a Costa Mesa resident, said the park's preservation has little to do with the need for more athletic fields.

"I love soccer, but this isn't about soccer," he said. "This is about maintaining a natural environment. Where are we going to teach kids about flies and bugs?"

[For the record, 9 a.m. Oct. 3: An earlier version of this story misspelled Harold Weitzberg's last name.]

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