SAN MARINO — Much like the gardens of expensive homes that surround it, Lacy Park is a pristine expanse of lawns and paths, bordered and landscaped with rare trees and shrubs.
But its 30 acres--sprinkled with picnic tables and a children's playground--are hardly used because for the last decade Lacy Park has been closed on weekends, when it would get the most use.
Last week, in response to public demand, the City Council approved a plan to open the park every Saturday, beginning July 2. If all goes well, the park could eventually be opened on Sunday.
To avoid the crowds and debris that they say forced the park's closure on weekends in the late 1970s, city officials have proposed several restrictions for what some called a "cautious re-opening."
Lacy Park is open to the public on weekdays from sunrise to sunset. Residents who want it open on weekends complain that while their taxes pay for its upkeep, they seldom get to use the park.
"High school kids suffer the most," said Jeannie Young, student body president of San Marino High School, at last week's council meeting when the plan was unanimously approved.
"Weekends are our only time to use the park," Young said, echoing several other residents of all ages.
According to the plan, residents wishing to enter the park would have to prove that they live in San Marino. Non-residents would be charged $3. Attendance could be limited to prevent overcrowding, and special supervisors would be hired to enforce rules, such as those that prohibit littering and all pets.
If San Marino charges outsiders an admission fee, it may be the only city in California to do so, according to the president of the California Parks and Recreation Society.
Chris Jarvi of Anaheim, who heads the professional society of park and recreation specialists throughout the state, said some cities in California restrict parks to residents' use and some require a fee for automobiles.
"I've never heard of anything like this before," he said of San Marino's plan. "But differentiating between residents and non-residents is considered appropriate in many communities."
"I've never heard of people having to prove residency," said Norma Minas, public information officer at the society's headquarters in Sacramento.
Jarvi and Minas said San Marino's proposed regulations are well within the law and are further indication of a growing trend to restrict park usage to the people who pay for them with their taxes.
Lacy Park will be open one Saturday a month in April, May and June, as it was in a trial period last summer.
During the three experimental Saturday openings, which followed a public clamor to make the park more available to residents, fewer than 600 people came to the park. They were required to obtain entry tickets prior to each Saturday and could use the park from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"We were expecting thousands," said Mayor Rosemary Simmons, who said she was surprised at the small turnouts.
The park was closed on weekends soon after Proposition 13 reduced the city budget. Officials said San Marino could not afford maintenance and policing expenses for the 3,000 people who filled it some days. At that time, many residents also called for weekend closure. They said overcrowding kept them from using the park, that there was drug use and criminal activity, and nearby streets were clogged with cars.
During several public discussions last year, City Manager John Nowak said there was little opposition to reopening the park.
At last week's City Council meeting, several residents proposed opening the park on Sundays as well as Saturdays. Some wanted it opened before July, but Nowak said it would take several months to make environmental reports, get new signs and hire personnel.
He said the first year's operations will cost San Marino an estimated $44,500.