Your tax dollars at work: Morcom Rose Garden

It can get frustrating being a taxpayer in Oakland, huh? The City passes a tax to hire more police, you pay your tax, and you get less police. The City passes a tax to keep all the libraries open six days a week, you pay your tax, and the libraries get closed on Mondays anyhow. You vote for a tax to keep bus fares affordable, and then the State takes away all the bus’s money and then service gets cut and fares go up anyway.

But it’s good to remember sometimes that voting to give the government money doesn’t always turn out bad. The long-awaited 12th Street reconstruction project that just broke ground last week is one example of Oaklanders getting something nice in return for all that money we pay, thanks to Measure DD. And at tonight’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board meeting (PDF), we get to hear about another nice little upcoming project funded by bond proceeds.

Morcom Rose Garden

You guys know about the Rose Garden, right? It’s…well, it’s a rose garden.

Morcom Rose Garden

It’s nice. I mean, as flowers go, I personally think roses are kind of overrated, and would probably visit the garden more if it were full of some other kind of flowers that were prettier and smelled better. But it is nice. It’s just off Grand Avenue right by the Piedmont border. People have weddings there.

The Rose Garden is also where they give out the Mother of the Year award. They have a nice little rose-bush lined path where they have plaques with the names of all the Mothers of the Year since it started in 1954.

Morcom Rose Garden

The City bought the property in 1912 as a neighborhood park, but made it into a rose garden in the 1930s.

The Rose Garden is fortunate to be supported by a very dedicated group of volunteers.

The Rose Garden is getting a makeover!

Don’t worry. It’s still going to be full of roses. Maybe “facelift” would be a more appropriate term. Anyway, thanks to Measure WW, that East Bay Regional Park District bond you guys passed in November 2008, all sorts of improvements are on the way for the Rose Garden.

Of course, since the Rose Garden is a City landmark, anything you do to it has to go through all sorts of review to ensure that the historical integrity of the garden will not be compromised. And so at their meeting tonight (PDF), Oakland’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board will be reviewing the proposed WW improvements to the Morcom Rose Garden (PDF).

The project is mostly a whole bunch of kind of little improvements that will hopefully all add up to make the Rose Garden a nicer place to be (and a more desirable facility for renting).

Jean Street entrance

Morcom Rose Garden Entrance

The garden’s main entrance on Jean Street is quite pretty and welcoming if you got there by, say, walking or taking the bus. But it is not particularly friendly for cars, and if you need to park, you’re just going to be trying your luck randomly along this residential street. Which I suppose is fine for most people, but a problem for those with limited mobility. So they’re going to add a handicap parking space on Jean Street, an accessibility code-compliant ramp to the sidewalk, and a drop-off zone at the entrance.


Morcom Rose Gaden tool shed

Despite what some Councilmembers seem to think, parks really should have restrooms. The Rose Garden does have restrooms right now, but they are not at all handicap accessible. You have to walk up a steep staircase to get there. So they’re going to fix that problem by taking the tool shed (pictured above) at the front of the garden and turning it into a restroom. Then the old restroom will become storage.

Paths and Staircases

Morcom Rose Garden path

Other improvements include repairs to the crumbling staircases and falling apart paths, which are desperately needed. I don’t know if you guys can see in that photo (you can click on it to make it bigger), but the path there is like, completely disintegrated. It’s horrible! With the improvements, they’re going to use some kind of different material for the path (“decomposed granite”) which will apparently be cheaper to maintain and also is better for the garden’s historical integrity.

They are also adding lighting on the staircases to make it safer for the people who walk through the garden at night. Oh, and signage, which is also good, because right now, there is little to no signage at all, and what little there is kind of sucks.

Improvements to Restroom Building

Restroom Building! That’s a terrible name! They’re going to have to change the name, I guess, since they’re moving the restrooms to the tool shed. Anyway, I guess this building has lots of holes in it, so part of the garden improvements will include patching up the holes and waterproofing it so it doesn’t get damaged any more.

So, like I said above, people allegedly rent out the Rose Garden for weddings. I don’t know how often that happens, though. I have never been to one of these Rose Garden weddings, and honestly, it seems like kind of a weird space for them. I don’t really understand where all your guests are supposed to sit. I mean, I can see how this space here at the Restroom Building would make a nice place for the ceremony, but where do you put all the chairs? There’s no space for them because there are rose bushes everywhere!

Morcom Rose Garden building

There are some benches scattered among the rose bushes in front of the restroom building, but I can’t imagine them holding all that many people. Maybe it’s just a good place to have a wedding for people who don’t have really large extended families, I guess. Anyway, with the renovations, this area is going to accessible, plus they are going to move those bulletin boards off the back wall so people don’t have to have flyers and stuff in their wedding pictures. Also, they’re going to put a shelf up in its place so people can put flowers up there.

