The City of Fullerton is planning to spend over $ 83,000 to build a perimeter fence around the downtown plaza. During a review of the budget for capital improvements by the Parks and Recreation Commission on March 13 city staff cited drug dealing in the plaza as a rationale for the proposed fence.
The Downtown Plaza covers over an acre of land on Wilshire Ave., between Pomona Ave. and Harbor Blvd. It was built at considerable public expense, involving the purchase of privately held properties and the demolition of existing structures. It is the site of numerous non-profit fundraisers and other events throughout the year, including the popular weekly Downtown Market held Thursday nights between April and October. Homeless people sometimes congregate there, particularly when the large church next door feeds them once a week.
The plaza is located on the north side of Wilshire, which is closed to vehicular traffic on market nights and during some events, making it, at least temporarily, a rare pedestrian boulevard in suburban southern California. Although the plaza itself consists only of benches, a fountain, a stage, and some over-scaled stucco and styrofoam columns*, it is nonetheless a public space for anyone who cares to stroll around in it at any hour of the day or night. The addition of a fence around the entire plaza would dramatically change it as a public space, both by restricting access and, presumably, by cutting off the plaza side of the street from the park to the south.
Like the closure of the Hunt Branch Library, a fence around the Downtown Plaza would represent something of a betrayal of the city’s mandate to ensure safety in public places (despite the omnipresent police cameras). And like the Hunt Library, the plaza may become, at least in part, more of a private space. A perimeter fence would be a very convenient way to demarcate the area for private rentals intended to provide extra cash for the city budget.
* Plans described in a Los Angeles Times article from 1986 included an IMAX theater, as well as “the museum and exhibit center, more than 35 art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and outdoor waterfalls.”