Mothers with toddlers say the playground equipment at Utica Park in downtown Angels Camp is not age-appropriate for their children, the play structures are in disrepair, and sometimes they don’t feel safe there because of homeless people and drug users loitering.

Staff with the town government know there are problems at Utica Park, specifically that the park is “in critical need of repairs and improvements,” so that Angels Camp can provide safe, accessible green spaces for residents and visiting families.

Cora Broglio and Jane McCoy, both residents of Angels Camp, stood to spoke to the Angels Camp City Council, city staff and the public Tuesday night at a meeting at Joe Carley Memorial Firehouse.

Amanda Folendorf, a city council member and mayor of Angels Camp, said the town government is trying to do what it can for Utica Park with limited resources. The council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to adopt a guideline for more volunteer efforts to improve Utica Park.

“It’s for community members to follow and participate in working to make the park better,” Folendorf said Thursday in a phone interview.

The city does not have funding earmarked or budgeted for making improvements and upgrades at Utica Park, Folendorf said. The town government is in dire financial straits and is currently running on a deficit budget. That is one reason the council voted 5-0 Tuesday to move forward with an effort to put a sales tax increase ballot measure to voters in November. The city needs revenue.

Broglio, a former special education teacher for students with moderate to severe disabilities who is raising her 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, said the condition and atmosphere at Utica Park are not safe any more.

She said she recently had to explain to one of her children about why a teenager was smoking from a bong in the park, and why homeless people were cleaning themselves in one of the bathrooms and eating food from one of the trash cans.

“We need bathrooms that don’t scare our children,” Broglio said. “We really want to play in the park. But right now it’s not that kind of place. It’s wide open.”

McCoy, an occupational therapist, brought her 3-year-old daughter, Nora, to the podium and told the council that children these days have too much access to screen time, meaning computers and games and televisions.

Young children need more play time outside on developmentally appropriate play equipment, so that they can stretch and build muscles and exercise their bodies, McCoy told the council, city staff and the public.

“The park is not safe right now,” McCoy said Thursday in a phone interview. “There are two slides missing. There’s a gazebo near the play equipment and there are rusty nails in the gazebo. It’s not safe for children to play.”

Broglio, speaking by phone Thursday, emphasized she is not taking issue with homeless people or drug use, which are systemic and common everywhere in today’s society. She underscored that her concern is the condition of the park and the play equipment, which was paid for more than 20 years by a Pennies For The Park Project dedicated in November 1997.

“All these factors have created a space that’s unsafe and unusable for children in the community,” Broglio said. “I don’t want the drugs or the homeless to obscure the fact that kids in Angels Camp deserve a park that’s clean and safe. Right now my concern it’s a very unpatrolled space.”

Thursday at Utica Park, several moms and at least two grandmothers brought their toddler-age children to play. When told of the public remarks made Tuesday by Broglio and McCoy, they made similar observations.

“Kids and drugs and homeless, that’s not out of the ordinary at most parks these days,” said Chris Hollingshead of San Andreas, who brought her grandson, 1 year 10 months old, to play.

Aldonna Cloud of San Andreas brought her grandson Fox, 2 years 11 months old, and she brought a Native American wooden flute to play music while Fox and other children played.

“The homeless, sometimes I give them these,” Cloud said, handing over a Joy Bus leaflet proclaiming “The Joy of the Lord is your strength” and “Come Join Us and Hop on the JOY Bus Because Jesus Loves You,” a smiley face with more words about Jesus on the back, and a card quoting the Romans section of the New Testament.

“I find all of Angels Camp, there’s an element of drug use,” Cloud said. “My daughter found a hypodermic needle in the parking lot at the U.S. Bank. I wouldn’t let my kids go the bathroom here alone. We just can’t do that anymore.”

Jamie Mather, of Murphys, brought her 19-month-old son John to play at Utica Park.

“We like the park but we don’t like some of the things here,” Mather said Thursday. “This equipment is not age-appropriate. It’s not for toddlers younger than five. Everything here is like for ages 5 to 12.”

Green stickers pasted on some of the play equipment confirmed what Mather said. The stickers say “For Kids Ages 5 to 12 Years.”

“Sometimes there have been squatters in the houses nearby,” Mather said. “And people sleeping in the bushes.”

Leo Woodburn, a resident of Angels Camp, brought her 18-month-old daughter Violet to play.

“We’d like to see toddler-appropriate stuff,” Woodburn said.

Brittany Chapman of Angels Camp brought her daughter Ada, 14 months, to Utica Park.

“There’s been people here smoking pot, sleeping in the bushes, peeing in the bushes,” Chapman said. “But we need toddler-appropriate equipment. That slide has been missing at least 10 months.”

Folendork said she believes renovation of the park would be and opportunity for the city and community and stakeholders to work together.

“We need to hear what the community wants and recognize that there are needs, “ Folendorf said. “This is the first step in empowering the community to get those needs met. We want age-appropriate play structures and to make it accessible to all ages and abilities.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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