As parks go, California Place Park, a quarter-acre patch of grass in the Admiral Way neighborhood of West Seattle, is a blank slate. The park is pretty but ill-used, with just a few large trees on 1,900 square feet of otherwise naked grass.

So you might expect that a proposal by a neighborhood group to add a natural playscape for children—featuring plants, logs, boulders, rocks, and trees—would be greeted with cheers by neighborhood residents.

Not so fast. Residents of nearby homes, including a retirement facility less than two blocks away, are adamantly opposed to the project. They showed up en masse at a recent city-sponsored meeting to protest a plan proposed by a neighborhood group called Friends and Neighbors of North Admiral (FANNA) to add a playscape to the park. FANNA has received a $15,000 Neighborhood Matching Fund grant from Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods to fund the planning stages of its project.

The opposition is as fierce as their arguments are bizarre. "If they put in a natural play area, it would provide a place for people to hide," says eight-year Admiral Way resident and senior citizen Janis Bailey. She says the playscape would turn a park that had been "beautiful, safe, and crime free" into a haven for "vagrants [and] drug use in the bushes." Fellow playscape opponent and 69-year-old Admiral Way resident Dennis Ross adds, "If you change the configuration as it is today and include these other materials, there is not enough space for other people to enjoy it. It would just be for the small kids."

FANNA cochair Manuela Slye, noting that the "playscape" doesn't actually include any play equipment, says the park will be "intended for any age."

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City council parks committee chairman Tom Rasmussen says "people are really polarized... in the neighborhood. We want to be kid-friendly and family-friendly... whether it's at the current park site or somewhere nearby."

Rasmussen sent an e-mail to park opponents and supporters on November 17 emphasizing that the project is only in the early stages and "may or may not include a play area." Slye agrees, "We don't have a plan or a design, just a bunch of ideas and a group of neighbors who want to see [California Place Park] used." recommended