When Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden met with property owners near Denair Park, one thing was instantly clear.
“The community members are very unhappy,” Wasden said.
Any passerby can see why. The once-vibrant park has become a haven for many of the seedier elements of Turlock's homeless population.
Kit Casey, owner of Main Street's Cotta's Kitchen – a restaurant across the street from Denair Park – knows the problems better than most.
“We have front-row seats to Denair Park, so we have a lot of knowledge as to what is happening over there,” he said.
Casey didn't get into the dirty details. But he was quick to note that his wife sometimes fears for her safety when coming into work at 5 a.m. to start cooking, while it's still dark outside.
“It's more than just homelessness,” Casey said. “There is a criminal element over there, and it is a serious problem.”
Councilwoman Amy Bublak, a City of Modesto Police Officer, echoed Casey's concerns. Crime is “exponentially going up,” locally, she said, and it's time the Turlock City Council had a “hard discussion” about supporting public safety.
“I'm seeing the people that I was arresting (in Modesto), now here,” Bublak said. “There's something that is welcoming people to come here and commit crime.”
One potential quick fix, councilman Bill DeHart said, is to immediately begin enforcing some laws already on the books. He pointed to the scores of people who walk from Denair Park to a nearby liquor store, then return to drink alcoholic beverages openly in the park. Drinking is prohibited in Turlock parks.
The Turlock City Council was scheduled to have an in-depth discussion on Denair Park's issues Tuesday, but largely delayed the item to give city staff more time to assess the situation.
“We're going to start working on identifying and addressing those issues, as well as the broader issues,” Wasden said.
That broader discussion will take place in “a couple weeks,” Turlock Police Capt. Carl Nielsen said Tuesday. The discussion is expected to look beyond Denair Park, discussing panhandling, the issue of homelessness, and the work that local nonprofits and the city are engaged in to reduce homelessness.