Temecula Valley High School students showed up to the Temecula City Council’s Nov. 12 meeting in the hopes of changing city officials’ minds on new restrictions that will prevent them from using part of Ronald Reagan Sports Park for parking before school.
Around two dozen students were at the meeting, although only a few spoke. The students’ efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and the city council moved forward with the changes anyway, but some of the councilmembers blamed Temecula Valley Unified School District for failing to create enough student parking at TVHS in the first place and urged the students to address the matter with TVUSD’s Governing Board.
On Oct. 22, the city council approved new rules prohibiting parking before 8 a.m. on weekdays in a portion of Ronald Reagan Sports Park, which is located across Margarita Road from TVHS. Although city leaders made clear at the Nov. 12 meeting that students would still be allowed to park on the western side of the sports park near the Temecula Community Recreation Center, the move was directed at students who use the sports park’s lot as an alternative to on-campus parking; when the new restrictions were first being discussed, Mike Wooten, senior management analyst for the city of Temecula, told the council that the new rules were intended to “condition the students to not park at Ronald Reagan” in the few years ahead of a new state law that will push high school start times to 8 a.m.
It was a decision city staff said they had come to “after consulting with our partners in the community,” including TVUSD. The city also banned overnight parking at city-run facilities and parks in the same decision.
But TVHS only had 20 open parking spaces at the time the new rules were passed, while 70 vehicles were parked in the sports park as school was beginning on Oct. 31, Valley News found. A parent at the city council’s Nov. 12 meeting said he counted as many as 84 cars at the sports park during school hours.
It was this discrepancy that caused TVHS students to come to Temecula City Hall to share their concerns with the city council.
“Parking spots rented by the school are often too expensive and are very limited, so Ronald Reagan’s parking lot is the only alternative,” one TVHS student, Savannah Larimore, said.
Another student told councilmembers: “I understand there are some students who do have problems, but you would be displacing a lot of students, especially in the middle of the school year.”
Ordinarily, since the parking restriction ordinance was already approved by the city council, the ordinance’s second reading would have remained on the council’s consent calendar but would not have been up for public discussion. However, the council opted to pull it from the consent calendar to receive a second presentation from city staff on the matter and allow comments from the public.
Erica Russo, community services superintendent for the city of Temecula, said the overnight parking ban in general and the restricted parking before 8 a.m. at Ronald Reagan Sports Park in particular were both intended to be a response to “a number of incidents we’ve had at our city facilities and parks.”
The incidents, she said, included drug and alcohol possession and use, vandalism, graffiti, litter, sleeping in vehicles and fighting, assault and harassment of city staff and park patrons.
There has been “a significant uptick over the last two years in fighting, vandalism and drug and alcohol use” in the portion of Ronald Reagan Sports Park closest to TVHS.
“We had an issue just last week with one of our park rangers,” Russo said. “We actually had a park ranger vehicle surrounded by a handful of students who were yelling at her.”
She also said there have been multiple fights, and the city has had to ban at least a few individuals from using park facilities. One issue with the section of the park in which the new parking restrictions are going into effect is visibility – it’s below grade of Margarita Road, blocking view from TVHS and making it hard for campus supervision or law enforcement to see into it.
“After school, upwards of 200 kids are congregating in that area,” Russo said. “It was never designed to have that volume. We love having people in our parks and we certainly love having kids enjoying our parks after school, but that area of the parking lot was never designed for that purpose.”
When the parking restrictions at Ronald Reagan Sports park were first presented to the city council last month, councilmembers were told the changes were being driven by requests from TVHS administration. The city of Temecula later told the Valley News that statement was inaccurate, and that the recommendations had been developed only in consultation with the school, as well as with law enforcement and city staff.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Russo told the council that the city had “worked very closely with the TVHS administration and school resource officer in developing these guidelines.”
Out of concern for safety of city staff, the council was reluctant to revoke the new parking restrictions. Councilman Matt Rahn did initially suggest delaying the changes until next school year, but said he felt TVUSD was “handing the city a bag of goods” regarding students using Ronald Reagan Sports Park as overflow parking without having additional parking at TVHS, and said the district needed to “have their feet held to the fire” in providing adequate parking for students on campus.
“The school district is just kind of passing the buck,” Rahn said. “They know they have a parking situation, they know they have a problem. What other business in town do we let do this?”
Councilman Zak Schwank said he felt delaying the imposition of the new parking restrictions would be cutting “a little too much slack” for the district.
“If you take this fire and this excitement for being involved to the school board — where they have to answer to you, they are your governing board — I feel like that is the space for this,” Schwank said, addressing the students at the meeting. “I feel like going to the school board and saying, ‘please figure this out,’ whether it’s re-striping or whether it’s opening up another lot — that is a huge complex. You can’t tell me we can’t find (84) spaces to park.”
Asked for a response to the city council’s criticism, TVUSD spokeswoman Laura Boss said in a statement that “TVHS administration is confident that they will be able to accomodate the current TVHS junior and senior class drivers, in accordance with TVHS’ practice.”
She said the school plans to offer student parking permits at a prorated cost of $27.00 from January through the end of the school year.
Councilwoman Maryann Edwards noted that the public parking in the sports park that would still be available for students are only a few hundred feet further away from the school than the parking that is currently used by students.
Rahn said he was concerned that moving students to that parking lot would only result in moving the problems that prompted the new restrictions, but Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Curtis Kennedy, the school resource officer for TVHS, told the council that the changes would make supervision of students much less difficult.
“I believe if we move that populace from one area, further down the parkway, it’s easier for me to observe from Rancho Vista as well as Margarita,” Kennedy said. He also pointed out that nearby neighborhoods are open for parking.
“I think if we spread things out a little bit more, not so concentrated, it would help with the problem,” Kennedy said.
With Mayor Mike Naggar absent, the council voted 4-0 to move forward with the new parking restrictions, which will be in full enforcement by the end of TVUSD’s winter break on Jan. 7, 2020. Councilmembers also voted to fund an additional three to four hours of duty for school resource officers – a program that the city splits the cost of with the school district – to allow extra time to patrol Ronald Reagan Sports Park before and after school.
Some students who were present at the meeting were unhappy with the council’s decision.
“We brought up our position and everything was completely dismissed. Why would I want to come back and voice my opinion if you’re not gonna listen to it?” 17-year-old Madison Williams, a senior at TVHS, said. “And no one brought up the fact that the ordinance is only prohibiting parking before school. The students will still be allowed to be present and park after school when all of the fighting occurs. So none of the problems are solved. I have to walk further in the rain or 100 degrees.”
Andrew Timmons, 17, also a senior at TVHS, agreed.
“I feel like they listened partially to our concerns, but also they dismissed a lot of the other concerns that we brought up.”