My stepmother Helen Thaler was 94 when she died in her Leisure World home, either Wednesday night, Aug. 28, or Thursday morning, Aug. 29, 2013. We met when I was 17. I’m 52 now.

A retired kindergarten teacher, she could be a wee bit of a tyrant. Sometimes in the heat of a discussion about something important to her, she would wag her finger in your face and yell at you—even if you and she were already in agreement.

She made my father’s last years happy. For that alone I would have done nearly anything reasonable for her.

She could be unrelenting. Convinced my doctor had recommended an unhealthy diet—”Doctors don’t know everything, so doctors don’t know anything!”—she nagged at me daily for 10 months to abandon the diet prescribed to me. When I became nauseous each time I ate, I capitulated.

She thought lying was stupid, a childish game the childish male gender played. Yet I heard her lie once. A mentally ill family member was obsessed with me to the point where she would get upset if I didn’t answer her call on the first ring. Around the time of the first US-Iraq war, I decided to take a break from the crazy calls and have dinner with my stepmother. Her phone rang. My relative had conned my father’s church secretary into giving up my stepmother’s unlisted phone number.

Helen said: “Charles isn’t here, Mary!” Then she hung up, returned to the table and told me who had called. I don’t think Helen wasted a heartbeat of guilt over the lie she’d told.

She seemed convinced that it was a mortal sin to say no to a salesperson, charity or beggar. If she didn’t have money with her, she insisted I give money to beggars. My father was never able to convince her she was doing more harm than good.

She hated war. She served in the US Army during World War II. When financial issues came up later in her life, someone pointed out she was entitled to benefits. She refused to apply on the grounds that money belonged to people who needed it.

Once, we were in her car in a parking lot at a swap meet when we saw a man take a baseball bat out of his car. He and another man were apparently having an argument. Helen insisted we get out of the car. As I looked for an escape route in the event the man with the bat went after us, Helen glowered at him as if the force of a petite, hunch-backed old woman’s contempt was bound to overwhelm him. Maybe it did. The man didn’t acknowledge our presence, but he must have been aware of the witnesses around him. The silence became oppressive–and he finally got in his car and left.

When I was 38, I was diagnosed with cancer. She yelled at my radiation oncologist: “It’s poison! It’s poison!” It took me three days to talk the doctor into resuming treatment. I stopped speaking to her for one day. She eventually called, crying and apologizing. I don’t think she was remorseful—I think she honestly believed she did the right thing and honestly believed I did not have cancer. To be fair, three of her friends were also diagnosed the same month I was.

She loved cats and insisted they were “Fur Persons,” a term borrowed from a French novel. She loved to read—Agatha Christie and similar writers were her favorites. Me, I’m more a Dashiell Hammett sort of guy.

She was bed ridden the last couple of years of her life. She wanted to die at home. She did. She was just beginning to show hints of dementia. She checked out with most of her marbles, still able to enjoy her light mysteries I spent many nights at her place in Leisure World watching over her during the last months.Even at the end, she worried about me—always insisting that I make myself dinner. She complained I worked too hard. At one time, she ordered me to get a woman and get married. I had to gently say I would find a mate—or not—in my own good time.

Near the end, she was much easier to get along with than when I was younger. The fire had died out, but embers remained. The little old mystery fan in the bed wasn’t the woman who stared down a man with a baseball bat. I said good-bye to the force of nature a long time ago. I’ll miss her. Rest in peace, Helen Thaler.

The 2013 Seal Beach Parks and Community Services Master Plan proposes that Seal Beach spend at least $61,500 on planting at least 200 trees.

That seems like an awful lot of money to me.

I realize trees are important to parks. A park without a single tree would be boring. It might as well be a putting green.

I know how important trees can be to people. When I was a young boy (a phrase I once promised myself I would never use), one of my favorite things about our church was playing around a tree located between the chapel and the Sunday School classrooms. One day, the grown ups decided to remove the tree. I started losing all affection for my church. Then they stopped selling donuts and used books, After that, I attended only because my parents took me there. But my heart left the place long before I stopped attending. So I’ll be the first to agree that trees are important.

Even so, a minimum $61,500—quite likely more than that—seems like an awful lot of money for trees. There’s only so much money in the bank. There are many things we must pay for and quite a few things we’d like to have if we the people of Seal Beach can afford to have them.

