Moving Forward: Franklin Riley Park

Written by Judy Salamacha

September 21, 2023

Walter Heath, Morro Bay in Bloom; President Glenn Silloway, Historical Society of Morro Bay; and City of Morro Bay’s Maintenance Manager Carlos Mendoza check out proposed hidden-history panel for Franklin Riley Park. Photo by Judy Salamacha

The date was Thursday, September 5. What was happening at Franklin Riley Park located in my quiet neighborhood at the intersection of Morro and Olive Streets, overlooking Tidelands Park? Could it have been a family gathering or class reunion waiting to venture down to the Embarcadero for dinner at La Katrina or board the Chablis for a dinner cruise? Indeed, there were upwards to forty people visiting with each other near the Embarcadero access stairs during happy hour, but no one seemed to have a pre-dinner cocktail in hand. Some were snapping photographs of what has been touted as the city’s best view of Morro Rock. Others were focused on the bay watching the pelicans’ feeding frenzy. But what about those two gentlemen who were mid-park – away from the group – obviously trying to decide where they might place their easels and presentation boards.  

Truth be told, I knew what was going on. I was one of the neighbors on the community notification list to check out what was proposed to happen at Franklin Riley Park. Co-sponsored by the Morro Bay Public Works Department and the Historical Society the community was invited to hear about the plans to renovate the city’s recently dedicated park named in memory of Morro Bay’s founder, Franklin Riley. The co-sponsors recognized they have been “…working closely with the Morro Cove Homeowners Association on a plan to make a lovely little park an educational experience for everyone who might visit.”  

Morro Bay’s Public Works Director, Greg Kwolek, introduced the program with the goal to maintain the current integrity of the quiet neighborhood park while providing “…a small-scale project that intends modest improvement. Our vision is don’t interrupt what is already here.” He made it clear, “You will see the plans and have a chance to comment on them. This is not a done deal.” His request was to contribute comments and additional ideas. It was the first in a series of opportunities for the community to see the plans and add their comments. He pointed to several members standing among the group armed with clipboards to record their input.  

Morro Bay’s City Engineer, Eric Riddiough with former city councilwoman Marlys McPherson who is also the treasurer of the Historical Society of Morro Bay introduce hidden-history panels proposed for Franklin Riley Park. Photo by Judy Salamacha

Next the president of the Historical Society of Morro Bay, Glenn Silloway, offered an historical perspective. “This has been a long-term project for our membership – a 10-year concept to create space to honor Morro Bay’s Founder, Franklin Riley. Before the signage was installed at this park, Riley had only one small recognition plaque under a tree on Morro Bay Blvd.” 

Silloway noted that while serving on the city council, Red Davis threw out the challenge to find a park to recognize the city’s founder. The Historical Society looked at several options and ultimately discovered an opportunity to collaborate with the Morro Cove Homeowners Association, based across the street from the park. He admitted their first design was more than the homeowners wanted and they willingly went back to the drawing board.

Typically, the park is populated by neighborhood day-use activities like strolling through or briskly walking or running for exercise. Seniors are seen walking hand-in-hand with their caregivers. Dogs on leash are walked by owners. Children in strollers watch the birds in the trees. Meditative bench-sitting happens often — to think or dream or calm the soul to the sounds and activities on the bay. Some find a bench to enjoy the outdoors on their lunch break. One often sees what appears to be a visitor from another land or another area stopping for a quick photo of Morro Rock. Artists will set up their easels and paint unique Morro Bay scenes. 

 Silloway explained they don’t want to change the current ambiance and usage of the park, however, as historians the membership is interested in sharing Morro Bay’s story to locals and visitors alike and has proposed three community hidden-history panels. 

 Marlys McPherson continued. She is a former Morro Bay City Councilwoman and the current treasurer of the Historical Society. She revealed that Morro Cove Homes developer, Wayne Colmer, had intended the park would eventually become a city park. Meanwhile, the Morro Cove Homeowners Association had adopted the park overseeing its appropriate uses and light maintenance. During the Q&A portion of the program, Phil Hornburg, past president and current chair of the Franklin Riley Adopt-a-Park committee for Morro Cove Homeowners Association stated, “Our HOA has been doing a lot of park maintenance along with the city, which has done a good job.” As needed the city would refurbish the pathway and haul away the leaves, downed tree limbs, and mow the wild-grown weeds. 

 “Based on the meetings we held with the Morro Cove Homeowners Association,” McPherson added, “our mutual criteria became (1) Minimal changes — maintain it as a strolling park; (2) Low Maintenance; (3) Use drought-tolerant, native plantings — plant in phases to establish the plants; and (4) Ensure that the views are retained. The three hidden-history panels that are planned are educational about Morro Bay’s history, most recently Franklin Riley’s establishment of a plat map of Morro Bay, the indigenous people who lived here before Europeans arrived, and 24 million years ago when the Nine Sisters were born.”

 Former mayor Jaime Irons was recognized for building and donating the sign that was installed at the southern corner of the park near the access stairwell to the Embarcadero. Councilman Davis knew his challenge to find a park named after Franklin Riley has been met. Before he passed, he was able to select his favorite design for signage. It was unveiled at Davis’ Memorial Service held in Tidelands Park August 9, 2021 and later installed by city staff. 

 The Historical Society raised funds to match a California State Habitat Grant applied for by the City of Morro Bay with city planner Pam Newman credited with “doing the heavy lifting” to get the grant. Currently, with a generous gift from John and Joan Solu plus a $10,000 gift from the Las Amigas Association and other community donations over the years, they have on reserve approximately $20,500 and are ready to begin the public comment. 

Kwolek then encouraged the group to take a leisurely walk along the path and study the renderings positioned in the park demonstrating what was proposed. He encouraged everyone to offer comments to the folks with the clipboards. The next steps will be to continue to solicit additional public comment, present the plan to the Public Works Advisory County and then present a recommendation the City of Morro Bay – all of which have public comment opportunities. 

Thank you, collaborators – all of you who have worked together on a project that Franklin Riley and Councilman Davis would be proud to have their names forever etched onto the final installation. What’s next? More collaborative comments to bring this project to reality.

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