Envisioning the future of Talbert

Envisioning the future of Talbert

When Steve Mensinger passes Victoria Pond, he sees potential for a lot more than what's there.

It could use a dock or maybe a gazebo, Costa Mesa's mayor pro tem says. Perhaps it should be set up for fishing or, at the very least, have a walkable path around the water's edge.


But right now that little lake is fenced off and the area minimally maintained. It doesn't have to be that way, though, he asserts.

If Mensinger and the other members of the City Council have their way, the county will give Victoria Pond and the rest of Talbert Regional Park to Costa Mesa to manage and potentially improve.


On March 5, the council voted 4 to 1 to explore acquiring the nearly 180-acre park along the Santa Ana River that lies within the city limits. Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented, saying that in these critical financial times, city money could better be spent on public safety.

Mensinger and Mayor Jim Righeimer counter that improving Talbert would be another city infrastructure project that — when combined with better schools, parks and public safety — will make Costa Mesa a more attractive place for families to live.

Mensinger said Talbert, combined with Fairview Park and the Costa Mesa Golf Course, is about 1,000 acres.

"You've got water, you've got land, you've got mesas, bluffs," Mensinger said. "You've got so many different ecosystems right there ... theoretically, [all three] are as big as any park in Orange County.


"The question becomes, 'How do we put the sum of the total to make it the best for Costa Mesa?'"

The park is split into two sections: a nature preserve north of Victoria Street that abuts Fairview Park and a section south of Victoria that shares a border with the northwestern edge of Banning Ranch in Newport Beach.

The nature preserve is ideal, Mensinger said, with its well-kept trails, grassland, picnic tables, restroom and restored habitat. The southern half containing Victoria Pond is nothing like the preserve.

It's mostly fenced off, but not entirely inaccessible, he said, to which Righeimer added that the area is attracting the wrong kind of crowd.

"The homeless call it 'the jungle,'" Righeimer said. "You can go in bushes and see people living in there and sleeping in there."

The county's willingness to relinquish the land remains unclear. If the city took over, it would have to be prepared to take on the additional liabilities that come with running the park.

City staff is looking into the idea and the whole process is still in its preliminary stages. The lack of clarity, though, is what dissenters pointed out before the council's March 5 vote.

Costa Mesa resident Perry Valantine, a frequent council critic, told the council that he was "flummoxed" about Costa Mesa's wanting to run a "piece of property that's owned by another public agency [and] maintained by another public agency."


"I don't understand what the reason is that we'd even be talking about this," he said, adding that the city shouldn't be "duplicating the services of another public agency" when there may be bigger tasks to handle, such as the unfunded pension liability.

Robin Leffler, who heads grassroots activist group Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, placed the idea within the "want to, not need to category."

The city should instead boost its budget reserves and build a good net for public safety, she said.

"I don't know if we know if the county wants to sell it," Leffler said. "If this money is going to be spent in an exploratory way, couldn't that be done with just a phone call? … I don't think I've heard any offers that they're trying to get rid of this land."

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kim Pederson supports the project.

Mensinger said it's likely that the parks commission would be the leading agency behind the effort, alongside city staff and CEO Tom Hatch.

Citing his background working for Newport Beach in its parks division, Pederson said that when Castaways Park was revitalized, it became popular. Now it's full of people of all ages.

"My experience working in this is that if you open things up — and it doesn't have to be spectacular — but if you give people an access, it's amazing what happens," Pederson said.

Time is not on the city's side for this project, Mensinger said.

"Time has a way of killing opportunities, and we obviously recognize time is something you have to utilize. We brought it up because things change.

"You never know. Two years from today, the county may say, 'We want to give it to Newport,' or, 'We want to make it part of something else.' We lose control."

Twitter: @bradleyzint