Mira Mesa Recreation Council Wants to Name Parks after Community Volunteers

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By Fidencio Pampo

A debate is brewing in Mira Mesa, and it isn’t over the Stone Creek mega-development.

Earlier this year, the Mira Mesa Recreation Council proposed naming three community parks after individuals for their considerable volunteer efforts in Mira Mesa. While the recreation council sees this as recognizing four community members for the many years of community volunteering and advocacy, it has experienced a backlash because of a perceived lack of public notice and outreach in the naming process.

The Parks

All of the parks at the center of this debate have been on the city’s master development plan for years, and the recreation council is finally in a position to solicit public input. The Canyon Hills Open Space is nestled in between Westview Parkway, Mercy Road, and Interstate 15, and overlooks Mira Mesa. The green space in between Wangenheim Middle and Walker Elementary Schools will be combined and repurposed into one large park. The Mira Mesa Recreation Council will host a workshop in January to discuss the changes envisioned for the Wangenheim/Walker park site. And the open space and Maddox Park adjacent to the new Jonas Salk Elementary School will be combined as well to become a large park.

What’s the issue?

The proposal to name the parks isn’t a new topic within Mira Mesa’s civic groups [Planning Group, Town Council, or Recreation Council]. But the issue appeared to catch fire back in May when Mitz Lee used Nextdoor.com to publicize the MMRC’s intent to name the parks after Bruce G.  Brown, Pam and Jeff Stevens and Julius Hitchens. Lee, a former San Diego Unified School District Trustee, was requesting the Recreation Council to hold more discussions about the park namings at other civic gatherings like the Town Council or Planning Group, or use other means like social media to publicize the park names. The Nextdoor post included concerns that the council was recognizing living individuals. It also raised the perception of a conflict of interest because Brown currently serves on the recreation council. She cited Park and Recreation Board Policy #1001 that in naming parks, “As a general policy, parks and recreation facilities should be named to identify their locations. Especially for parks, the name of the community area, the names of nearby geographic features, the names of adjacent schools and street names should be given first consideration.”

Al Radick posted an announcement of the park names on the recreation council’s website dated April 23rd, 2016. After Lee’s requests, the recreation council added the park naming item to its meeting agenda and invited the public to attend the council meetings through notices on Nextdoor.com and its own website.

At the November 15th MMRC meeting, a community member voiced her concern that parks shouldn’t be named for living individuals. Another individual suggested that the parks be named relevant to their geographic location. If the park is adjacent to Flanders Drive, then it should be known as Flanders Park. The main argument, though, was a need to get the community involved in the discussion on naming parks.

Is There Any Interest?

Communicating to Mira Mesa’s 75,000 residents seems to be an ongoing challenge for the community’s civic associations. The Mira Mesa Town Council, Recreation Council, and Planning Group have informative websites and are interconnected so that site visitors can easily obtain information about Mira Mesa events. Members of each civic group also enthusiastically invite residents to attend their monthly meetings to learn more about the community as well as affect change in emergent issues. Still, the civic groups struggle with attracting participation from Mira Mesa’s ethnic groups and younger residents. The audience at any of the civic associations is nearly void of Filipinos, Mexicans, Vietnamese, and Indians – ethnic groups that largely represent the community.

It is arguable that a massive outreach program would even be effective – ethnic groups just aren’t interested in civic affairs. One Vietnamese businessman said that he doesn’t care. As long as his property tax doesn’t change, he isn’t interested in whose name shows up at a park or what changes at a park. For the Indian populace, the indifference may be rooted in long-term goals. An Indian software developer reasoned that most Indians see Mira Mesa as a temporary residence. Their work visas are temporary, and they don’t get involved because they don’t plan to stay in the community.

The Filipino community seems to be an enigma in this situation. Even though Filipinos have been well rooted in Mira Mesa for nearly forty years, participation in the town council, planning, and recreation has been light. Conversely, they have been active in Mira Mesa’s Senior Citizen Center over the years.

Who is Bruce Brown, the Stevenses, and Julius Hitchens?

Brown, Pam and Jeff Stevens, and Julius Hitchens have all lived in Mira Mesa for decades and have served the Mira Mesa Community in different capacities. After serving in the US Navy, Bruce Brown was a human resources professional at a local engineering firm. As a Mira Mesa resident, he coached soccer and baseball in Mira Mesa before taking active roles in the Mira Mesa Town Council and Harmonium Inc., a social services agency deeply connected to Mira Mesa’s early years. Arguably, Brown has been involved in some manner to improve youth activities in Mira Mesa in the past 25 years. It was Brown’s idea to convert the old Mira Mesa library into the Epicentre, a place that youth could call their own. Brown would also go on to help in the planning of the Lopez Ridge park.

Pam and Jeff Stevens have also been long-time residents of Mira Mesa. In the 1980s, Pam contributed articles in the Mira Mesa Sentinel. She even wrote a book of Mira Mesa’s history for the Images of America series. Pam and Jeff are familiar fixtures at the Mira Mesa Town Council having actively participated in the civic group ever since 1980. One of the most significant contributions to the community was Jeff’s work to complete the construction of Jonas Salk Elementary School off Parkdale Avenue. The school was to have been built in the late 80s, but an environmental controversy on the school site halted the construction indefinitely. Jeff Stevens continued to pursue the construction of the school even after many of the residents waiting for the school had grown up and moved on. Jonas Salk Elementary finally opened its doors to students in September 2015.

Julius Hitchens’ family business, Top Gun Realty, has been a fixture in Mira Mesa for years. Hitchens is likewise a fixture to the scores of children that have played in AYSO soccer, Mira Mesa’s recreation soccer league for youth. He also oversees the girl’s soccer program at Mira Mesa High School. Hitchens organizes the annual Top Gun Tournament, Mira Mesa’s largest sporting event.

Hitchens’ contribution to Mira Mesa spans close to 19 years and he was named Volunteer of the Year in 2014 by the Mira Mesa Town Council.

Recognizing Mira Mesa’s Volunteers

For the sake of argument, it makes sense to maintain the existing names of the parks to eliminate possible costs in changing signs and maps. But park and facility names so often carry symbolism and pride – think of Challenger Middle School and Jonas Salk Elementary School. So why not recognize more personal community advocates and trailblazers like Brown, Hitchens, and the Stevenses given their years of work and support to the community? South San Diego recently did this to recognize San Diego Police Department Asst Chief Cesar Solis. Solis is still living and resides near the park named after him.

What Comes Next?

Mitz Lee may not have issue with recognizing community volunteers, but it is clear that she wants the park naming to be a more public discussion.

If the general Mira Mesa population doesn’t want or can’t get involved, then the work to improve Mira Mesa inevitably falls to those who consistently participate in its civic groups. The recreation council will try again to reach out to the community to participate and provide feedback on what the parks should be named. But there is a chance that a genuine effort will still not generate significant impact. Consider the Mira Mesa Fireworks funding issue and Epicentre closure after much public outreach.

For now, Mitz Lee has volunteered to drum up more awareness and participation from the community. The January 10th Recreation Council Workshop at Wangenheim Middle School will hopefully be a litmus test of what the community wishes for a park name.