VENTURA — Frustrated Ventura Avenue area residents are holding out hope that the crackle and pop from a nearby gun range could end as the city looks into moving the facility from Grant Park.
Parks commissioners voted unanimously this week to study the possibility of moving the pistol range in conjunction with another plan that aims to make the historic hilltop park above City Hall a more popular destination.
"One of the hot-button issues continues," parks Commissioner Mike Osborn said. "We see this as a great duty to embark upon."
Commissioners said the 130-acre park has basically been ignored since another plan was shelved in 1971 because it was considered too ambitious. That plan called for a children's zoo, gazebo, park lodge and meeting hall.
Officials argue that the park should be one of the most popular in the city, rather than a hidden gem. Slightly smaller than the city's largest park, Arroyo Verde, Grant Park has some of the best views in the city, a postcard vista stretching along the beachfront.
"What can be done in Grant Park has yet to be seen," parks Commissioner Doug Halter said. "The only thing you ever hear about [the park] is about the pistol range. . . . I see it as our Golden Gate Park."
The City Council still must approve both studies at a meeting next month.
Down below, in the scrappy neighborhood beneath the hills to the west, 10-year Lewis Road resident Dave Wardlaw said he'd be only too happy to see the shooting range move.
"The first Sunday we lived here, I heard shooting early in the morning and I called the police. . . . I thought we were under attack," he said. "It sounds really close, like it's in the neighborhood."
Any move of the pistol range, which the Ventura Police Department uses for practice, could be years down the line. The City Council approved a six-year lease with the range nearly two years ago, over the outcry of some Avenue neighbors. Commissioners promised at that time that they would order the study, which could theoretically move the range to another location before its lease is up.
Commissioner Mike Osborn this week floated the idea of trying to use federal Housing and Urban Development funds to move the range, saying such a transfer would benefit low-income residents.
"It's an issue of quality of life. Some would consider it a long shot," he said. "If we can relocate the pistol range, I can't see anyone who would oppose it."
The Ventura Police Department needs to ensure that the range at least stays within the city for reasons of efficiency, Lt. Quinn Fenwick said. If officers had to travel too far to meet their shooting requirements, it could cost the city as much as $77,000 annually in overtime, Fenwick said.
He said the department would be willing to see the range moved within the city, but doubted that the commission would be able to find a more suitable place.
"I'm not sure if such a place exists," he said. "We'd be moving from one person's backyard to another."
The gun range's manager declined comment Thursday.
Any moving of the shooting range would be tied in with a master plan for the park. Commissioners said they could envision anything from an amphitheater to a model train for the park, which features a few picnic tables along with the picturesque views.
Parks manager Mike Montoya said that the study would include public input on needs and scope of potential projects, and that the process would probably take years.
Most of the land was deeded to the city as a park in 1918 by Kenneth Grant, with a western portion sold to the city in 1942 by R. L. Roberts. The park is marked by a 1913 replica of the original San Buenaventura Mission cross, which had stood at the same point and was destroyed in a 1875 storm.
About 125 years later, Ventura residents Keith Rutz and Patricia Hartman played chess at the park, which they'd never visited before, even after living in the city for years.
"I'd only ever seen the sign. I didn't know a lot about it," Hartman said. "The view's great."
Commissioners said they hope that their plans will make the park even more attractive to local residents.
"The whole town should be able to utilize what's up there," parks Commissioner Suz Montgomery-Hart said. "To be honest, I just don't think people have looked up. They're not realizing what potential it has."