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Think-Outside-the-Box: Time for Grants Pass to sell Riverside Park

For many decades, Riverside Park has been the gem of the Grants Pass parks system. Now Riverside Park is known as a haven for homeless people sleeping overnight on park benches and tents, questionable bathrooms and drug users who leave needles on the ground.

Many moms don’t feel safe taking their kids to Riverside Park because of this situation.

Unfortunately, the Grants Pass Police Department is limited on what it can do because of the homeless class action lawsuit now at the 9th District Court of Appeals.

The reality is that homeless people are members of the public. Homeless people have the right to be on public property. City Parks are public property, so such people have certain rights when it comes to remaining on public property.

Yet, local taxpayers also expect that they should feel safe while enjoying an afternoon at the park.

Can anything be done about this?

Yes. One way is to ensure that that the Grants Pass City Council does not restrict our police beyond the requirements of the court injunction.

Another way is for the City of Grants Pass to think outside the box and try a new solution to this ongoing problem. I have an idea the city should kick around.

The City of Grants Pass can sell affected parks to one or more local nonprofit organizations. The sale price can be a dollar to keep it legal.

As soon as escrow closes these public parks would become private parks on private property. This plan offers immediate benefits.

Privately owned parks would be able to set rules and enforce them.

When a crime occurs, the police would be called to investigate and keep the peace.

Like many private businesses, the private park could retain Concierge Home and Business Watch for additional patrols and security services.

Someone reported to me how this proved helpful in a local office building. A tenant arrived to find someone sleeping on the ground near the power meters and garbage dumpster. This was alarming because this tenant was a childcare provider. The tenant called Concierge, who responded with a patrol car. The security officer informed the person it was time to wake up and move on.

I meet many Eagle subscribers at our community’s Rally around the Flag held monthly from Spring to Fall. The giant flag is on private property. One time a carload of people showed up to attempt a loud counter-protest to disrupt the rally. They were quickly outnumbered by serious guys with serious attitudes. The protesters were not “asked” to leave. Instead, they were informed they were on private property, and it was time to leave. To remain would be trespassing. They left, and the rally continued without missing a beat.

The city of Grants Pass got creative in solving another downtown problem in 2006. Rumor had it that Larry Lacey, the proprietor of Club 71, had his eye on the historic Palace Hotel building located at 5th and G streets in downtown Grants Pass. The word on the street was that Lacey planned to open a strip club inside this building located in the heart of the historic downtown.

The city council acted to expand Debo Park and declare it to be parkland. Under the city’s development code, no “adult business” could be located within 1,000 feet of a “public park which covers an area of not less than 20,000 square feet and has such facilities such as a playground. … ”  This action did not deter Lacey from acquiring the property but was one of the tools in the city toolbox used to prevent the strip club from opening.

In 2022, the Grants Pass mayor and city council face the problem of drug users, overnight sleepers and transients spoiling Riverside Park. Maintaining safe, beautiful and enjoyable parks remain one of the city’s core services.

Some in the city government hope that a city-facilitated urban campground and warming center will attract homeless people who currently live at Riverside Park. This might work, or it might attract more urban campers to Grants Pass from outside Josephine County. Remember the phrase “If you build it, they will come.” This “solution” might make things worse for families who want to enjoy Riverside Park.

Remember, Disneyland is a private park, and it’s clean and safe. People who want to sleep overnight stay in the Disneyland Hotel. Disney World also offers campgrounds and RV parks.

Yes, lots of details would need to be worked out for this idea to be realized. The development code would need to be amended to cover both private and public parks. A contract would need to be negotiated between the city and the nonprofit organization.

The city could choose to start small and sell Debo Park first. This process would create a framework to transfer larger parks such as Riverside Park.

Josephine County is considering the sale or transfer of Sportsman Park shooting range to keep the park flourishing while eliminating a potential liability of the county.

By selling Riverside Park to a nonprofit organization, the city will eliminate a liability of the city. This would also let the mayor and city managers focus on other city matters such as increasing the amount of buildable land for housing and completing the new water treatment plant within budget.

Now is the time for our city leaders to get creative about how best to serve their constituents and ensure that our beautiful community thrives well into the future.