A Tale of Two Parks: Summer in the city

From Vinland Park to Figarden Loop Park: a look at community and “bugs” that drive the city’s systems.


Systems make Fresno go ‘round.


The other side of that coin: Failed systems gum up the works.

For this piece, I’m talking specifically about families, parks and cops.

Let’s take a look at my Tuesday.

The Hostetter agenda for Aug. 1 began with planning a trip to the Vinland Park splash pad.

I’m not one to get wet in public, but my grandson is more adventurous. Hunter is visiting his maternal grandparents for the week. He turns 4 next month. To describe him as full of energy is an understatement.

Lots of Fresno families have youngsters with limitless enthusiasm. That’s exactly why District 4 Council Member Paul Caprioglio pushed hard on City Hall officials to build the Vinland splash pad. What better way to entertain the kids on a hot summer day than a splash pad with all sorts of water features?

My wife and I learned that Vinland splash pad opened at noon on Tuesday. Hunter and I packed a bag of necessities and arrived at Vinland (on Gettysburg Avenue, a bit east of Maple Avenue, near Fresno State) at about 11:30 a.m.

We didn’t see any kids. But we were early.

I pointed Hunter to the play area next to the splash pad. He touched the side of the slide. It was hotter than a drugstore pistol. The play area has no cover.

We sat on a bench in the shade, dug into our snacks, and waited for noon. We weren’t sure what would happen. Would the water suddenly shoot out? Would a Parks Department leader show up and push a special button?

If the splash pad has posted operating rules/instructions, I missed the sign.

I saw a man get into a City of Fresno pickup. I asked if the splash pad went live at noon. He said he didn’t know – he was from Code Enforcement, not Parks. He did say there had been some operational troubles with the splash pad. He said the system had some “bugs.”

Hunter heard that. He said he didn’t want anything to do with splash pad “bugs.” I told him to give it a chance.

Noon came and went. Nothing happened. No one showed up. We were well on our way to Tuesday’s high temperature of 106 degrees. We were miserable.

There’s a ground-level, foot-operated switch next to the splash pad. I tried it. Nothing.

I called City of Fresno Communications Director Mark Standriff. Mark and I had joined Caprioglio and Mayor Lee Brand at Vinland on July 8 for the splash pad’s grand opening. I asked Mark how to get the splash pad up and running. If the problem isn’t me, I said, then I found it most interesting that the splash pad was already broken.

I also mentioned the “bugs.”

Mark said he’d get back to me.

Hunter and I left Vinland Park in East-Central Fresno and headed to the splash pad at Northwest Fresno’s Figarden Loop Park.

Now that is a public facility the Parks Department can trumpet with pride! Hunter had a great time for more than an hour. The splash pad has about 10 unique features. There are places for parents and grandparents to sit nearby in the shade. The play area is connected to the splash pad and has lots of things for kids to climb on and slide on. Best of all, the play area has a big cover. The sun doesn’t crush the life out of you.

There were 50-plus youngsters and adults in the area. All were in a good mood and on their best behavior. I heard lots of laughter. I saw no flashes of anger. The splash pad/play area is big, so it didn’t seem crowded.

The Vinland Park system failed on this day. The Vinland neighborhood’s families, the most important system of all, either did without the park’s advertised amenities or, like Hunter and his grandfather, drove to Figarden Loop Park. That’s because the Figarden Loop Park system is a success. And because it succeeds, families that can get to Figarden Loop Park are strengthened.

Shortly after Hunter and I arrived at Figarden Loop Park, we looked up and saw the police helicopter circling the area. Hunter has a good set of eyes. A few minutes later, he pointed to a police squad car that had pulled into the parking lot.

A few minutes after that, I glanced at the parking lot. A second squad car had arrived. An officer was standing on the sidewalk. He was holding the arm of a tall, shirtless man who appeared to be in his 20s. The man’s hands were handcuffed behind him. The handcuffed man was African-American.

Two more squad cars soon pulled into the parking lot. There was no commotion or shouting or struggle. I didn’t sense that anyone in the splash pad/play area was fearful or in danger. But clearly something serious had happened.

The crowd at Figarden Loop Park was as diverse as Fresno itself. By my rough estimate, the biggest portion was Hispanic. I also saw Asians, African-Americans and whites.

Hunter at one point was focused on the play area’s snazzy slide. I stood nearby and watched. Several African-American youngsters and adults were also in that part of the play area. I could hear parts of their conversation.

The handcuffed man was still standing by the squad car. This family of African-American youngsters and adults noticed him, too.

One of the youngsters, a girl, apparently said something critical of the police.

