Edison Park remodeling gets third try – Orange County Register

Trying to make changes to a beloved neighborhood park is no small feat.

Just ask Huntington Beach.

After the city council unanimously approved a conceptual plan to add soccer and baseball fields to Edison Park last November, the same body did a complete about-face a few months later – this time voting 7-0 to withdraw the green design.

It was a victory for grassroots activism. Hundreds of neighbors living around the park rose up to save trees and open space, showering City Hall with their concerns.

Now it’s a third time at the drawing board for the city and developer RJM Design Group.

“We are working with a landscape architect and RJM to coordinate next steps,” said Chris Slama, Huntington Beach Director of Community and Library Services.

  • Kim Kent, left, and Bridgette Ayala hug after dancing to a Beatles song during the Huntington Beach Community Meeting at Edison Park on Sunday, April 24, 2022. Neighbors are upset about the city’s plan to convert the park into a sports complex. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Local residents gather at Edison Park in Huntington Beach on Sunday,...

    Local residents gather at Edison Park in Huntington Beach on Sunday, April 24, 2022 during the Save Edison Park gathering. Local residents fear that the city’s plan to convert the park into a sports complex will have a negative impact on the environment. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Glenn Gallegly shows up at the Save Edison Park Community...

    Glenn Gallegly arrives on bike with his dog Casey at the Save Edison Park community meeting on Sunday, April 24, 2022 in Huntington Beach. Gallegly has lived near the park since 1973 and has opposed the city’s plans to turn it into a sports complex. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Emil Koester plays with his 3-year-old son Emmitt during the...

    Emil Koester plays with his 3-year-old son Emmitt during the Save Edison Park community meeting in Huntington Beach Sunday, April 24, 2022. Residents are concerned that the city’s plan to turn the park into a sports complex is having an impact will negatively impact the environment and neighborhood. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Beatles cover band plays across from Edison...

    The Beatles cover band performs during the Save Edison Park community meeting opposite Edison Park in Huntington Beach on Sunday April 24, 2022. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Diana Parker carries her 6-month-old son Noah to term after...

    Diana Parker carries her 6-month-old son Noah after visiting a food truck with her children in Huntington Beach on Sunday April 24, 2022. They were at the Save Edison Park community event. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Emil Koester plays with his 3-year-old son Emmitt during the...

    Emil Koester plays with his 3-year-old son Emmitt during the Save Edison Park community meeting in Huntington Beach Sunday, April 24, 2022. Residents are concerned that the city’s plan to turn the park into a sports complex is having an impact will negatively impact the environment and neighborhood. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Edison Park in Huntington Beach features wide open spaces with...

    Edison Park in Huntington Beach offers wide open spaces with many mature trees. Many local residents are unhappy with the city’s plans to convert the park into a sports facility. One of their concerns is that removing the trees will have a negative impact on the environment. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Slama and his associates are expected to return to council in late summer with new and improved ideas for the 40-acre property.

On the other side of the equation is another sympathetic group – children.

Parents and volunteers linked to youth football in the community say children desperately need fields now that they have lost their old fields.

In 2019, the Huntington Beach City School District decided to sell its site that once housed Gisler Middle School, which closed in 1986 and was later occupied by a Brethren Christian School. The 14-acre property on Strathmoor Lane features two large, lighted football pitches. These are the only such fields in northwest Huntington Beach and will be replaced with a new 85-family residential development. The developer, Brookfield Homes, has pledged $500,000 to find an alternate site for lighted soccer fields.

Youth football fans have reacted with dismay at the stand.

At a meeting in March, Alan Gandall, AYSO’s area director, made a point of reminding council members that children have parents.

“We serve about 4,500 players in the city, and that equates to about 9,000 voters,” Gandall said.

He then read a message from Ann McCarthy, commissioner of AYSO Region 56, which seemed to express frustration with critics.

“Edison Park would not be in this situation if the city had used its will to invest in its (youth) athletic fields as it has done with some adults in need,” McCarthy wrote.

The 48-year-old park already includes soccer fields, tennis courts, softball fields, a community center and a skate park.

The update would result in five soccer fields, two of which could serve as softball fields. The original concept plan would also add pickleball courts, an off-leash dog park, and a pump track for bike riders — erasing a patch of grassland.

To reclaim some of that open space, RJM developed another option – the one approved in November – that eliminates the dog park and trims the parking lot.

Despite this, local residents continued to complain about the cutting down of old trees, which they say protect them from the nearby Ascon landfill, which is currently undergoing a massive remediation.

The neighbors are also worried about not enough parking for all the football families. They are also not keen on field lights near their homes.

Of course, the critics have their own critics. Last month, as residents hung banners in front of homes to promote a Save Edison Park community festival, someone tore down seven of the 10 signs in the dark of the night.

“The next day they were gone,” said Rosemarie Sire, a local real estate agent who helped buy the banners. “Whoever did it had to climb a stepladder and cut down the banners. It was a ridiculous effort to steal these things. Obviously someone didn’t want this event to happen.”

But Sire stressed, “I really don’t think anyone has been linked to AYSO.”

Though the park’s transformation has hit a snag, Huntington Beach Official Slama said the project “is not on hold, it’s moving forward.”

“We asked RJM to conduct a more site-specific analysis and detailed topographical aerial survey,” Slama said. “A certified arborist will do a thorough report on the health of the trees there.” About 200 new trees are planned for the site, he said.

Mainly, Slama said, the city wants to catch its breath and give neighbors more time to learn about the project, especially after complaints from people who said other plans had moved forward without their input.

“We want to do more outreach,” Slama said. “This is an opportunity to address concerns.”

For more information on proposed changes at Edison Park, see hbedisonpark.

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