Advisory panel says no fields at Fairview

In a nearly three-hour meeting marked by personal snipes and accusatory questions on parliamentary procedure, the take-away was a win for the "keep it natural" crowd: no added sports fields in Fairview Park — at least for its southwest quadrant.

The citizens advisory committee for the Costa Mesa park met Wednesday night to discuss and debate 12 ideas, including the addition of softball/baseball fields, basketball/handball courts and soccer fields. Committee member David Stiller was absent because of illness.

The ideas were among several first proposed by the committee in July.

A majority of the group rejected all the athletic field proposals, which have been hotly debated since the committee's reconvening last summer. In December, the group also disapproved of adding soccer or football fields to the park's northwest quadrant.

Committee member Ron Amburgey, known for his work in the Costa Mesa youth sports scene, said he favors sports fields in Fairview Park, but not in the southwest quadrant.

A more appropriate place, he contended, would be in the southeast quadrant, within the acreage used by the Orange County Model Engineers.

The southwest quadrant takes up about 95 acres of the 208-acre park. The area is perhaps the park's most visited and easily accessible section, partially because it contains its largest parking lot and a restroom.

It has the park's grassy expanse — popular for pickup games of soccer — as well as a gazebo area, some benches and most of the park's vernal pools. It's also the home of the Harbor Soaring Society, whose members fly model airplanes, and the Fairview Indian Site, a buried archaeological remnant of Native American settlements that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.

As has been common during previous meetings, several Fairview Park enthusiasts wrote to the committee and spoke in favor of keeping the 208-acre park free of new development and in a "natural" state.

"It's a nature park," said resident Cindy Black. "It has a lot of valuable resources, including vernal pools, that some people choose to ignore."

Of the 12 ideas, a majority of the committee approved the possibility of adding more picnic structures, improving the information kiosks and better protecting the vernal pools.

City staff noted that the delineation and preservation of all the vernal pools — a kind of temporary wetland that is home to the endangered San Diego fairy shrimp — are already on the park's master plan and will eventually be implemented.

The largest of Fairview Park's vernal pools, at just over three acres, is gated off with metal wiring and has a slightly elevated viewing deck with signage signifying its biological importance.

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Here comes the train?

Committee member Terry Cummings spoke in favor of expanding the Orange County Model Engineers' tracks. Using the Placentia Avenue bridge, the tracks would expand westward toward the ocean-view bluffs.

"The views are magnificent," Cummings said.

The idea failed on a split 4-4 vote. Committee members Cummings, Amburgey, Brett Eckles and Dennis Popp voted in favor. Committee Chairman Richard Mehren and members Anna Vrska, Steve Smith and Lee Ramos dissented.

Resident Gilbert Collins said the proposed track route along the bluffs is a sensitive archaeological area.

"They're gonna put a train track on it?" he said.

Resident Harold Weitzberg said having trains expand to the west side of the park would ruin that area's natural setting.

"That's not the experience you want from that environment," he said.

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Committee arguments

A few members of the committee said they were disappointed with Mehren, a retired dentist who had served on previous versions of the committee.

After the public comment period, Mehren used the microphone to provide his own comments for several minutes — "I have not had a chance to give my say and I'm doing it," he said — even though the act is supposed to be reserved for the end of the meeting.

He said about 90% of the written communications sent to the committee are "against anything being done in the park." He read excerpts and called some of the sentiment "extraordinary."

Mehren also said he agreed with the notion that the committee "does not truly represent a cross-section of Costa Mesa residents."

Eckles chimed in with a point of order, saying that the public comment portion wasn't the appropriate or scheduled time for the committee to provide its general comments. Mehren should read the letters at the end of the meeting, during the committee members' reports, Eckles argued.

Mehren said he agreed — to a point.

"They should, but I'm not sure that people are reading them," he said. "Because I'm not seeing any minds on this committee being changed by anything."

Eckles replied, "Well, I would take exception to that, thank you."

Mehren then continued reading other correspondence — including the sentiment that the vernal pools haven't been adequately protected and that ball fields aren't appropriate over the Fairview Indian Site. Before being advised to stop by the committee's attorney, he also opined that the possibility of adding sports fields to Fairview Park is an important enough decision that it should "be on the ballot."

At the end of the meeting, Eckles said to Mehren that he was "offended" by the chairman's earlier commentary.

"To your point that I don't read the correspondence and you have to read them to me, that's sickening," Eckles said. "'Cause guess what? I've read everything that's been sent in. And I've read the master plan several times, as I'm sure you have."

He advised the chairman to not "disparage" committee members by "assuming what we do and don't do and come with preconceived opinions."

Amburgey agreed, saying Mehren was "out of line" to use the chairman position to read correspondence that he happened to agree with during the public comment portion.

"You're the most biased person on this committee, you and Anna," Amburgey said to Mehren. "It's so obvious.... The truth is, you say keep an open mind, but you're the one that's not keeping an open mind. That's my opinion."

Mehren did not respond to their comments.

"OK, at this point," he said, "I have nothing to say further. I've said it."

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