Casa Grande lot offers parking by day, illegal race track by night

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When the city approved the extension of the Sonoma al Fresco program this spring — to allow continued use of parking lots in front of downtown businesses for outdoor dining — the main downside was the loss of some 63 public parking spaces. Since available parking is one of the bugaboos of city planning, he drew renewed attention to the uncertain availability of the state-owned Casa Grande parking area behind the barracks at the State Historic Park of the downtown.

The lot is a beacon for visitor parking, and tour buses often use it as a home base. It’s free, centrally located and spacious. But more than just parking is involved on the grounds of Casa Grande. For more than 15 years, according to neighbors on First Street East, during after-hours work, typically from around 7 p.m. loud and heartbreaking,” in the words of one resident. AJ Riebli, “because it has become known as a place where you can do it.”

The land is unfenced, with approximately 145 free parking spaces not only for tourists, but also for staff and volunteers from nearby California state parks, restaurant workers that line Spain Street, and other Plaza businesses, and bocce and bocce players for the Depot Park courts.

Although the city has in the past entered into a lease agreement with State Parks for use of the land, there is currently no such formal lease agreement. That deal, at $3,000 a month, expired in 2013 and was not renewed “in part because of the economic downturn at the time,” according to interim city manager David Kiff’s report presented to city council on Tuesday. 21st of June.

At one point, the state considered the idea of ​​a kiosk at the East First Street entrance, with paid parking, or perhaps meters. The city has been trying to revive the discussion for several years, renting the property and providing free long-term parking.

Kiff’s report says negotiations with state parks have been on and off for the past two years, but that hasn’t stopped the city from making improvements, including restricting land for more parking spaces. parking, the addition of bicycle parking, the formal setting aside of a specific area. for bus parking and the establishment of a pedestrian pathway to more clearly connect the Casa Grande lot to the Plaza and Depot Park.

More than the parking lot involved

Once the issue was brought up by Kiff and council member Kelso Barnett recused himself because he lives in the area, public and council comment quickly diverged in the direction of whether to use or nocturnal abuse of the land.

Three area residents — Riebli and Kilby Stankamp of First Street East and Sam Taylor of Second Street East — filed a litany of complaints about loud cars, boomboxes, a party atmosphere and infrequent law enforcement in the lot, especially between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m.

“It’s become constant, it’s a constant thing,” Riebli said, after reminding the council of his many complaints, including video recordings of multiple incidents since 2016. Clearly frustrated that nothing has been done yet, he said: “Right now, I could get a post hole digger and some bags of concrete, and just loop around what I call the race track, or the horseshoe.

Among the videos he shared with the Index-Tribune, one shows the lights of a car racing around the main parking lot – the “horseshoe”, bisected by a meridian – then roaring out camera, followed by the sounds of the vehicle crashing into the eucalyptus trees at Depot Park.

A series of speed bumps were added throughout the lot by State Parks, according to Sgt. Sonoma State Historic Park Supervising Ranger Rob Pickett, but they haven’t done much to reduce the problem. “The speed bumps did a lot to stop the antics – it’s still a quarter mile fast lane.”

Taylor said the races often spilled off the field into nearby streets and all the way to the high school. “They come and go, they get chased, they come back, they go around Blue Wing, they go down Second Street East. It’s a bigger problem, I don’t know how best to solve it…” Blue Wing Drive connects First Street East to Second Street East, which provides direct access south through residential neighborhoods to the high school.

Stankamp said she recently awoke to see a large gang sign painted on the state park’s adobe wall next to the entrance to the grounds. She said the tag was quickly removed by an anonymous citizen.

She also recounted a conversation she had with Orlando Rodriguez, the current Sonoma Police Chief. “‘The gang problems in Santa Rosa are trickling down to the smaller communities,’ she quoted Rodriguez. ‘We have a problem and we have to get ahead of it, now.’

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