Topics of conversation at Colby Park in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood typically revolve around things like themed birthday parties, local real-estate prices, or who’s sending their kids to which elementary school. But last weekend, conversations had shifted to The Note and what kind of jerk might have left it behind. Was it a shady day-care operator intent on theft? A child-hating vigilante neighbor?
Whomever it was had gathered up all the park’s toddler toys, donated by neighborhood parents, into a small area. Taped to a plastic kiddie picnic table amid the heap was the following message, neither signed, nor dated, nor typed neatly on city letterhead. It was in fact written with a Sharpie: “DUE Too [sic] Citizen Complaints /and City Liability Toys will be removed from PARK in 5 Working DAYS Thank You.”
Parents who’d brought their children around to play on Saturday morning were at first perplexed, then annoyed. “It does not seem official,” said Lisa Kitchen, there with Caleb, her four-year-old. “Maybe the toys should be cleaned out sometimes, but this is different. Is someone trying to steal the toys? The purpose is not clear.”
“It’s mean and ridiculous,” said Heather Rose, whose two-year-old Sophia was innocently checking out the pile. “Petty. She loves this place because of all the toys. It fosters cooperation between the kids, and I think if all the toys were gone, less kids would come play, which I guess is what the neighbor was hoping for.”
But a little sleuthing seemed to rule out the grumpy-neighbor theory: The note was scrawled on the back of a many-generations-photocopied public notice form that Oakland’s Public Works employees use to alert public park users prior to applying pesticides. There’d been no such sprayings at the park recently, and the form wasn’t the sort of thing your average person would have lying around as scratch paper.
When told of the note, Anita Halpern, who lives across the street from Colby Park, could scarcely believe anybody would have complained about the toys. Before long, the former neighborhood activist was making phone calls to raise a little hell. Halpern, now in her eighties, played a key role in creating Colby Park in the 1960s – back then neighbors used to call her the “tree lady,” she said. “That’s disturbing,” Halpern said of the note. “I mean, who is it [the toys] hurting?”
Her theory: The playthings were inconveniencing the Public Works guy who mows the grass, so instead of putting in a little extra effort, the lazy employee decided to take matters into his own hands and rid the park of its toys. “They won’t take them away,” the old lady promised. “We’ll see to that.”
So was the Grinch really a deceitful, cold-hearted city employee? We’re gonna track us down some public officials and get some answers. Stay tuned for chapter 2. — Michael Mechanic
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