One of the adults, a woman, said to the girl: “He’s a bad man. The police did nothing wrong. Are you a bad girl or a good girl?”

“A good girl.”

“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

This group included a young adult male. He talked a great deal about the police incident as it progressed. He wasn’t upset. But he did speak with a degree of intensity. I could hear only pieces of his commentary.

I got busy with Hunter elsewhere in the park. When I looked again at the parking lot, the handcuffed man and three of the squad cars were gone. But in a corner of the parking lot I saw an officer, a white man, talking with the young African-American man who had been in the play area.

I kept one eye on Hunter and one eye on those two men. The two men – one white, the other black, one a uniformed police officer, the other a civilian – talked for several minutes. They stood side-by-side. They looked not at each other but toward the splash pad. They weren’t demonstrative in a manner to draw attention. But they clearly had something serious to say to each other.

I assumed they were talking about the handcuffed man.

Pretty soon, the young African-American man was back at the splash pad with his family. He did not appear to be upset or angry.

The system that is American law and order has always been under great stress. That is inevitable in a society that prizes both liberty and responsibility.

But it’s not a stretch to say the police these days are getting an unusual amount of criticism. No system is perfect. Still, in my opinion the police are getting a raw deal from many in the pubic.

Heather Mac Donald is the nation’s best cops reporter.

“The most immediate goal of the Trump administration should be to change the elite-driven narrative about the criminal-justice system,” Mac Donald wrote in City Journal in April. “That narrative, which holds that policing is lethally racist, has dominated public discourse since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. In response, officers are backing off of proactive policing, and violent crime is rising fast: 2015 saw the largest one-year spike in homicides nationwide in nearly 50 years. That violent-crime increase has continued unabated through 2016 and into the early months of 2017. A Trump administration official—perhaps Attorney General Sessions, or the president himself—should publicly address the question of what we expect from police officers: Do we want them to be proactive and to try to stop crime before it happens? Or do we want them to be purely reactive, responding to crime only after someone has been victimized? The administration should explain that data-driven, proactive policing made possible the country’s 20-year, 50 percent violent-crime decline that began in the mid-1990s.”

That was a big part of the context to Tuesday evening’s 34th annual National Night Out event in Fresno.

“National Night Out,” says a Fresno PD news release, “enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement while bringing back a true sense of community.”

Chief Jerry Dyer visited four National Night Out events on Tuesday: Pinedale Boys and Girls Club, Manchester Center, El Dorado Park and Inspiration Park.

I caught up with the Chief at Manchester Center. He took a break from chatting with parents and posing with youngsters for photos to speak with PowerTalk 96.7’s Trevor Carey.

Carey noted that some youngsters are taught, at home or on the streets, to distrust the police. Carey said the youngsters at Manchester Center’s National Night Out were having a great time.

“Kids are fascinated with law enforcement at a young age,” Dyer told Carey. “We want to keep them fascinated with law enforcement. We want to be their friend and we want them to talk to us. Unfortunately, in some neighborhoods they view police officers differently. We come in and have to get involved in some type of enforcement activity. This (Manchester Center’s event) is an environment that is non-threatening for them and for us. So, we get to come in here and hug the kids and give them sticky badges and do a lot of things with them. That’s what tonight is about – it’s about building relationships within the community, for the betterment of the community.”

Dyer was busy – El Dorado Park near Fresno State was his next stop. But he had a few minutes for the CVObserver. I told the Chief about what I had seen and overheard at Figarden Loop Park. I told him about the officer who took the time to speak one-on-one with that young man (a father, I assumed).

The Chief smiled. I took that to mean I wasn’t telling him anything new.

“I’ve always said is that sometimes the reason people don’t support us or trust us is because they don’t understand us,” Dyer said. “And some of the reasons for not understanding us is that often we don’t take the time to explain things – why we made an arrest, why we made a traffic stop. When we take the time to explain that to people, they have an understanding and an appreciation for why we did what we did. It bridges that gap.

“Sometimes officers get so busy. They’re going from call to call or they get involved in incidents and don’t have time to explain. But as I share with our officers, you’re never too busy to take time to explain to a citizen why you did what you did. Not what you did, but why you did it. And when you do that, there’s a better understanding between whoever we stopped or detained as a witness and the police department on how we do business.”

City Communications Director Standriff got hold of me late Tuesday afternoon. He said there was a problem with the Vinland splash pad, but city workers were fixing the machinery.

Standriff said the day will come when the Vinland play area has a shade cover just like the one protecting the Figarden Loop play area.

Successful systems adapt to ever-changing circumstances. If they can be made to work together, you’ve got a successful city.

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