Residents who live near Las Animas Veterans Park say illicit activities in the area have decreased since city officials shut down two of its parking lots months ago.
However, others, including members of the Gilroy Tennis Club, say the closure just pushed the problem to other areas of the park, putting the safety of park-goers at risk.
The Gilroy City Council heard about the efforts to quell the problems at the park during its Sept. 18 meeting.
Las Animas Veterans Park is a 31-acre park along Mantelli Drive between Wren Avenue and Church Street in the northern area of Gilroy, including tennis courts, a skate park, baseball field and other amenities.
In March, after receiving complaints from residents, the city closed two of Las Animas’ parking lots that are nestled in the neighborhoods of Wayland Lane and Hanna Street. Among the issues reported by residents were drug dealings, stabbings, indecent exposure, fights and tents being set up.
A petition circulating in the neighborhood netted 98 signatures from people advocating for the permanent closure of the two parking lots, saying that the large lots on Mantelli Drive and adjacent street parking is enough to support the needs of the community.
Wayland Court resident Skip Bloom said he’s constantly seen fights, illegal dumping and other illicit activity in the parking lot since he moved into the home 16 years ago. However, since the gates were closed at the parking lot, “all these distractions have disappeared.”
“Our quality of life has improved tremendously,” he said. “We are not kept awake with loud music, and we’re not afraid to walk our animals and enjoy that area of the park.”
Terry Lancaster, who lives nearby and frequents Las Animas, said while there are still issues in the park, they have improved in recent months because of the parking lot’s closure.
“The activities that are going on in the parking lot have significantly improved since the parking lot was closed,” he said. “I’m all in favor of continuing to keep that area closed.”
Some tennis players say the closure of the Wayland Lane parking lot, which is close to the tennis courts, has created safety issues.
Dorina Creel said those who come to use the tennis courts often have to park three blocks away, while before when the Wayland Lane lot was open, they were able to keep an eye on their vehicles.
“We were able to watch ongoings and ensure the safety of our fellow tennis players and the safety of our cars,” she said. “You’re allowing bad actors to restrict the freedom of law-abiding, productive citizens. Rather than enforcing the law, it’s easier to restrict access for everyone and hope the problem goes away. It will not.”
While city staff may think the area has become safe, “we certainly do not feel safer out there,” tennis player Carla Ruigh said.
“What you’ve done is make this area of the park more isolated, less visible and less safe,” she said, adding that the closure has hindered access for emergency vehicles.
Councilmember Carol Marques, an active tennis player, said the issues go deeper than just a parking lot closure, questioning why the city’s recently adopted ban on camping in public places is seemingly not being enforced.
“I don’t want to see facilities closed down because of bad behavior, I want to see bad behavior mitigated,” she said. “When you start allowing it, you’re letting a certain element think they can do whatever they want. We have to put a stop to it.”
The Sept. 18 meeting was only a discussion, as no action was taken. While Marques and Councilmember Tom Cline suggested the item come back for a decision, it was not supported by the majority of the council.
Mayor Marie Blankley said that while staff recommended the closure of the parking lots to continue, it didn’t mean they would be closed forever, as the issue could come back later to be reconsidered.