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Ventura’s Midtown Monarch Paradise Park: RIP b. 4/22/98 – d. 4/22/19

May 14, 2019

After being planted by volunteers, shrubs and wildflowers like these lupine naturalized in a vacant lot 1570 Thompson in Ventura CA.

After 20 years, Ventura California’s Midtown Monarch Paradise Park is no more.

RIP Midtown Monarch Paradise Park

On Earth Day April 22, 2019, I watched from my home as the excavator scooped up the remains of the twenty year old Midtown Monarch Paradise Park, a Wildlife Habitat Demonstration Garden in Midtown Ventura CA funded by two Earth Day grants and built by the community on a vacant city lot and hillside near the terminus of Prince Barranca at Ocean Ave Park. This heartbreaking event helps to explain my absence from this blog… the noise alone is enough to break anyone’s concentration.

my former view

 …a wildlife habitat demonstration garden now dead 

Long an area plagued with drug and sex traffic, the abandoned lot once planted with natives became home to a thriving ecosystem welcoming an increasing diversity of birds and insects.

 

As plants naturalized over the years, the area became a hub for overwintering monarch butterflies, migrating raptors including bald eagles, a nesting and hunting area for Coopers Hawks, owls and ravens, and more. People from around the world travel to Ocean Avenue Park to see Prince Barranca fill with monarch butterflies on warm fall days. In spring, wildflowers wowed them.

a wildlife corridor… now gone

As the excavator driver skillfully pivots, he smacked down the Matilija poppies about to burst into splashes of white and egg yolk, severed the vast carpet of purple sage, knocked out vibrant fremontia covered in palm sized bright waxy flowers, and leveled a tall elderberry with creamy umbels just forming.

Already destroyed: the field of lupine, the sprinkling of orange poppies, the slope of honey colored and scented encelia, fuschia mallow, sky blue ceanothus, and the plain but important narrowleaf milkweed which feeds monarch larvae.

After years of drought, purple sage, fremontia, and matilija poppies thrived in March 2019. They were all destroyed in April 2019.

Unceremoniously, he dropped the plants onto the city lot already cleared of its eucalyptus grove and other native flowering shrubs to send it to its final resting place in a landfill.

 

All of this destruction of native and non-native wildlife habitat went down in the midst of nesting season so Brisa 29’s development of 29 two and mostly three story luxury townhouses at 1570 Thompson could move forward after years of limbo.

This hole goes down 60' -- the area at 1570 Thompson was used as a landfill so now it must be sorted before it can be compacted and built on.

This hole goes down 60′ — the area at 1570 Thompson was used as a landfill so now it must be sorted before it can be compacted and built on.

Craig Mattey of JMAC purchased 1570 Thompson from V2V and made a deal with the city to develop 29 units and on the city land, a walking path to connect Thompson through the development with Ocean Avenue Park. While he cannot build on city property, his 29 unit  development benefits most from the courtyard and landscaping that will be.

 

Saved from destruction by City Council decree was a mature sycamore tree planted in 1998 to honor L.M. Paquette, my grandfather. Born on Poli, “Manny” moved in to the Ventura volunteer fire department when he was orphaned at 14. Manny never left Ventura or the Fire department; he spent his career and retirement caring for our community.

City Council required an arborist be hired to oversee the moving and care of this mature sycamore tree at 1570 Thompson, Ventura.

That sycamore tree was only saved because I learned of the construction project two days before clearing began. For a number of reasons, the project was able to move forward even though it had been over 12 years since we had attended and spoken at hearings, reviews, and council meetings.

Until I contacted city planning and they checked the records and informed him, Mattey knew nothing of the sycamore or of the City Council’s requirement to hire an arborist to save it.  While unknown if an arborist was employed, the sycamore was moved to a nearby parking lot where it bakes in the sun.

Excavator at sunset, April 2019, 1570 Thomson, Ventura CA.

A sycamore near the intersection of the development, city land and my own that is on my property is also still at risk should heavy equipment operators be careless as they excavate and regrade the lot which is primarily composed of concrete and asphalt fill from CalTrans.

 

Most of the trees and habitat are gone for good. But today several more eucalyptus trees on city land are at risk as they curtail the views of the three story units that tower over the neighborhood (and my house including units which were to be reduced to two floors with decks facing east toward landscaped area and not west into my yard. City staff is investigating).

These eucalyptus trees deserve our protection: they provide critical habitat to overwintering monarch butterflies. A coopers hawk nest has been active there for many years. It will challenge the developer to landscape and to sell the units with these trees extant. These trees matter to us and to the species that inhabit them, and require our vigilance.

The author in the remaining sycamore tree which will be saved because it is on her property… but could be damaged severely or killed by careless contractors.

As infill projects like this continue, neighbors need to be notified better, particularly adjacent residents and homeowners. According to city staff,  changes to this project were “minor” and so unnecessary to send notifications, but they are MAJOR to us. We only knew that construction was commencing from a courtesy letter from the developer.  Because we were able to immediately consult with staff, we’ve been able to address several problems with the project and have them remedied.

garage door painting by gauvin

Community members spoke on Monday May 5 at Ventura’s City Council during the public comment period to let them
know that neighbors need to know, and to speak for the trees…what’s left of them…

 

Note: A version of the blog post above was printed in the “Power to Speak” opinion section of the VC Reporter on Thursday April 25 and published on Monday April 22 in the online version of the weekly along with photographs.

With a very limited number of words, the essay does not explain sufficiently that the city property where the majority of the wildlife habitat garden was planted was originally fill — predominantly concrete and asphalt from CalTrans highway projects and City of Ventura street projects.  Below is one example of the fill. The excavator has gone down 60′ from street level with no end in sight.

fill at 1570 Thompson goes down 60′ or more in places and covers a football field lot

Let me say this again: from the edge of my property, a hole has been dug that goes down 60′.

And there is still more fill at the bottom of the hole. They plan to put a 3′ story town houses on top of this area requiring them to remove and sort the fill, then replace the dirt, compact it and make it stable so they can build on it. Knowing what it would take to build on this slope contributed to our efforts to turnout into a native plants and wildlife habitat demonstration garden. This is a huge expense and we wonder who will foot the bill.

And as you can imagine, the level of noise is unbelievable, making it impossible to think straight and get any work done. I’ve rearranged my living room so that I can see what is in my yard, not what is gone from my view. I bought $350 noise cancelling headphones; those help block out the noise that starts around 7am and can continue until 5pm.

Today, the contractors are gone. Not sure where they went or why, but for today at least, it’s quiet enough that I can hear the birds the remain.. and it’s quiet enough to think a bit, and publish this post.

 

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