Anaima Beltre has been using Baristo Park for the better part of the past 30 years but may never have enjoyed it as much as she did Monday morning.
“It’s beautiful,” she remarked as she returned from walking her dog, Power, to the far end of the two-acre facility along South Calle Encilia. “It’s 100 percent better. My dog is very happy.”
The park, which earned the nickname “Heroin Park” from locals due to frequent drug use seen among some of the city’s homeless population who camped there, reopened to the public last week following a 10-week closure. During that time, city crews reseeded the grass, cleaned the park of all debris — including needles and cigarette butts — repaired playground equipment, repainted benches and picnic tables, and sanitized everything.
More importantly, the city enhanced safety at the park. Not only are surveillance cameras now installed, but shrubbery has been cut back, making it easier for law enforcement to monitor activity at the park. Prior to closing in October closure, emergency calls for service at Baristo Park had increased from 558 between 2017 and 2019 to more than 1,245 from 2019 to the end of 2021.
“Labor shortages continue to be an issue,” City Manager Justin Clifton said by email Monday, “but security details have been adjusted to ensure some presence in the early days/weeks of the park reopening.”
Will it last? Beltre, for one, said she’s hopeful it’s now safer but added, “I don’t know for how long.” Although some evidence of members of the homeless population returning to the park were seen just after it reopened, on Monday morning, only a lone person asleep on the lawn was any indication of how the park used to appear.
“I never had a problem with anyone who was here,” said Beltre, who has lived in an adjacent apartment complex since 1994. “Everybody has a reason for how they got here. You just never know. But it’s not healthy for the children. There are too many children who live near here.”