Fountain Upgrades

Finally, the Rose Garden fountain is getting major upgrades too. I don’t know a lot about fountain technology, but the current fountain cleaning system, where the gardeners drain the whole thing and scrub it clean every two weeks, sounds very inefficient to me.

Morcom Rose Garden fountain

With the WW improvements, the fountain is going to get some kind of fancy new filtration system that will allow the water to be treated without a lot of work by the gardeners. Sounds great. Hooray for Measure WW!

Anyway, if you want to learn more about the Rose Garden improvements, you can learn about them in the agenda report for tonight Landmarks Board meeting (PDF), or you could always check out the meeting in person. The Rose Garden is the only item on the agenda, and the meeting starts at 6 PM tonight in City Hall Hearing Room 1.

And if you haven’t been to the Rose Garden recently, it really is worth a trip.

22 thoughts on “Your tax dollars at work: Morcom Rose Garden

  1. MarleenLee

    That all sounds just lovely. If the City follows its past practice, it will give all the money away to some outside contractor who has affirmed that it doesn’t manufacture nuclear weapons, or employ anybody in Arizona and all that good stuff, without competitive bidding or any sort of RFP process. Then the contractor will pay its CEO a very good salary, hire undocumented workers, and still manage to come out way over budget. Audits will be performed sporadically and inaccurately by an oversight committee of (literally) potted plants.

    The City will take a good chunk of the money that should have gone to restoring the garden to subsidizing the Landscape and Lighting budget, claiming that this is justified because the rose garden is a form of “landscaping.”

    The contractor will spend the rest of the money digging stuff up and completing all the demolition work before they realize the money’s all gone. Then we’ll be looking at a mud pit for a few months while the Council debates for a few months whether they should put another parcel tax on the ballot to pay to have the rose garden restored to its original state. They’ll threaten us with having to look at a mud pit from here to eternity unless we pony up the extra cash.

  2. livegreen

    Marleen, Here’s something else the City might do: Set up a competitive RFP process, bids are submitted, then the City decides to change the criteria after the fact (for any # of reasons), and they change the criteria used to evaluate the bids.

    Nobody looks to see they did this, and even if somebody does, nothing is done about it…

  3. Dave

    The park is beautiful and fine the way it is. Why waste money potentially ruining it? Reminds me of my old home in Santa Cruz where they had a funky but usable changing rooms at the Harvey West community swimming pool. Millions of dollars later, they build a giant ‘facility’ to take it’s place, now the City can’t afford to keep it open without charging lots of $$ to use the pool. Another ridiculous rip off.

    When i last visited the Morcom Rose garden, I saw that the city was red tagging some beautiful old cypress trees with neat, twisty trunks near the rest rooms. Must all improvements be so destructive and stupid? Leave the Rose Garden alone.

  4. Naomi Schiff

    Folks, the somewhat generic comments above reveal that it would be good if you checked out the project and how the Rose Garden is used. The weddings are usually booked for an area at the top of the cascade, not at the bottom where the reflecting pool is. There are weddings quite frequently. I seem to see one every time I go up there in the summer on a Sunday.

    Tora, the recently promoted head gardener, is extremely knowledgeable and careful, and has done a great job of recruiting, training, and organizing all those volunteers, who love the garden and won’t allow anything terrible to happen, I believe. I don’t find it analogus to the Santa Cruz swimming pool.

    People with worries about its integrity should definitely attend the landmarks board to make comments. But do consider that if we want to make sure the city doesn’t waste money, it might be wise to avoid costly lawsuits on accessibility or on injury occurring in a public facility. The good news is, the Rose Garden can bring in events income to help support its upkeep.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Apologies if my post wasn’t clear about the weddings at the restroom building. The improvements (funded by an East Bay Regional Park District bond) largely focus on improving ADA accessibility (I find it disturbing to see people so dismissive of this goal), and part of that is to create an accessible wedding area, which will be down at the bottom.

  6. MarleenLee

    Okay, so I missed the part about Measure WW being a bond measure sponsored by the East Bay Regional Parks District. It is not related to the City. I hope EBRP is better managed than the City. And of course ADA accessibility is a worthy goal. But I bet the new restroom building isn’t half as charming as the existing one. And my general cynicism remains.

