To some parents, ballgames are more important than families
By Brad Smith
TALENT, Ore. -- Ryan James declared that he would fight for the Phoenix-Talent Little League.
"If it means that I have to get a picket sign and block (FEMA) equipment from going into the field, I'll do it," he said.
A number of people cheered and applauded afterwards.
That was the scene at a recent emergency meeting of the PTLL board meeting, held in response to an emergency Talent city council session held last Friday. Talent's interim city manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner signed off executive orders, having the city working alongside FEMA to create temporary housing for residents displaced by the Almeda Fire. FEMA would study a number of possible locations to see if they are viable for temporary housing.
One location is the south side of Chuck Roberts Park and two of its baseball fields.
"We have to move fast," McLeod-Skinner said during the Zoom meeting. "We have a window of 18 months to get this done and we're nearly six months into having our families displaced. We had to fast track this."
Should FEMA feel that the park is suitable, the agency would place power, sewer and other infrastructure in the park then move in approximately 29 trailers for the displaced families. Once the trailers aren't needed, FEMA will rebuild or replace everything removed and the park reverts back to the city.
Enter the PTLL parents.
During the Friday night Zoom meeting, some parents and "concerned" individuals -- some of whom not living in Talent -- voiced opposition to the proposal. While most claimed they were concerned about the displaced families, they were upset that kids wouldn't be able to play their games.
During the meeting and on social media, there were insinuations that Talent was doing this for money and that it wanted to get rid of the PTLL. When one media outlet released a badly written article on the situation, Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood went on social media with this post:
The purpose of the meeting (the first of several) was to begin the discussion, let everyone know that of the several contingency/back up sites, one of them could be the back parking lot/2 of 4 diamonds at CR Park. The council wasn’t “prepared to vote on this” because we can’t vote on this. There is only a discussion on the table of all the sites we need to look at and a council decision isn’t on the table, which was made clear both in the agenda as well as verbally at the meeting. FEMA hasn’t even evaluated any of the CONTINGENCY sites, of which this is only one possibility... possibility to become a backup site, one of a few back up sites. It was said at the meeting that FEMA has looked at over 300 sites. Erin Parent was there, spoke and asked questions. It was said that we would have several discussion about this among the other sites. It was said that the two mobile home parks are likely going to be used but that FEMA needs several back up sites. It was said at the meeting that are more discussion to have with neighbors and Little League. Working together seems like a better approach than taking a stand. That seems premature or someone is stoking misinformation.. It was said at the meeting that FEMA restores what they demolish. I can understand with only 4 years left on the lease, they have concerns but wouldn’t that be a more positive place to start the lease renegotiations around brand new diamonds? I feel like that is not likely because my money is on FEMA never needing them, but if they do, a petition war, which side has the biggest petition seems unproductive.
And in an email to media outlets:
I hope to add clarity when I say that The City of Talent hasn’t chosen any site with FEMA yet. We are viewing several sites with FEMA, one of which is just two of the four diamonds at Chuck Robert’s park. We will also be showing FEMA another site at Chuck Robert’s park, while we continue to look for more site, all of which will serve as possible contingency sites. Contingency in case any of the two mobile home parks, which actually are chosen, don’t fill the need or fall through. I appreciate the concerns but we are pretty far from “chosen” at this point.
Please accept this email as an introduction to Jamie McLeod-Skinner who is Talent’s Interim City Manager. She is working her heart out to provide FEMA with as many “back up” sites as possible so if something falls through, we can still bring our families home without losing more time. I particularly appreciate that she is sharing her work with the community, so we can prepare every contingency for our people to be safe and sheltered in their hometown.
However, some of the PTLL weren't having it.
It should be noted that a number of parents did say that of it came down to a choice between kids playing ball or families coming home -- they would choose the families.
James and others weren't so gracious.
"They can go somewhere else," he said. "I played ball on these fields. So will my kids. I'm going to fight for that!"
As a number of others spoke out against the FEMA proposal, one person noted: "It's like a parade of middle-aged men who have lived mediocre lives and Springsteen's 'Glory Days' is their personal anthem. It's sad."
However, a representative from the Medford Little League was on hand. She said that it could be possible the PTLL could use their fields. It was something the two organizations could talk about at a later time.
Some parents said that if they had assurances that the park would still be accessible to the PTLL, they were fine with the proposed plan.
Meantime, scores of Talent residents are scattered throughout the Rogue Valley. Some are in motels and temporary housing. Others are living in cars or have been camping in tents the last few months. Some are struggling with red tape as they deal with insurance companies and government bureaucracy. It's shocking that as the six month anniversary of the Almeda Fire nears, there are elements in Talent determined to keep families from returning.
Months ago, people were declaring "Talent Strong."
Now, it's "Talent NIMBY."