A Winters Express opinion column
By Richard Kleeberg
Special to the Express
Last month the City installed a massive, absolutely straight as an arrow, and very wide concrete and brick walkway right down the center of the downtown “Pocket Park” area, extending from the alley called Newt’s Expressway, behind the Winters Hotel, all the way through the Park to the sidewalk on Main Street.
The Winters Pocket Park is the open parcel of land on the North side of the first block of Main. It is the small empty lot between Ace Hardware and Yolo Pharmacy. You have probably walked right by many times — the small Free Little Library box and the Winters community piano are both just inside the edge of the Pocket Park.
This new concrete walkway was never presented to the Planning Commission for discussion or approval. It never appeared as a discussion item at the City Council. And not one word about it appeared in the Winters Express. Apparently, City staff decided we needed a concrete mini road to dominate the center of our barren Pocket Park. And so it was done.
This grand walkway, or concrete mini road — most of it is 8 feet wide, and each of the ends/entrances is an astonishing 19 feet wide – engulfs nearly 20 percent of the entire park area.
When I moved to Winters 17 years ago, one of the first projects I heard about was the proposed “Pocket Park” on the North side of Main street. I worked with several local groups trying to prepare plans for the Pocket Park. We sometimes met with a City Councilmember or a Planning Commissioner and occasionally with John Donlevy, who was then our City Manager. We discussed what could go into the Pocket Park, including shade trees, flowering plants, a simple winding pathway, art installations, unusual artistic lighting, and a fountain near Main Street.
Year after year, the discussion continued. More meetings were held, more ideas were discussed, and more proposals were offered. But no action was ever taken by the City. I heard nothing about the Pocket Park for a very long time.
But in the past few years, another community-led group has provided the City with several new proposals, clearly and artistically presented to create a space where a small, gently winding pathway would encourage people to stroll under newly planted shade trees, artwork would be displayed around the perimeter, and a small stage would encourage live music performances.
But instead of taking any action regarding these new Pocket Park proposals, the City chose to surprise us with the road-size concrete walkway.
And that wide walkway is not the only new large installation that the City has surprised us with in the Pocket Park.
Several months ago, when PG&E’s power lines were being placed underground along Newt’s Expressway alley, between the backside of the Winters Hotel and the Pocket Park, PG&E also installed several large metal electrical equipment boxes inside the Park. These large metal boxes are surrounded by 12 concrete stanchions, creating a 36-foot-long perimeter barrier protecting the electrical boxes.
The City claims they had no idea that PG&E was going to take out a large chunk of the Pocket Park to install their power equipment. That sounds a bit hard to believe. Public utilities like PG&E don’t install tree stakes or a set of bricks without first producing several written reports, with dozens of drawings and descriptions. Based on my own years of experience as a Policy Consultant for Southern California Edison, I imagine that PG&E gave the City their proposed installation drawings at least six months, and likely a full year, before the work was done.
Since PG&E completed its huge Gas Safety Training Center in Winters a few years ago, they have often stated their desire to do good for the Winters community. It certainly seems like the City could have talked them into putting their equipment underground in the Pocket Park. But the City never even asked PG&E to leave the Pocket Park unharmed.
The PG&E electric box installation has taken away a good portion of one end of the Pocket Park. And the placement of the concrete walkway down the very center of the Park does more than just use up about a fifth of the Park. It may also make it impossible to plant shade trees because large trees planted near the old buildings could damage their foundations, and large trees planted close to the new wide walkway could damage the concrete and bricks. It does not look like there is any room left to plant shade trees.
Pity the poor Pocket Park. It was a fine idea, once, long ago. But the City has allowed that vision to disappear.