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A new plan to reshape one of North Orange County’s most heavily-used parks is triggering unease among some city officials.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider a major step toward shifting 93 acres of golf course to other uses at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley under a plan that had a total of two public input meetings, both in 2019.

The plan calls for completely revamping that portion of golf course land in the middle of the 607-acre park and turning it into a multitude of other uses. 

Source: County of Orange

New features would include a nature camp, amphitheater, meadow, botanical garden, visitor center, play areas, walking trail, ponds and parking.

Source: County of Orange

[Click here to see a presentation on the county’s plans for Mile Square Park.]

As the project comes before the board for its final environmental approval, some city elected officials have concerns – saying the plan should include more sports fields and questioning whether the county did enough to listen to the public.

“I’m not thrilled about [the county’s] plans,” Fountain Valley Councilwoman Kim Constantine told Voice of OC, adding that 93 acres is “such a vast area.”

“Many [of] us are wanting a dog park, soccer fields that the city of Fountain Valley could host…a hobby area, and rocket launch area amongst a myriad of ideas people have suggested,” she added.

“I attended all the community meetings and question if county reps were listening.  I know our city officials have met with the decisionmakers, to no avail.”

Fountain Valley Councilwoman Kim Constantine

Councilman Glenn Grandis expressed similar concerns in an interview with Voice of OC.

OC Supervisors’ Chairman Andrew Do, who initiated the master plan process in 2018 and represents the district that includes the park, didn’t return messages for comment about the council members’ concerns.

But county staff said they did a “significant community engagement effort” in 2019 – holding two input meetings and collecting surveys from hundreds of residents online and at park concerts and festivals.

The public golf course located at Mile Square Park on July 9, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“Specific groups that provided input during the process include Sea and Sage Audubon Society and other clubs or specialty interest organizations for activities such as model aircraft flying, frisbee golf, and lawn bowling,” said Kristi Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the county parks department, which is known as OC Parks.

The public wasn’t allowed to speak at those input forums, said Grandis.

“What I’m really disappointed about is they held public forums, but they didn’t allow the public to speak. And a lot of people who attended felt like they did not have their voice heard,” Grandis told Voice of OC.

County officials said residents were in fact able to speak to staff and consultants at a variety of booths at the input events.

“Each of these workshops involved hours of public discourse regarding the plan as it was being developed,” Bergstrom said.

“​​For the two in-person forums held at Freedom Hall at Mile Square Park, the format and layout of the events were designed to encourage public discussion and engagement with county staff, design consultants, and other members of the public, at stations set up to solicit input on numerous focused topics” like traffic, architecture, and recreational uses, she added.

Pedestrians and cyclists walk through Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley on July 9, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

County staff say when they asked residents what they want at the park, the top features were walking paths, nature areas, gardens, places to have a picnic and lakes.

Supervisor Katrina Foley, who represents neighborhoods of Fountain Valley just south of Mile Square Park, said she’s heard Grandis’ concerns and has reached out to the rest of the City Council members to hear their feedback as well.

“I’m sensitive to making sure that we’ve covered all the concerns. But I’m equally sensitive to the fact that Supervisor Do has been working on this project for quite some time, and I’m just joining in the planning,” said Foley, who was elected in March.

“So I think the best thing I can do is reach out to the City Council members and the city manager and make sure their feedback is taken into consideration.”

The other county supervisors didn’t return messages for comment.

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As for sports fields, Foley said the master plan already calls for a multiple-use playfield totaling 7.6 acres – equivalent to four full-size soccer fields.

“That’s pretty big,” she said.

“I don’t know why you would need more than that, especially because you have Fountain Valley Sports Park right there,” she added. “This is a pretty comprehensive master plan, in terms of amenities. I mean you pretty much accommodate all ages, all types of uses.”

The county’s public agenda documents for Tuesday’s meeting don’t make it easy to find what the master plan would actually change at the park – the description starts on page 1,356 of the sixth document attached to the agenda item.

“It’s buried very deep into the back of the file,” said Foley, adding she initially had trouble finding the plan in the agenda.

No cost estimate is available yet for the upgrades, but county parks officials say it’ll come later.

“At this early stage with conceptual drawings and unknown timing for phases, we have not projected the full development cost.”

Kristi Bergstrom, a spokeswoman for the county parks department

“As we refine the plans for each phase, we will better be able to estimate the costs,” she added.

And how will it be paid for?

The park upgrades are expected to be funded by state grants, and officials don’t expect to use any county general fund dollars, Bergstrom said.

Council members Grandis and Constantine say they would like to see some of the golf course land shift to being managed by the city, a similar arrangement as the nearby sports fields at Mile Square Park that the county leases to the city to manage.

“We already have the sports park that’s part of Mile Square Park. I’d like to see us expand so we can provide more soccer fields, maybe a community garden or dog park,” Grandis said.

“I think that would be better managed by the city,” he added.

In response, county staff said they haven’t received any proposals from the city to manage more of the park.

Foley said there could be some areas for working with the city on the new park amenities.

“I​​​​t’s my experience that OC Parks does an excellent job managing and maintaining our parks, and activating the parks, creating programs in the Orange County parks…and I don’t see why any city would want to take on that responsibility,” Foley said.

“I think we can partner [with the city], certainly. There should be some kind of a joint use, for sure,” she said.

Mile Square Park currently has three 18-hole golf courses. The county plans call for eliminating one of those courses to make room for the new amenities, leaving two golf courses in place.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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