Residents Petition to Save Historic Orchard
Saratoga--Recent talk concerning use of the Heritage Orchard as a recreational facility has once again spurred Saratoga citizens to action. Sixteen residents spoke during the oral communications section of the June 7 City Council meeting. Oral communications is the segment during which any resident may speak on a matter not on the agenda. Three residents turned up for oral communications at the June 5 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, as well. The speakers passionately pleaded that the council and the commission, "save the Heritage Orchard."
Some of the residents said the orchard could be used for classes but nothing more. "Please don't take away the orchard, please," said soccer player Ben Stewart, 12, from Redwood Middle School.
Most of the residents who spoke noted that the Heritage Orchard is one of the last remaining orchards in a valley that was once full of them. Many speakers said that once the orchard is gone, it's gone for good.
"It's the remaining heart of the 'Valley of the Heart's Delight,'" said resident Anne Cross.
Some speakers suggested improving the existing recreational facilities in the city rather than using any part of the orchard and some expressed concern that a new recreational facility would increase traffic at the already busy intersection of Saratoga and Fruitvale Avenues.
One resident said that if the orchard goes, property values in Saratoga would decrease, since the orchard is a draw to the city.
Mayor Stan Bogosian called the public outpouring, "An example of democracy at its best." He said he believes the survey in the spring issue of The Saratogan--city hall's quarterly newsletter that is mailed to all Saratoga residents--was the cause for the large turnout. The response was exactly the kind of feedback to the survey that he wanted, he said.
The council decided to incorporate the postage-paid, tear-out survey on using the Heritage Orchard in hopes of getting feedback before school ends and families go on vacation for the summer, according to councilman Nick Streit.
The survey asks whether Saratoga needs a publicly financed recreational facility for organized sports, and if so, what kind of facility. It also asks if residents would support educational uses of the Heritage Orchard and how much, if any, of the orchard would they support converting into a public recreational facility.
Finally, the survey asks whether residents would support a publicly financed bond measure to purchase property for public recreational facilities.
As of June 7, the city had received 108 of the survey cards back. The deadline is June 16.
"I hope we get way more than 108," Bogosian said. "I believe it was a fair survey, and even-handed. I don't believe it was pushing one way or another."
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sheila Ioannou, who attended the council meeting, stressed that the city's survey only seeks information, and nothing more. The city has not made any decisions concerning changes to the orchard, she said.
"I think there is a misperception that the city has plans to bulldoze the Heritage Orchard and put up soccer fields," she said. "There are no plans to do anything of the kind. The purpose of the survey is to find out what kind of recreational facilities the community wants and whether it is willing to support a bond to pay for them. The city also wants to know whether Saratogans are willing to pay to purchase a new piece of property to house a gym or playfields."
Ioannou said she thinks Saratogans deserve better parks and sports facilities. Saratoga should be able to both preserve its heritage and provide adequate recreational facilities for its citizens, she said.
Talk about surveying Saratogans began at the April 3 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, when Commissioner Nick Seroff proposed putting an advisory vote on the November ballot asking how residents feel about uses of the Heritage Orchard. The advisory vote, he said, would give Saratoga the best possible data on what the majority of citizens want.
However, the commission voted at their May meeting to recommend that the city spend $10,000 from its general fund on a professional poll of Saratogans. Although more expensive than an advisory vote, the Commission decided such a poll--a telephone survey of about 10 percent of Saratoga residents done by a professional company--would be the most scientific way to gather information.
Seroff criticized the city newsletter's survey at the commission's meeting on June 5. He said that without determining the age, number of children and address of each respondent, it would be impossible to tell if a good cross-section of Saratoga had been polled.
Commissioner Elaine Clabeaux added that the survey in the city newsletter was unbalanced. "I'd like to see a more scientific poll," Clabeaux said.
Bogosian and the city staff created the questions, which council members Nick Streit and Ann Waltonsmith later helped to revise, according to Streit. He said the survey is only preliminary.
"I was concerned with making sure the questions were as fair as possible and not misleading in any way," Streit said. "The intent here is to get a pulse of what the residents of Saratoga want. We may still go back and do a professional survey, but this is a good start."
While the Parks and Recreation Commission still plans to recommend that the council spend $10,000 on a professional poll, both interim city manger William Norton and Streit said that the Council will most likely wait for the results of the tear-out survey before taking that step.
City officials encourage all Saratoga residents to complete and return the survey.
--Leigh Ann Maze, Metro , June 15, 2000
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