Council Gets Another Shot at Central Park Restroom Issue


Last week, the council took public comment but they were unable to conclude their discussion of the Central Park issue, the controversy of which primarily focused on the demolition of the old restroom, which historical preservation advocates argue is an important part of the history of the community, as it was built during the depression with WPA (Work Progress Administration) funds.

On February 16, 2010, the city council directed staff to consolidate several capital improvement projects that were being planned for Central Park based on the project goal and objectives presented to the council, including demolition of the old restroom.

On November 1, 2011, the city council voted 3-2 to direct staff to put the plans for Phase I of the Central Park Master Plan out to bid, including construction of the new restroom, history plaza, upgraded electrical improvements and demolition of the old restroom with a modification that staff “proceed with demolition of the existing restroom in Central Park and relocate the existing storage shed to the Hattie Weber Museum incorporating the shed appearance with the Hattie Weber Museum to be used as storage.”

During the meeting last week, part of the debate was over the historical importance of the restroom and whether it should be torn down, or preserved as storage.

Staff asked Brown Construction to provide an estimate of rehabbing the building for use as storage.  The report addresses many concerns, including structural issues and interior shelving, and shows a cost of $48,870.

The museum, in response in 2012, came out with their proposal for converting the old Central Park Restroom Building into a storage facility, arguing, “We believe that it is well understood that the Museum is in need of additional storage space. Our hope is to use the WPA-B most immediately as storage for our currently unused items and for our on-going accumulation of additional artifacts related to the history of Davis and the Davis Region. This use would logically begin in the WPA-B areas that are already being used for storage.”

In contrast to the city, they believe that the cost here would be essentially nothing, arguing, “We would use filing cabinets, some tables, some low book shelves, and some low storage shelving to hold maps and other rolled/large papers, storage boxes, unused display boards, unused easels, a large bell, chairs and furniture, a bicycle, etc.

“We already have most of these shelving/storage items and hope that, in addition, the substantial shelving currently in these two rooms would be retained for our use. We have observed that the roof of the building is free of significant leaks that might pose a hazard to our stored materials.”

According to the staff report, “The Hattie Weber Museum indicated at that meeting that most of the work on the building could be done with volunteers. The City Attorney explained that use of volunteers may have legal constraints.”

City Attorney Harriet Steiner wrote a memo which concluded, “The rehabilitation of the restroom building is a public project and if the estimated cost is greater than $45,000, it must be competitively bid. There may be components of the rehabilitation that could be carved out of the overall project and supervised by City staff, but the primary work would have to be completed by a licensed contractor.”

She continues, “If the City does decide to use volunteers in some capacity on this project it will have to ensure that the volunteers fit within the prevailing wage exemption set forth in Labor Code section 1720.4, to ensure that prevailing wages are not inadvertently triggered for the volunteers.”

Dennis Dingemans from the Hattie Webber Museum last week suggested this was a bit exaggerated, and their suggestion was only to allow volunteers to add things like shelves and tables.

Rand Herbert, Chair of the Historical Resources Management Commission (HRMC), argued that it had lost its historical standing, “primarily because it had lost its setting – the entire park was a WPA design, all of which is gone except for the WPA building.”

He added, “That being said the commission didn’t conclude that you state the WPA restroom lacked historic importance; it has value it represents the WPA’s activities in the city.”

“As I’ve told you many times the most green building you can come across is a building that exists today.  It’s a much greener solution than building new storage elsewhere or building a new building,” Mr. Herbert continued.

In closing, he added, “I have a friend who often jokes with me that the city of Davis’ Historic Resources Management Commission should have a new motto which is ‘we support historic preservation but…,’” he continued.  “This is because that’s the answer we so often get, is we support historic preservation Davis but…”

To which Kemble Pope, Executive Director of the Davis Chamber, responded that the true measure is that we want historical preservation “if,” that is, “We want historical preservation if it is the best and highest uses of community resources and in this case I strongly believe it does not.”

As we noted in last week’s article, much of the controversy focused on the safety concerns of the facility and the fact that homeless people congregate at times near and behind it.

Mr. Dingemans told the council that the building does not give refuge and hiding place for criminal behavior and threatening demeanor.  Instead, he notes, “That situation has greatly improved since 2008 when there were 74 incidents in Central Park requiring police action.”

He said, “Three years later in 2010, there were only 19 incidents.  In 2013 there have been only seven reported crimes in all of Central Park.  The area around the restroom receives special law-enforcement attention that defensible space modifications.  The culture of misbehavior by vagrants has been nipped in the bud by police policies and by the Davis Community Church policies.”

Mr. Dingemans added, “In the north end of the park it was a pretty rowdy place six years ago; today the police map of criminal activity hotspots barely registers it in the park’s corner of the downtown peak crime area.”

Kemble Pope, however, did not seem convinced.

“The police are reporting statistics differently than they were in 2008 and they have a completely different approach to our homeless problem than they did in the past,” he said.  “They are not just citing and ticketing them, they are actually working with them to not bring them into the system.”

Rich Rifkin, a member of the commission, noted that if we have to knock down the restrooms because people will loiter behind it, we also, using the same logic, have to knock down the Hattie Weber Museum, since people could loiter behind that building, as well.

As another resident noted, the building is not causing the problems in the park, and she noted that in the 1970s we tore down blocks of intercity buildings thinking that would solve the social problems, and it did not.

Mary Lee Thompson, a volunteer at the Hattie Weber, noted that it’s a misdemeanor to hang out in the park after 10 and that lights have been installed.  “It’s not comfortable to sleep there anymore,” she added.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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