In a lengthy and sometimes circular discussion, members of the Escalon City Council ultimately decided to postpone a decision on whether or not to enter a long-term lease for continuing to have almonds planted in an orchard adjacent to the existing Hogan-Ennis Park.
The discussion took up nearly an hour of a three-hour long council meeting on Monday night, July 15, and saw the panel agree to step back and re-evaluate options for the property.
In question are several acres that are adjacent to the park and while planting almonds could eventually see a small payoff, the majority of the council said they would rather see what other options they have, especially when there is money available for improving the park.
City Manager Tammy Alcantor outlined the proposal, which would allow the city to enter into a long-term agricultural lease agreement with Tilbury Farms, Inc. to grow almonds on the acreage.
But several council members voiced concerns with the length of the deal – 20 years – and said a whole generation of youngsters would grow up without any more expansion at the Hogan-Ennis Park if they opted for the deal now.
Instead, they want to look at available funds in the Parks and Rec budget, with hopes of working to get the long-awaited skatepark built, putting in some much need, although likely temporary, extra parking for the nearby Community Center and possibly a walking/jogging trail.
A number of residents also voiced concerns about keeping the acres in almonds for the next couple of decades, citing a relatively small return on investment, when there seem to be better choices.
Escalon High School teacher and coach, and Kiwanis Club member Rick Heflin appeared before the council and said he would like the chance to work with other community groups and service clubs to put in the walking/jogging path if feasible. Councilman Jeff Laugero also pointed to the efforts of the city’s skatepark enthusiasts, saying they have waited a long time to see some progress.
“They have the land, they have the plans, they have some money,” Laugero said, noting that it’s time to start making the skatepark dream a reality.
Councilman Peter Krumeich was also not willing to move on the long-term lease.
“We owe it to the people of Escalon to have some input,” he said of seeking suggestions from the public about the future of the 19 acres in question.
Alcantor said the current lease, which was a short-term agreement, went into effect in 2018 so there is some time for the council to investigate their options.
“Tying it (the property) up for 20 years just doesn’t make sense,” Krumeich said.
He made a motion to postpone action on the issue indefinitely, and Laugero amended the motion to add some direction to staff on securing information on the three key issues of parking, the skatepark and the walking/jogging path.
Krumeich and Laugero also agreed to serve on an ad hoc committee to help with the investigation and meet with the public to gather some ideas and formulate a strategy.