The Master Plan provides a break down of estimated costs for improving most of the parks in Seal Beach. Some costs haven’t been determined yet, which is why I wrote “at least” in front of the $61,500 total cost of at least 200 trees. The cost of 40 of those trees, to be planted in Gum Grove Nature Park, is “to be determined.”

The grand totals are not spelled out in the report. I looked at the section of the Master Plan called “Park Renovation with Projected Cost Estimate” and used a calculator to total the cost figures that were available. Unfortunately, not all the figures were available.

The price range for each individual tree, depending on which park improvement project is being discussed, is either $300 each or, in one case, $3,000 each. Assuming that price difference is not a math error—the five trees proposed for Corsair Park are listed as costing $3,000 each—then I have to ask why the proposed park improvements call for one park to get such expensive trees.

Even if that figure is a math error, which is quite possible, the fact remains that the cost of 40 of the trees hasn’t been determined yet, so we’re likely looking at a mighty big bill for trees for Seal Beach. And the cost of improving some park and recreation facilities isn’t spelled out in the Master Plan because the costs for those improvement projects is “yet to be determined.” So the final cost of trees alone—never mind expenses mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act—is likely to be much more than $61,500.

I also question the need for 40 trees for Eisenhower Park and 40 more trees for the Electric Avenue Greenbelt.

It seems to me Seal Beach officials might want to consider planting fewer trees, or getting less expensive trees, or asking the public for donations for more trees for the city’s parks.

The I-405 Freeway bridge will reopen at 1:45 p.m. today. See the homepage

Parks plan on the Tennis Center and an aquatics park

The 2013 Seal Beach Parks and Community Services Master Plan recommends combining the Seal Beach Tennis Center with Bluebell Park.

“With the potential of removing up to four of the tennis courts and combining the acreage of Blue Bell Park, where the return of a larger sports practice field to Blue Bell Park may be achievable, the optimization of the combined acreage of these two sites as a multi-use recreational area could also be attained,” the plan said. “With the majority of Seal Beach residents indicating they do not use the SBTC, the recommended Site-Specific Plan is an exciting opportunity to plan for a facility which offers a broader spectrum of recreational activities which could serve a larger percentage of the community. A critical component of the Site-Specific Plan effort will be to resolve the inadequate parking at the current entrance to the Tennis Center at peak use times.”

“As a part of the Site-Specific Plan, there will be an opportunity to study providing a new community building which offers tennis center staff space, shower and locker facilities, restrooms for both tennis players and community park users, and an improved physical equipment workout area,” the plan said. “Depending on the size of the proposed community building, it could also offer some community meeting space as well. In addition, the multi-purpose facility could be served with public parking from both the existing SBTC parking lot and parking on the Blue Bell Park side of a renovated facility.”

The plan recommended that the city hire a professional park design service to perform a community outreach and design a specific plan for the Tennis Center/Blue Bell Park renovation.

The city’s park consultant, Richard Fischer Associates, hired another consulting firm, the Behavior Research Center, to conduct a survey of 300 individuals about Seal Beach’s park and recreation facilities. The survey found that about half of the individuals surveyed knew something about the Tennis Center, but only 17 percent actually used it.

Then there is the subject of a proposed aquatic center.

McGaugh Pool is beloved. Its days are numbered. What should Seal Beach do about that?

“The first time-sensitive project is to move forward on the selection of an appropriate site and develop the comprehensive plan for a new Aquatic Center for the City of Seal Beach. A recommended site for further in-depth evaluation is a portion of the Boeing facilities in the general vicinity of the intersection of Seal Beach (Boulevard) and Westminster (Avenue). The continued joint use of the aquatic facilities at McGaugh Elementary School grows to be highly problematic, as that aged facility is nearing the end of any public use,” said the 2013 Seal Beach Parks and Community Services Master Plan.

The Master Plan recommended going ahead with an Aquatic Center Study. “This effort must identify a site location which can accommodate not only swimming and other aquatic activities, but supporting facilities for proper staffing and residual indoor community space for public meetings. Further evaluation of opportunities offered by the Boeing site along Westminster )Avenue) should be a critical part of this study. Alternative access opportunities for children on bicycles to access the facility would be highly beneficial to the community. Continuation of programmed use at the current location is not feasible,” the Master Plan said.

I have no idea how to address either of these issues, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Next week: trees in Seal Beach parks

Seal Beach arrested a man for bank fraud and identity theft today. For details, visit the home page of the Seal Beach Sun.

