City to limit capacity at city parks

by Richard Uhlhorn

Last night’s City Council meeting was well attended on line by locals who are concerned about the City’s overcrowded parks, parking safety, illegal parking, COVID-19, social distancing, masking and a reasonable solution to the ongoing weekend situation.

The Council meeting began at 6 p.m. with City Clerk Peri Gallucci reading 35 letters from concerned residents  and business owners of the Lake Chelan Valley. It took nearly 40 minutes to add these letters to the official record. Following is a link to the received letters: https://outlook.live.com/mail/inbox/id/AQMkADAwATExAGQ3NwAtYmNiZS1kMmZmAC0wMAItMDAKAEYAAANZkPpa3oCIT5Pp7CZkZz%2BBBwBtHxY6HOR8TqZ3%2FZiGTLlUAAACAQwAAABtHxY6HOR8TqZ3%2FZiGTLlUAAO1Qii9AAAA/sxs/AQMkADAwATExAGQ3NwAtYmNiZS1kMmZmAC0wMAItMDAKAEYAAANZkPpa3oCIT5Pp7CZkZz%2BBBwBtHxY6HOR8TqZ3%2FZiGTLlUAAACAQwAAABtHxY6HOR8TqZ3%2FZiGTLlUAAO1Qii9AAAAARIAEAARDgba1G4eQpOPNTjUfOL0

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City Administrator Wade Ferris

City Administrator Wade Ferris opened the discussion on proposed action for possible solutions for overcrowding and illegal parking. “This is not a simple issue,” Ferris said. He added that the Council needs to work on a long-term solution which will probably not please everyone. Ferris said he and Paul Horne, parks director, have been working with the Parks Director, the Sheriff’s Department and other parks seeking solutions.

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Parks Director Paul Horne

Horne remarked that check points and park closures when they reach capacity are options being considered. This would include barricades at Lakeside Park and the Don Morse main gate with private security personnel on hand. Ferris said that private security personnel would be from the same company that provides the PUD with security.

Volunteer staff was also mentioned, but that would require some training. Horne said six people would be needed at Lakeside and four at Don Morse Park. Sign boards would also be used to eliminate a lot of confusion.

Parking violations fines would be increased to $75 and a potential increase of parking fees from $15 to $20. The violation fee would also be made applicable to those visitors parking illegally on Hwy. 97A.

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Sgt. Chris Foreman

Sgt. Chris Foreman was on-line and thanked the City for inviting him. He stated that the problem was very complicated. “I’m here. I want to do what I can,” said Foreman.

Mayor Goedde remarked that this issue isn’t something that just popped up. “It is an issue with the PUD and State Parks,” said Goedde.

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Mayor Bob Goedde

Each Council member addressed the issue:

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Councilmember Tim Hollingsworth

Tim Hollngsworth said, “People are worried about COVID and a lot of the problems in the parks.” He added that residents he has talked to are also concerned about closing the system on the weekends. “Residents do need the parks,” said Hollingsworth. “Our responsibility is to get our arms around managing the parks. It is a weekend issue. I would like to focus on the weekends.” He added that parking on the highway is a big safety concern. “We need to put some pressure on the State Patrol and DOT. That (hwy parking) is probably the biggest safety issue we’ve got.”

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Councilmember Servando Robledo

Servando Robledo said he would like to see more control and feels that parking is a big issue. “I am not really in favor of closing parks. They are going to go elsewhere,” said Robledo. He stated that the City needs more control of its parks, but doesn’t want to see staff put at risk.

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Councilmember Ray Dobbs

Ray Dobbs said he had done a walkabout on the Fourth of July and last Saturday. “It was a different crowd,” said Dobbs. He felt that the crowds at the park were down at least 20 percent from the Fourth and that most were families.

Dobbs mentioned State Park’s precedent to limit the number of people accessing their facility. “It is a solution that makes sense to me,” said Dobbs. He also added that limiting access to the park would go a long way to solving the ongoing parking issues.

Dobbs also asked where the fees for parking fines go. Currently that money goes to the Wenatchee court system. Mayor Goedde said that if the current $25 fine covers the court’s costs, then how much they receive from the $75 fine needs to be negotiated.  “I am strongly in favor of limiting access to closing the parks,” said Goedde.

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Councilmember John Olson

John Olson brought a little history into the discussion. He mentioned the old late 50s Apple Cup Hydroplane races that got out of control and therefore was cancelled because of the problems. “We are starting to approach those numbers again,” said Olson. He said he has also talked with residents and most were against closing the parks. “More enforcement is essential.”

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Councilmember Erin McCardle

Erin McCardle said she appreciates all of the staff at the Parks Department and the work they do. Her issue was kicking the problem down the road by closing the parks. “You would be pushing them to other parks,” said McCardle. “We need more staff in our parks… three to four times as many. There isn’t even enough staff to pickup garbage and no parking enforcement.”

McCardle is also concerned with the lack of social distancing. She mentioned that the Chamber has 12,000 paper masks that could be handed out to park visitors. She also said there have been a lot of visitors at the Chamber who said they had never been to Chelan. “I’m not in favor of closing. We need a well thought out capacity plan.”

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Councilmember Peter Jamtgaard

Peter Jamtgaard added that speed limits need to be changed at the entrance to Chelan on 97A and that drinking in parks needs to stop. “The parks have stopped being a safe place for families to go,” said Jamtgaard. He also stated that the weekends begin on Friday afternoon and don’t die down until late Sunday afternoon when people begin to travel home.

Jamtgaard said the City needs to keep the parks open and utilize wrist bands for local access to them.

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Councilmember Ty Witt

Ty Witt said he supports everything that the other council members had already added to the discussion. He asked what is the City’s legal ability to charge out of town visitors to the park system. “Can we set up a fee for visitor entry,” asked Witt?

Witt also stated that the City and/or Sheriff’s Department needs to enforce parking. “Do we need someone to die out there again (Hwy. 97A)?”

Charging visitors access to the parks brought up the question about RCO (Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office) criteria to charging visitors. The RCO gave a $1 million dollar grant to the City for the beaches and marina. City Attorney Quentin Batjar said he didn’t know that answer to that. “I would have to look at the documents to see if it came with strings attached.”

When it comes to liability, Batjar mentioned the State’s Recreational Immunity statute that protects cities, the state and individual property owners from liability issues.

Mayor Goedde asked if the City could use some of the 3% tax money to ask potential visitors to not come to Chelan right now.

McCardle immediately said that a lot of downtown businesses would be upset with that.

Goedde feels that media ads in Seattle would be helpful in letting potential visitors know that Chelan is having a problem with overcrowding and the pandemic. He also said that the City would get the word out to the Wenatchee area including the Latino population.

Other issues included the illegal alcohol use in the parks and jumping off the bridge. The City is looking at making the use of alcohol in the parks into a criminal offense not just a misdemeanor. Jamtgaard suggested that some organization could set up a beer garden in the park to make some money.

Details of what the City will end up doing to limit capacity at the park will be made in the next week. Some of the issues are allowing locals access even though the parking lot is full. Hollingsworth said, “We need details. We need to think this through. We have to let local residents in to the parks.” Ferris suggested a wrist ban from the parks office for locals. Also access for the RV park would also be required.

One idea that came out of the meeting was a big sign along Hwy. 97A that informs those who would park illegally that it will cost them a $75 and a $500 towing fee if they get towed to Entiat.

City Council will be holding a Workshop on Tuesday, August 4, to discuss Golf Course issues along with how security and capacity has worked out this coming weekend. The meeting is accessible to the public through Lake Chelan Now and will begin at 4 p.m.

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