VACAVILLE — The hundreds of weekly Lagoon Valley Park visitors who find free parking refuge under the “No Parking” signs in the area adjacent to the front entrance payment kiosk will soon have to find a new place to park – preferably inside the park after paying the $3-per-vehicle entrance fee.
The area will soon be blocked by a series of boulders and gates, in addition to new signs, possibly as early as Easter, said Hew Hesterman, the city’s park planner. Access will be allowed only during special events such as Loop the Lagoon and Festival de la Isla.
The idea doesn’t thrill several regular visitors who said that most of the people who park there come only for an hour or so several times a week to walk or run.
“It’s fine if you’re going to be here for a picnic,” said Ginger Richardson of Vacaville. “I don’t know about paying when you come in for 45 minutes to an hour. I’m definitely going for the free parking.”
Richardson meets friends several times a week to walk the park – one of them Pamla Fox, also of Vacaville. They used to walk starting at the Butcher Road entrance until another friend had her car burglarized. In a previous report, Vacaville police Lt. Matt Lydon said the Butcher Road entrance area had 29 auto burglaries in 2013, a drop from 37 in 2011. Despite the drop, he said it’s still an issue in nonpaid parking areas around the park.
Hesterman said the number of cars that used to park in the area adjacent to the main entrance was small.
“Now it’s gotten to be crazy,” he said. “It’s caused a lot of problems.”
The problems range from a violation of city code that prohibits parking on unapproved surfaces to creating environmental havoc in the meadow. But the primary reason for the closure is safety, such as the car break-ins and traffic hazards – as walkers, joggers, dogs on leashes and strollers jockey for position among the moving cars as both make their way into the park on the curving entry road.
“The intent is to get people to park where they are supposed to be,” Hesterman said of the decision to close the area, which was made in February by the city’s Community Services Commission.
Estimates indicate that only 10 percent of all visitors pay the entrance fee, whether staying an hour or all day, Hesterman said.
“It’s an unusual person who pays,” he said.
Hesterman said the intent is to “do it gently,” so no one is upset about it. However, before the city has started, regular visitors expressed both surprise and irritation.
Most said they’ll just find parking farther afield to avoid paying for the short time they’re in the park. And they wonder if the closure will cause even more problems.
“I think it will discourage people,” said Vacaville resident Roxanne Moore. “What they’ll do is line the frontage road, which is dangerous.”
Hesterman agreed that’s probably what will happen but said, “We can’t chase the problem to Fairfield. The intention is to reduce the number of people walking on that road. Safety is a big issue, also the burglaries.”
Fox questioned a part of the safety issue and said she’s never seen anyone injured while walking on the road in the park. Neither has Hesterman in recent times, but he called the move a “pre-emptive strike” in order to avoid conflict between vehicles and those walking into the park.
Fairfield resident Cathi Jasso also comes several times a week, meeting friends in the makeshift parking lot for a walk around the lake. She said it’s “too bad” the city is closing the area to cars, but added that she’d pay the entrance fee, if that’s what her friends chose to do as well. Others, she said, might not be able to afford to pay the $3 fee each time they come.
For those who visit the park regularly, Hesterman said the city offers an unlimited yearly pass that would reduce multiple weekly visits to mere cents. The pass is available at Three Oaks Community Center, 1100 Alamo Drive, the Vacaville Corporation Yard, 1001 Allison Drive, or an application can be printed from the city’s website, www.ci.vacaville.ca.us, under Community Services.
Hesterman said the next step will be to add an electronic parking machine that can take debit cards – currently it’s cash only that is put in an envelope and slid in a slot.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.