Grown-ups Have a New Place to Play

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 23, 2023

The grown-ups have a new place to play. The City of Morro Bay unveiled its new bocce ball courts, located at the corner of Shasta Avenue and Dunes Street, in what used to be a pocket park.

The City built the two courts at the behest of the Morro Bay Active adults — formerly the Morro Bay Seniors, Inc., — who promised to take care of the facility.

It’s taken a couple of years to get the courts completed after a big groundbreaking ceremony presided over by then-Mayor Dr. John Headding in February 2021.

At the time, the mayor said the City of Morro Bay values many things, including public transportation, open space, recreation and “a lifestyle not seen anywhere else in California.”

Mayor Headding added that there are three main things to health with older people — spiritual, recreational, and social — along with a healthy diet.

Bocce ball has roots in the Holy Roman Empire and is one of the “bowling” games along with indoor bowling, and lawn bowling. The modern game of Bocce Ball was developed in Italy centuries ago.

Larry Rosen, who was the vice president of the Active Adults in 2021, said the City’s seniors liaison, Brady Lock, really got this ball rolling when he took the wishes of the seniors for bocce ball courts to the City Recreation and Parks Commission, which in turn recommended the City Council agree to put the courts at the old pocket park, which had fallen into disrepair after the Garden Club, a designer of the space, disbanded.

The pocket park was built after the City tore down some old apartments on the site, 995 Shasta Ave., next door to Public Works, that had fallen into disrepair. The fire department used the apartments for training before they were torn down.

The Garden Club and the Guerilla Gardeners worked to design the pocket park with help from volunteers and 4-H kids, planting several fruit trees at the pocket park. It was a nice addition to the city and initially was used by pedestrians as a resting spot and parents of kids playing soccer at the playing fields across the street. 

But within just a couple of years things had changed dramatically after some homeless people started taking over the park, hogging the picnic tables and frankly, behaving in an unruly and unacceptable manner.

Former City Public Works Director, Rob Livick, made the decision to remove the picnic tables at the suggestion of former Police Chief Amy Christy in something called, “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design,” or CPTED. 

Essentially, that means when problematic people are using a public space for illegal or undesirable behavior, things like removing furniture and changes to the built environment such as trimming back hedges and trees, are done to discourage continued use.

Livick said at the time, “The groups of people were getting larger gathering there. It’s nothing against the people, themselves, it was the behaviors that were getting people upset.”

He said the people who took over the pocket park for socializing, were “drinking, smoking and hanging around,” late into the night, which led to complaints by neighbors. Police had been called out several times and Livick said they’d even had the County Probation Department out there.

After the furniture was removed in July 2016, the head of Guerilla Gardening Club at that time and former city manager clashed in a war of letters. The Guerilla Gardening head said the City singled out the homeless and questioned if they would have done the same to a group of people based on race or ethnicity. 

The city manager countered that it had nothing to do with race or ethnicity and the City couldn’t allow the situation to continue as it was.

The picnic tables were put in storage but were put back out for public use during the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of restaurant dinning rooms. Switching to take-out only service during the early months of the pandemic led to increased demand for outdoor seating. So the tables were put back out but at Giant Chessboard Park on the Embarcadero and not the Pocket Park.

The pocket park fell into disrepair after all this and hadn’t been maintained for several years when the City Council agreed at the request of the Active Adults to build bocce ball courts.

And now the former-pocket park has two very nice bocce ball courts delineated by concrete walls for public use. The City also purchased new iron benches for seating. It is a very nice facility but it remains to be seen if the new courts will face similar problems to what the pocket park did when not being used by the Active Adults and other bocce ball enthusiasts.

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