For more than 30 years after it was built, the Gazebo on the Circle went mostly unused. The only time a crowd was seen on the landmark structure was during a special event. Occasionally, a homeless person would camp there until being told by police to move along. Over the years there were few problems and rare reports of graffiti.
However, in the last few years, the Gazebo has become a hangout for teenagers and young adults. Some say it was due to the opening of Starbucks, a popular gathering place for all ages. Others claim that private school buses began dropping off students there.
Whatever the reason, the Gazebo has become a popular hangout for young people and police say it’s also a place where minor crimes occur, as well as a few felonies. To help curtail illegal activities, last week the city posted signs saying: “Attention – No trespassing on the Circle, 10 p.m. – 6 a.m.”
“We’ve had problems there with drugs and vandalism to the Gazebo and the Circle,” said Police Chief Pete Baan. “There’s also graffiti and broken woodwork, so we’re taking this action.”
Since the Gazebo is a public place, Baan feels that the signs will give officers a legal tool to address certain illegal activities.
“We’re not trying to infringe on law-abiding citizens but it’s dark at the posted times and stores are closed, so there’s no reason for anyone to be hanging out there,” said Baan. “We’ve made a directive for officers on how to handle situations. People violating the ordinance may be subject to arrest.”
For teenagers, hanging out is an age-old custom that’s likely to continue until the end of time. Older people also hang out but it has a different connotation. They usually call it getting together and it’s done in homes, at backyard BBQs and in bars.
On a late afternoon last week, several young adults hanging out on the Gazebo were asked what they thought about the new signs. All were courteous and candid about their views.
• Gabrielle Enriquez, 16, said she hangs out at the Gazebo a lot. “Regular curfew is usually 11,” she said. “I know they’re trying to get things under control and keep the population down here, but it’s not really a nighttime thing for me. We’re just hanging out and being teenagers, relaxing and talking and listening to music.”
Enriquez said she hasn’t seen anything out of line or illegal.
• Robert Perez, 21: “It’s just a way for (authorities) to contain, rather than restrict. They’re doing what they feel is right but they’re doing things the wrong way. A lot of us feel that we’re being harassed by the police on a daily basis. I know and we know that’s it’s for our safety and security, but the police should find a way to protect us without harassing us. We do our part to maintain it (the Gazebo).”
• Miguel Guillen, 17: “It’s very responsible on their (authorities) behalf because they’re taking care of our community.” As for witnessing anything improper, Miguel said, “I would prefer to skip that question.”