Though in its 39th year, the annual PAESAN (Police and Emergency Services Appreciation Night) hosted by the Pacific Beach Town Council still managed to break new ground during ceremonies at Crown Point Park on Sept. 25.
Event organizers unveiled the first ever Rose Marie Starns Mission Bay Park Award for Inspirational Leadership, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer was on hand to present the award to Stacey LoMedico as its opening recipient before a crowd of at least 300 people.
Currently, serving as Assistant Chief Operating Officer for the City since 2013, LoMedico was recognized for her almost 20 years of service in the Park & Recreation Department, rising to the top post of director in 2007.
The award’s namesake, Starns, was a tireless advocate for recreational opportunities, as well as protection for Mission Bay Park. She started in 1966 and eventually became the founding executive director of Mission Bay Lessees Association. It was Starns who helped initiate the Outboard-Bathtub Race in Mission Bay, as well as countless other events, such as spring egg hunts, sandcastle contests, and arts and photo festivals, among others.
LoMedico vividly recalls meeting Starns when she was just starting her career at Park & Rec, but it was less than love at first sight. “I was scared of her,” LoMedico said. “I met her in the 1990s for the first time and her reputation preceded her. She didn’t like me when we first met.”
LoMedico explained that she was working on a development project and “couldn’t imagine that anyone would not like bringing money into the City.” However, upon meeting her, Starns tore into LoMedico for not introducing her project through proper channels to build consensus among stakeholders, thereby threatening to upset the delicate balance needed, by causing grudges and other negative reactions.
“She made sure I understood,” said LoMedico. “I never did that again. Many years later, when I became Park & Recreation Director, [Starns] said I did a great job. It is ironic. That makes this award special to me.”
Namara Mercer is Starns’ daughter and serves in the same position her mother held, as Lessees Association executive director. She said that if her mother were alive, she would have definitely agreed with their choice for the award’s receiver, but definitely not with its name.
“She would have said absolutely not,” Mercer contends. “She did not like to be in the spotlight. It’s kind of crude to say, but she was very kick ass. That’s something I’ve taken to heart — no fears and get things done. Her legacy is her devotion and advocacy for the beach and bay. It’s very simple. That’s the way she was.”
Aside from the Starns Award, but in accordance with it, the featured City service at this year’s PAESAN was the bay’s park rangers. As customary, organizers raised money to purchase needed items for the Mission Bay Park staff not funded in the park budget.
Culled with input from the staff and named the “Wish List,” the list included windshields, doors, spotlights, PA systems and more, totaling more than $2,400 for a Polaris ATV that the PB Town Council had purchased for the park three years earlier, as well as high-powered devices, such as cameras and binoculars and other, mostly electrical, equipment. The total cost of the Wish List was more than $8,800. The high-powered equipment was on display.
In addition to the Mayor, the event was graced by visits and brief speeches from State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Assembly member Todd Gloria, Council members Barbara Bry (District 1) and Chris Cate (District 6) as well as a delegation representing District 2 Council member Jennifer Campbell, who was in Washington, D.C.
Yet the true stars of the event were the men and women of the first responder departments being admired and thanked by PAESAN. Special honors were awarded to employees selected by their departments for their outstanding service to PB — Mission Bay Park grounds maintenance manager Bill Overstreet, police officer Joseph Hilton, firefighter Catie Casciari and lifeguards Patricia Salgado and Michael Kennedy.
The event was organized by PAESAN chair Denise Friedman for the second year in a row, on a completely volunteer basis. But Friedman said the payoff transcends a salary. “I feel it’s the most important thing to serve those who serve us,” she told PB Monthly. “We (PB Town Council) produce the summer Concerts on the Green, BeachFest, our installation dinner, and many other events over the year, but this is the one thing we do that says, ‘thank you.’ ”