WALNUT CREEK -- Neighbors of the 10-acre Lar Rieu Park are calling on city leaders to do something about the vacant house on the property that has fallen into disrepair -- and city officials agree.
"I think we have an obligation to make an affirmative decision with regard the future of the Lar Rieu residence," said Councilman Bob Simmons at the April 16 City Council meeting. "And not just allow things to deteriorate over time. It is a public property now and we do need to have a public process before we make a decision."
Miriam Lar Rieu granted her 10-acre parcel at 196 El Camino Corto, including her historic home, to the city nearly 30 years ago to be used as parkland after she died. With sweeping views of Mount Diablo, then-Mayor Bob Schroder assured Lar Rieu in a letter that her wishes would be "assiduously adhered to."
Lar Rieu died in 2003, but the park didn't open to the public until 2007. Since then, not much else has been done.
"Nine acres of the 10-acre park are being enjoyed by the residents ... approximately one acre, the yard and home, are in disrepair and increasing decay -- vandalism and crime are a continuing problem," said resident Hardy Miller at the council meeting.
Miller and others in the Walnut Heights neighborhood are members of the Friends of Lar Rieu Park group. They want the gardens and home to be repaired and restored, for the crime situation to improve and all at no cost to the city, Miller said. He stressed that the nine acres of open space property are fine and should be left alone.
Their solution: do a request for proposals searching for a family that wants to live in the house, he said. Those people would be responsible to restore the home and gardens at their expense and then could live there lease-free, Miller said.
Other options such as allowing a city employee to live there would cost the city money, selling the property would cause an uproar and break the promise to Lar Rieu, and doing nothing would invite further decay, he said.
Over the last six weeks the group has met with some homeowners who live near Lar Rieu Park, and nearly everyone thinks it's a good option, said Tom Conrad, a member of the group.
But others who live on El Camino Corto took exception to the idea of having a family live in the house at the park.
"We don't see the point in having a private residence in a public park," said Jennifer DiGrazia, a resident who, along with another speaker, asked the council to hear all sides before making any decisions on the future of Lar Rieu.
And that seems to be what will happen next.
City Council members agreed the future of Lar Rieu Park needs to be addressed.
Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson expressed interest in creative ideas that will allow a group to take over the care and maintenance of the home. She gave examples of other communities that have had private-public partnerships for historic landmarks and said Lar Rieu presents an "incredible opportunity."
Mayor Cindy Silva said that 10 years ago when the property was discussed there were questions about how neighbors felt the park and residence should be used. She agreed it's time to figure it out.
"We have hoped for far too long that the answer would come but benign neglect is not furthering the answer," she said.
The council directed the city staff to come up with a public process to determine the future of Lar Rieu.
One thing that the city will likely not do is try and sell any of the land. When that idea was floated in 2005 by city management, neighbors were up in arms and said any such action would be a breach of the city's contract with Lar Rieu. At that time, the estimated cost to renovate the house and property hovered around $2.6 million.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.