By Jennifer McGraw

LODI (CBS13) — It’s a city known for its fine wines, but the drive in from Highway 99 may seem a bit bitter.

“It should be a gateway thoroughfare, it doesn’t look like it when you got tents and bikes and shopping carts,” Mike Bennett said, commander of the American Legion.

The hall backs up to Lawrence Park as you enter the city.

“This building should be sacred ground, and it’s not; it’s abused,” Bennett said.

Instead, vagrants have run residents right out, and it’s been bad for business.

“The homeless are defecating, dumping their needles, building camps here,” he adds.

Over the years people have been caught breaking into the building and just the other day throwing knives at trees for target practice.

“We spent thousands of thousands of dollars in man-hours to prevent damage, to prevent intrusion,” Bennett said. “We are just kind of fed up.

The city has been trying for years to stop the abuse and even tried to shut down the bathrooms.

“Staff would routinely be picking up hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia,” said Jeff Hood, director of Parks and Recreation.

They made a few recommendations to city council; one was adding a dog park.

“We got some pushback, so we are trying to find some other ways to activate the park for the community there so it could be a vibrant place,” he said.

The real problem is a lack of funding.

“It would require probably some type of investment to construct the type of amenities that would make the park more inviting to the community,” Hood said.

But Bennett believes making it a parking lot for the Lodi Grape Festival would be ideal for the business.

A spokesman for the company said there have been break-ins and vandalism as well, and it’s driving away business.

“This problem will not go away until the character of this park is totally turned upside down and made inhospitable,” Bennett added.

He fears the character of the city will be tarnished if nothing’s done.

“It’s Lodi’s future, you can either seize it or just let it go to pot like so many other areas where the homeless problem has been allowed to blossom,” he said.

The city is looking to put up a fence around the park until it can come up with a feasible option.


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