J. Gotrocks, a childless resident of Westfield passes away, and leaves a grassy city block to the city for use as a park. The Parks and Rec Department is delighted (by the newly available space, not by Gotrocks' demise), and they turn to the survey of Westfield households to guide them in what to do with this property.
(Please turn to
Most browsers offer the option to open a new page in a separate tab, often by right-clicking on the URL. Having fables and tables side by side will make this blog entry easier to understand.)
The final table at the survey page is of considerable value to Parks and Rec, since it explicitly prioritizes facility choices, but all three tables are similar. Working down from the highest priority facilities to lower priority facilities, the Gotrocks property is too small for walking and hiking trails. Paved bike trails don't make much sense outside of the context of a linked trail system. It's too urban to be regarded as a nature park, and for that reason, looking ahead a couple items, also not a good fit for a dog park. It can be a small, not a large, neighborhood park, but maybe it can also be something else. There's not enough parking to support a neighborhood pool. It could be a soccer field, but let's assume there's already a soccer field nearby, so there's no need for another. A playground! Lots of young children in the neighborhood; perfect!
Disc golf enthusiasts ask why their children didn't get a disc golf course. The council and Rec Department pull out their laminated copy of the survey results, which they always carry with them. "The people who conducted the survey bear your children no ill will. They had no reason to favor one set of families over another. But disc golf won't benefit as many Westfield households as playgrounds will."
So the disc golf households don't get a course, but they understand that the decision was a fair one, not made out of malice: A storybook ending.
But the fable continues. Fred's Fabulous Frisbee Firm is a business that gets wind of the available property. Several city officials have kids who enjoy disc golf, or live next to Fred, or play pickleball with his employees. Fred offers to install disc golf holes on the property at no cost, and thereby save the town the cost of playground equipment. Fred gets appointed to the committee that is deciding what to do with the property, and, somehow, it becomes a disc golf course instead of a playground. In fact, a couple other playgrounds have their playground equipment removed and replaced with disc golf courses. The city doesn't bother to post a notice at these playgrounds, because the Rec department and council meetings are open to the (unknowing) public.
OK, the fable isn't an exact parallel to what we are seeing in Brightwood. But it's very close. It boils down to the question of why JORBA, an advocate for a low-priority recreational activity, found its way onto the "stakeholders" who converted the survey results into a Park plan. Once that happened, the Plan veered away from objectivity. How can you look at the results of the priority table and conclude, as Section 7.3 of the Plan does, "Stakeholders indicated a need for mountain bike trails in Westfield"? If the stakeholders include JORBA, that could happen. Based solely on the priority table, it makes no sense. The surveyed residents of Westfield indicated the exact opposite of such a need.
Are the stakeholders utterly bound by the priorities from the survey? Not at all. Gotrocks Park skipped over some higher priority activities based on local realities, like suitability of the space to a given activity, available parking, and needs already being served. You don't need a playground advocacy group. The Parks Commission can make decisions based on local knowledge and common sense. Even the disc golf constituency might find a place in Gotrocks Park, if it doesn't interfere with playground activities.
Things got out of hand when an advocate for a low priority activity got a place among the stakeholders, while none of the high priority activities had such representation. Then you get stuff like section 3.7.1 claiming Brightwood Park is "Underutilized". What does that mean? Is there some measure of "Utilization" that Brightwood failed to meet? What is that measure, who took the measurements and where are they posted? The word has been repeated by many city officials, but to me it means "JORBA is looking for an excuse to make unsolicited changes to Brightwood." How about "Something for Everyone", cited as a most discussed stakeholder topic on executive summary page vi?This looks like another JORBAism for "We know mountain bikes had a low priority, but maybe we can sneak them in under this guise." The original Brightwood Park Concept Plan takes this to almost comical levels. A Fishing Dock/Boat Launch? These activities don't even appear on the priorities list. But if we can do something for them, surely we can something for the mountain bikers. And, by the way, don't blame us for referring to Mountain Bike trails rather than Multi-Use Trails. That's how they appear in the Concept Plan. JORBA appears to regret this branding, accurate though it was. They now favor Multi-Use. But calling something a Nature Trail, or a Multi-Use Trail doesn't make it one. Nobody pushing a stroller or walking a dog wants to encounter a fast-moving bike on a narrow trail, and vice versa.
Meanwhile, back on executive summary page vi, we see another most discussed stakeholder topic of "Connectivity throughout Town/More Trails", and improvements most households wanted to see including "Bike Trails (32%)". Another JORBAism: citing "More Trails" or "Bike Trails" as though Mountain bike trails were included. When the survey draws a clear distinction between Mountain bike trails, paved bike trails and hiking trails, buried rather deeply on page F-52, Mountain biking fares very poorly. Selectively ignoring these distinctions is disingenuous at best, but what we have come to expect.
If I were to design the Parks Planning process, I would start with the same statistically significant survey they did. But I would disallow any advocate for a low priority facility, and I would ensure that every high priority facility is represented among the stakeholders. This would be entirely consistent with the wishes expressed by the Westfield households, and nobody would have to feel like their interests aren't being represented fairly.
Does this totally dismiss low priority items? No. If Gotrocks had bequeathed the park on condition that it be turned into a disc golf course, that would override any survey results. I doubt there would be any public pushback. If there is no such limitation, low priority items will have a tough sell getting integrated into Westfield parks, but that's the nature of democracy. And if a low priority group bought space for a private park, who could complain? I'd be happy to take up a collection to support such a private mountain bike park, if only to avoid future conflicts over Brightwood.
With apologies for an overlong posting, let there be no doubt that many of us are unhappy with having JORBA among the stakeholders, suspicious of JORBA's motives, and negatively impressed by their tactics. That will explain much about the sentiments expressed on this site. But we're willing to listen to explanations why JORBA's elevation to stakeholder is consistent with the wishes of Westfield households.
And, please, stop the JORBA-speak about a "win/win". Many residents, particularly those who support this website, do not consider the replacement of natural areas by mountain bike trails a "win". Natural areas are important to many more Westfield households than are mountain bikes, and their children deserve representation too.
John Linderman, Tom Mann, Nicole Chartrain, Denise Ricci
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