  7. Andrew

    There’s already been a lot of work done at the garden recently to clean out overgrowth, remove decrepit trees (including those wretched “beautiful twisty” acacias that are even worse than eucalyptus) and revive the roses. Obviously the previous commenters have not been to the garden and are pleased to belittle it. But I’m a regular visitor there and I value it. And I’ve seen some very happy wedding parties there, not to mention a host of regular joggers, strollers and peaceful occupants. I’m not a rose fancier, but people who are love the place. That’s OK with me; I’m not a lawn bowler either and the arena at Lakeside Park is OK with me because we need places that excite different people’s passions and pride.

    New bathrooms, wherever they put them, will surely be a great improvement, as will a bit of help in the parking spaces and pathways. My big fear is that the new work will fall short of the standard set by the WPA. But the regulars will be watching and speaking up.

  8. Naomi Schiff

    The new restroom building isn’t really new: it is an old building currently used as the toolshed, and guess what: it formerly housed restrooms! What is proposed is to swap the current restrooms, inaccessibly housed in the little building with the columns and the steps, back to the former restrooms. Then, the tools can be housed in what is now restrooms. Everyone should end up happy, and exteriors will look much the same, only cleaned up and freshly painted. The biggest construction job is to fix a collapsing old rock retaining wall, and to re-surface some badly eroded walkways. I think folks will find the changes pretty inoffensive, not too expensive, and, as you say, paid for under Measure WW.

  9. annalee allen

    I don’t think the EBRPD has anything to do with Measure WW. Naomi? Correct me if I’m wrong.

  10. Born in Oakland

    I like decomposed granite for walkways. If you want to take a look at what it looks like it has been installed under all the Palm Trees at Jack London Square close to the Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. I am not certain I love that application but it drains well so water doesn’t need to have a run-off path and it is pretty sturdy.

  11. len raphael

    bio, in a few year DG looks looks and feels like gritty dirt. not low maintenance. you gotta keep filling in dips and divets. if they don’t chintz on the underlayment prep sb ok. the alternatives are very expensive initial costs, lower maintenance and look better long term.

    if only we had volunteers adopting other parks here like the rose garden. maybe just the smaller ones.

    btw, all you piedmont haters out there, aren’t a bunch of the rose garden volunteers from piedmont?

    -len raphael

  12. PRE

    Naomi Schiff – thanks for the always great insight that you provide! I love the Rose Garden and am sure that I’ll love it even more when the WW work is done. I can’t believe the level of kvetching that goes on here about good stuff.

  13. len raphael

    Ralph, the EBExress ousd piece. Some of the best comments I’ve seen on the topic.

    Some of the comments that were not just hating on charters highlighted that it’s time for charter schools to get evaluated more often, reined in, and closed more often. Didn’t realize how many of them were essentially storefront sized. or maybe large homeschooling.

    Maybe Obama’s behind the curve on the charters and it’s time to go back to fixing public schools with the lessons learned from the better charter schools.

  14. Naomi Schiff

    I have been aware of some charter schools that are absolutely horrendous, and others that seemed fine. The range is much much greater, I think, than among the public schools, and that’s pretty worrisome. I think Len’s comment on evaluation is exactly right. Plus, these charters contribute to the general overspending on administrative costs, of course. As we divide our schools into more and more small institutions, the overhead goes up both for admin. and for facilities. Seems nuts in a time of fiscal contraction.

  15. Ralph

    Okay since this thread has been hi-jacked I will offer my $.02 on charters. They don’t solve the problem. Over 90% of students are in public schools excluding charters. Adding charters is not going to solve the problem. It will however lead to many small schools with their own OH issues.

  16. Paul Hays Post author

    This is wonderful news! The Rose Garden is truly a hidden gem and hopefully with these upgrades it won’t be so hidden anymore. I’ve been visiting the Garden with my two year old at least three times a week since he was born, we love it. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the meeting last night; could anyone tell me what they are planning for the Chetwood street entrance? The original plans called for a turnaround and overlook.

  17. Naomi Schiff

    If you read page 32, it seems that it is still uncertain what will happen at Chetwood. I think it might be good to make contact with the Rose Garden folks and RPR if the neighborhood people want to see something there. I couldn’t tell whether and how much budget allowance would be available, but I hope you will check it out!

    (By the way, do you have an aunt named Marilyn? If so . . . )



  18. floribunda

    Interesting — I was married at the rose garden almost 20 years ago. It’s a great spot for a small group and it was inexpensive to rent… not sure how much it costs now! The improvements as described sound pretty reasonable to me and I look forward to seeing what happens.

  19. Harriet

    The park-keeper at the Rose GArden is al that you could ask for in a public employee. So knowledgeable and hardworking. She has lost so much staff in the last few years, I don’t know how she does it, even with the volunteers.
    I live across from the vernon entrance to the rose garden, and I can attest that there are plenty of weddings!

    A great place to lie on your back and stare at the sky, even if you can take or leave roses.