A $724,000 Footbridge at Fullerton’s Hillcrest Park Will Be More Symbolic than Practical

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Creek that runs parallel to Harbor Boulevard separating the sidewalk from Fullerton's Hillcrest Park.

Fullerton’s Hillcrest Park soon will have a $724,000 pedestrian bridge crossing a creek that separates the sidewalk on Harbor Boulevard from the park’s veterans memorial, but will anyone use it?

Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald compared the soon-to-be bridge entrance of the park to the front doors of houses.

“I would point out that a lot of us — me included — that we go into our homes through our garages all the time,” Fitzgerald told the city council last Tuesday. “But we try to have beautiful front doors. That is exactly what this is for this park.”

The bridge is part of the $5.7 million the city committed to restoration of the park, including a $3.9 million construction contract awarded during the meeting to Environmental Construction Inc. of Woodland Hills. The money is coming out of the city’s park dwelling fund and cannot be used for anything except parks, staff said during their report to the council.

In all, it’s going to take $724,000 to purchase the bridge and install it in the park. The sidewalk on Harbor Boulevard also will be widened to nearly 20 feet in some areas around the bridge. Drought-friendly plants will be planted in the park. A sidewalk loop will be added to the lawn of Hillcrest Park that will loop by the veterans memorial and the fountain, which will also be fixed.

“I’m excited to say that I do support overwhelmingly these plans .. I am concerned, though, about the cost of the bridge,” Councilman Greg Sebourn said during deliberations.

The city council voted 3-2 at the May 16 meeting to move forward with the park improvements and bridge, with Mayor Bruce Whitaker and Sebourn dissenting after their motion to delete the bridge from the overall plan failed.

Hillcrest Park, on the northern edge of downtown Fullerton, is mostly steep hills with a large memorial to veterans that faces Harbor Boulevard. There is no parking on Harbor and just a half dozen spaces around the corner on Valley View. The main parking entrance for the park is in the rear off Lemon Street.

“I don’t see where anybody’s going enter that (Harbor) bridge there easily,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Karen Lang Mcnabb told the council during public comment. “I have my doubts about it.”

The bridge will be built over a small canal that runs parallel to the sidewalk on Harbor Boulevard. To use the bridge, pedestrians would have to find somewhere to park and then walk to Harbor and along the sidewalk to the bridge.

Because of the parking issues, some residents considered the bridge superfluous, but supported other renovations.

“Just from a practicality standpoint, I don’t see the merits in this,” resident David Curlee told the City Council.

“It’s not really an entrance there,” Mcnabb told the council. “It’s a park. How about something vertical? How about a signboard or something interesting.”

Sebourn seemed to echo some of the concerns.

“How does this bridge really fit in?” Suborn asked said during deliberations.

Mayor Pro Tem Doug Chaffee reminded everyone what the bridge was for.

“It’s called veterans bridge. Why? It focuses on the war memorials up there.”

One resident was troubled that the supporting agenda documents didn’t specify how the money will be spent on in the park.

“If you had any fiduciary responsibility, you’d shove this immediately,” resident Barry Levinson told the council during public comment, adding that the agenda packet lacked a line item breakdown of expenditures.

“As an auditor and accountant by trade, this brings up 10, 20, 30 questions for every answer it gives and it gives very few answers,” Levinson said of the supporting documents. “Everybody wants this (Hillcrest restoration) approved, but do it the right way for a change.”

Others took offense at the opposition to the bridge and said because it’s been a nine year-process and the design and construction plans are already approved, the council should move forward with it.

“I’m not sure why it has to go back through this again if you already approved it,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Savage said.

“You’re asking to spend more public money to redesign something that has already gone through the process … right to the point before construction,” Savage told the council.

“I also find it really offensive that people say there wasn’t an adequate public process,” said Kate Dalton, chair of the ad hoc committee that helped create the Hillcrest Park plans. “This park … was actually designed by the public.”

Dalton said that while she understands public opposition to the bridge, the process has gone on long enough and the park dwelling funds meant for Hillcrest Park improvements have been siphoned off in the past for other projects. “Whether or not we do the bridge, this needs to happen.”

“Some of those who now complain about the aesthetics about the project are the same people who complain regularly that the city isn’t doing enough to restore our parks,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Gretchen Cox. “Making changes now would be a huge waste of money already committed.”

Chaffee shared their concerns.

“As far as this process, it’s gone on forever. There’s no real savings that I see in taking the bridge out,” Chaffee said, adding the city would have to spend more money on redesign and more time on public hearings.

“I think it would be a shame for this council, over one element of our front door plan, to delay this any longer,” Fitzgerald said.

Sebourn said the council wasn’t given construction plans or costs after bids on the project until Tuesday night, when he decided he wanted to pursue the project without the bridge portion.

But Fitzgerald told Sebourn that by removing elements, like the bridge, from the plan, they might have to redo the construction plans and bidding process.

“Well, now that we know how much that’s going to cost, I can make that decision. I am comfortable either rebidding it or accepting it as is and removing the bridge components,” Sebourn countered.

Whitaker echoed Sebourn’s concerns.

“This is the only stage that, apparently, we had the details which to make a determination,” Whitaker said.

He warned the council not to let Hillcrest Park have the same outcome as the Great Park in Irvine.

“We’ve seen a huge disaster at the Great Park down in Irvine, where so much money was spent on soft costs and very little tangible has been delivered, even at this late stage … that’s nothing really for us to emulate,” said Whitaker.