FAIRFIELD — Lee Bell Park is where Aleny Tonnesen played women’s slow-pitch softball in the 1970s – and the place where her 11-year-old grandson now plays Pony League baseball.
But so much has changed at the park on Washington Street, Tonnesen said.
It’s not safe, she says. It’s an eyesore. It’s a place where some homeless people use drugs.
“We’ve got a real big problem,” she said. “Those kids are in harm’s way.”
Some homeless people have made the park their temporary quarters, Tonnesen said, and hang laundry on the fences. Three weeks ago, a church group came by and provided food and clothing, she said.
Her husband Bud Tonnesen, 76, remembers practicing football as a teen at the park when work was underway at Armijo High School’s field. Now when he drives by Lee Bell Park, he sees homeless people sleeping by the fence.
“They have to have some place to go,” Bud Tonnesen said. “I understand that.”
But children playing baseball shouldn’t be put in the position where it’s not safe for them to use a public bathroom at the park, he said. Or where they witness the arrest of a 22-year-old Fairfield man on suspicion of attacking a police officer, said Tonnesen. That happened Tuesday.
The grandparents, and the parents of the 11-year-old, go to the park when he plays baseball at Lee Bell.
Bud Tonnesen said a solution to the problems at the park eludes him.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “I wish I could answer that.”
Fairfield City Councilwoman Pam Bertani agrees with the Tonnesens’ assessment of the park.
“Lee Bell Park is dangerous,” she said. “We need to fix it.”
“We need to get Lee Bell Park back under control,” Bertani said.
If a police officer in uniform, with a gun, is attacked there, the councilwoman said, the site is unsafe for residents.
Fairfield Police Chief Walt Tibbet said the city manager’s office and Police Department are developing a strategy to address the park’s situation and called that undertaking a top priority for Fairfield. Organizations trying to help people who are homeless as well the homeless have been contacted, Tibbet said.
“Fairfield’s just an incredibly generous community,” the police chief. “We’re a caring community.”
So many people are trying to help that, rather than assisting the homeless, the efforts can support a lifestyle, the chief said. Food and funds not connected with ways to get people out of homelessness don’t help, Tibbet said.
He called Lee Bell Park a wonderful facility that, unfortunately, has fallen into a condition where people are afraid to go there.
The officer who was attacked is recovering and will return to duty, Tibbet said. The suspect has been charged with offenses including battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.
Measures Councilwoman Bertani proposes include enforcement of the city’s ordinance prohibiting adults without children in play areas at city parks. She also wants bathrooms at the park, where drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes take place, closed.
Parishioners from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at 1600 Union Ave,. across from the park, have emailed city officials about conditions at Lee Bell, Bertani said, and people include photos of shopping carts and dangerous paraphernalia around the church. Problems at the park have spilled over into the church site, she said.
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said what’s happening at Lee Bell has to be addressed.
“People are outraged by the aberrant behavior,” he said. “The violence and the unsavory behavior is casting a very negative impact on the city.”
Fairfield is working with Solano County on the matter, said Price, who wants the park at 1401 Washington St. closed at night. Moreover, said the mayor, food should be not provided at the park to the homeless.
The Rev. Michael Wurz of The Edge Community Church in Fairfield, whose meals and clothing donations Aleny Tonnesen saw delivered last month at Lee Bell, said the church assists the homeless at sites around Fairfield.
“They seem to congregate there,” he said of Lee Bell Park. “That’s why we go there.”
The Edge tries to provide people with a way to get off the streets, he said, and is much more successful once the church can get people who are homeless to its building where computers and fax machines are available for job searches and other services.
Homeless people tend to congregate at Lee Bell after leaving nearby Mission Solano, Wurz said.
“One of the easy answers,” he said, “is to allow them to remain at Mission Solano during the day.”
A representative of Mission Solano could not be reached Thursday or Friday for comment.
Wurz said people at the park are not uniformly receptive to The Edge’s efforts. Some are drinking and doing drugs, he said.
“They do not want anything to do with us,” the pastor said.
George Montgomery Peters Jr., 50, who spoke about being homeless in Solano County for two decades, said he doesn’t go to Lee Bell Park.
“Everybody wants to get high, drunk or loaded,” said Peters, referring to his not having used drugs for 30 years.
His solution to problems at the park is to put a big fence with barbed wire around the site.
“Most tweakers and dope fiends are not going to want to climb a fence to go in,” Peters said.
He amended his assessment to note that having something to steal on the other side can overcome the reluctance of habitual drug users to climb such a fence.
Rev. Wurz said he wants to see Lee Bell Park safe and the homeless problem addressed.
“They have no place to go,” he said. “That’s why they go there.”
“I want to do anything I can to help improve it,” Wurz said of the situation the city faces.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.