Seal Beach parks are in moderate compliance with a federal law, according to the 2013 Seal Beach Parks and Community Services Master Plan.

“Federally-mandated ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access to the city’s parks and their amenities is currently only met in moderate fashion,” the plan said. “With limited difficult terrain to restrict the achievement of this mandate, a number of the city’s parks have the potential to better serve those with physical challenges in their lives.”

The required improvements vary.

“In some cases this includes hard surface paths-of-travel from designated parking spaces to observation and activity areas, while handicap accessible picnic tables, drinking fountains, and playground surfacing can significantly improve access to several of the city’s parks’ areas,” the plan said.

Permanent restrooms would apparently be a big help.

“Permanent restroom buildings have been requested by a significant number of community outreach participants. Heather Park and the Electric Avenue Greenbelt are two park locations being proposed for restroom buildings within this Master Plan document. In those locations which can only be served by portable restrooms, there is a need to replace a minimum of one portable at each site with an ADA accessible model,” the plan said.

Here we run into some problems. Bathrooms cost money. According to the Master Plan, the estimated cost of a restroom building with picnic shelter and pad for the Electric Avenue Greenbelt would be $350,000.

The report doesn’t mention the unpleasant reality that a homeless person might be more inclined to spend time in a park with a restroom than in a park without a restroom. I can sympathize with the homeless person’s plight, but I’m not sure the people living on either side of the Electric Avenue Greenbelt–or near any other Seal Beach park, for that matter–would be all that crazy about this idea.

Yet failure to comply with the ADA could expose Seal Beach to litigation.

Still another issue no one has brought up, probably because consultants tend to think in terms of solutions and I tend to think in terms of problems: the Greenbelt has a plastic bag dispenser so dog owners make pick up their pets’ waste. What’s to stop someone from flushing a bag of waste down a public toilet? My concern is that we could end up with jammed toilets and expensive plumbing bills. But we’ve got to have the plastic bag dispenser there to keep the neighborhood clean and sanitary.

None of this is in the Master Plan, which recommends improving park furniture. That recommendation is sensible considering that we have an usually large senior community in Seal Beach, which in turn means an unusually large disabled community.

The plan recommends that Seal Beach “(u)pgrade park furnishings to provide ADA accessibility for citizens who are physically challenged as they use the parks for various activities. Generally, the public parks system provides a significantly substandard
level of compliance with the federally-mandated ADA Accessibility Standards; which translates to very limited access to recreational activities for community members with special physical challenges.”

Next week: the swimming pool and the Tennis Center.

Seal Beach has six playgrounds according to the Seal Beach Parks and Community Services
Master Plan. The document says they all need work.

“As a generalized statement, most of the City’s park playground equipment areas are in need of replacement or upgrades,” said the Master Plan. “The separation of pre-school children’s play equipment from the faster-paced and more challenging activities of grade school children’s playgrounds has been requested by the community as a part of the Outreach Program. Designing for the combination of separating the two age groups and meeting the current federal safety standards for safety zones within the playgrounds will result in children’s playgrounds covering an increased amount of the existing park areas. An expansion of a greater percentage of play ground surfacing as (Consumer Product Safety Commission)-approved resilient safety surfacing is also a part of the Master Plan recommendations.”

The document, compiled by Richard Fisher Associaties, said the community has also asked for “Incorporation of more benches or other seating opportunities for adult supervision of children’s playground activities,” which makes sense. Improving adult supervision would increase child safety in Seal Beach parks.

To do this citywide will cost money. A lot of money. To give you an idea, consider the figures provided by Richard Fisher Associaties for just some of the proposed improvements to Edison Park:

• $130,000 to expand the playground to include pre-school play equipment
• $20,000 to rehabilitate existing playground equipment
• $40,600 to upgrade 2,900 square feet of playground surfacing
• $2,400 to replace two benches
• $4,000 to replace two picnic tables
• $4,500 for 15 new trees for the park

And that list is by no means complete for Edison Park, let alone the Seal Beach Recreation and Parks system in its entirety.

How this will be done is something I leave to people who are smarter than I am, my fellow Seal Beach citizens. But we may need to choose between what we would like to do and what we absolutely must do.

I’ll write more on what must be done next week, when I tell you what the Parks Master Plan has to say about Seal Beach’s compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.