( Composite image courtesy of IslaVista.org )
"Kevin Moran honored as hundreds celebrate official opening of park in Saratoga" By Brian Babcock, Saratoga News, 07/21/2009
It was a day many Saratogans thought might never come. Close to 40 years of contentious discussions, long meetings and hard feelings had finally come to an end. One of Saratoga's darker chapters was closing and those intimately involved with the situation were ready to move on.
So it was only fitting that on a sunny, warm day in July, hundreds of residents would gather at Kevin Moran Park to celebrate its symbolic "grand opening." With new tennis and bocce ball courts, a meditation garden, bathrooms and upgraded landscaping, the park's official makeover was complete — almost four decades after the city bought the property.
But Saratogans didn't just gather at the park to see these additions. They had come to hear about one of their own.
"Increasingly as a society, we look toward movie stars and sports legends for inspiration and personal qualities we would like to emulate, often becoming disappointed," wrote Kevin Moran's brother, Brian Moran, in a memorial in 1995 marking the 25th anniversary of Kevin's death. "Many times we need not look any further than our own families and loved ones to find those that will inspire us."
Kevin Moran died in 1970 while trying to put out an arson fire at a Bank of America in Isla Vista. Kevin was attending UC-Santa Barbara at the time; as at many colleges at the time, protests against the Vietnam War were becoming increasingly [violent]...
In April 1970, such an incident occurred. The college's student body president called on more moderate students to head down to the protest to try and calm some of the more radical students who were rioting and lighting fires.
Kevin and his roommates headed down to the scene. After helping put out a fire in a Taco Bell, Kevin ran to Bank of America, which had also been torched. While the students attempted to put out that fire, police officers moved in and began tossing tear gas into the crowds. During the confusion, police reported at the time, an officer's rifle accidentally went off and fragments of the bullet struck and killed Kevin.
Thirty-nine years after his death, Sheila Moran Couch, Kevin's sister, would stand at a lectern at Kevin Moran Park and tell a crowd of mostly strangers about her brother. As her sisters, Rita Moran, Joan O'Brien, Kathleen Menasce and Margaret Weir listened, Couch would tell the crowd that she had shown up at the park a week earlier because she didn't believe the news that the park was finally finished.
Her comment was met with a round of laughter, perhaps because most of those gathered couldn't believe it either. After close to 40 years of bickering and contentious discussions among residents, the park had finally been completed.
The 10.3-acre property now known as Kevin Moran Park was purchased by the city of Saratoga [California] in 1970 for $236,572. That same year, the city and residents overwhelmingly supported the idea of naming the park after Moran.
But that seemed to be the only thing that those involved would agree on for almost four decades. Almost immediately residents began butting heads on how the park would be developed. While Saratogans living near the park wanted to see it kept as a neighborhood park, others within Saratoga wanted to see it developed with play areas and a baseball diamond.
Ultimately, the Saratoga City Council approved a master plan in 1971 but most of the recommendations were never implemented. It wasn't until 1973 that pathways, a turf area, a children's playground and landscaping were developed within the park.
Although the topic of how to fully develop the park was never dormant for long, the discussion always ended up on the back burner since no one could come to a consensus on what to do with the area.
The most recent debate revolved around the idea of putting a soccer field in the park. Supporters said the park was the perfect place to develop a field for Saratoga youth soccer players. Opponents slammed the idea, as they wanted to keep it a peaceful and tranquil neighborhood park.
A Kevin Moran Park task force was formed in 2004 to come up with a "consensus plan." The task force included two city council members, two Saratoga residents who were to represent the city as a whole, two "user group" members and three neighborhood representatives.
One of the neighborhood representatives was Elaine Clabeaux. She said that although there were times where talks became argumentative, overall the task force members worked well together.
"We were different people with different bits of knowledge and it was up to each of us to educate the others on what we knew," Clabeaux said.
In January 2006 the decision was made — the Saratoga City Council voted 4-1 to approve a plan that would allow the development of a full-size soccer field at the park. The task force would later agree with the plan, to the dismay of the park's neighbors.
Multiple meetings were held by the city with each one lasting late into the night. A January 2006 council meeting lasted five-and-a-half hours alone as 80 people spoke on the issue.
But while the infighting among residents continued, it turned out that West Valley College would help resolve the issue as plans to build multiple soccer fields on the college campus were revealed. The council would allocate $250,000 in August 2006 to help care for the fields and make necessary improvements to them.
Although not the end of the story, those decisions would be the turning point in a 36-year debate. The task force, which had been disbanded months earlier, reconvened in September 2006 to come up with a new vision for the park. That plan would include adding bathrooms, a half-size basketball court, tennis courts, a bocce ball court and a meditation garden.
Those plans were kept and a groundbreaking was held at the park in November 2008. And eight months later the issue would be put to rest forever.
Before the grand opening began on July 17, Couch thought back on all that had led up to the event.
"He had such a violent death with being surrounded by protests and rioting and people not getting along in his own community. And to see the Saratoga community fighting over the park really created a lot of unhappiness. It was really sad. And it was ironic," she said.
But in the end, it all turned out.
"The outcome is wonderful," she said as she glanced around at the park. "It's nice to see that people sat down and worked on a compromise and came up with a beautiful solution. This is a really lovely place."