As gears begin to turn, Temescal hopeful for new park space
on December 8, 2009
If you could turn a slab of cement and portable classrooms into a vibrant neighborhood park, what would it include? Last night at a community meeting in the Oakland International High School library, a group of North Oaklanders had their say.
“A space for music,” said a bearded man seated in the back row of chairs.
“What about something like a small skatepark?” said a younger man in the first row.
“The Oakland Dog Owners Group would like to see a small area for dogs,” said a spectacled woman standing in the back.
“I want it to be a gathering place,” said a seated and mustachioed man wearing a red sweater.
Other neighbors chimed in with ideal features from their own imaginations: public artwork, a community garden, picnic tables. Basketball hoops. A play structure.
The approximately 25 community members gathered in the high school library were part of the initial brainstorming process for what a new park could look like in their Temescal neighborhood. If the city gets a chunk of grant money it’s hoping for, some amalgamation of their respective visions could soon become reality on the Oakland International High School campus at 48th Street just east of Telegraph Avenue. In March, Oakland and other cities statewide will apply for a portion of a $368 million pot to be awarded by the state of California to areas lacking parks and open space. Places like, for example, North Oakland.
“It just makes sense, especially when you have a community like Temescal where there’s not a lot of park space,” said Zac Wald, chief of staff for city council president Jane Brunner, who represents North Oakland.
If all goes according to plan, the new park space would be constructed on the north side of the high school’s campus, adjacent to the recently dedicated Rickey Henderson Field baseball diamond. To the north of the baseball diamond would be a multiuse field for soccer, softball, and other play. To the east of the diamond, where a set of portable classrooms currently resides, an approximately half-acre space would be revamped into parkland as well. What exactly that second area would include was the primary subject of last night’s meeting of neighborhood minds.
“You guys are basically volunteering your own time to improve your community,” Wald said from the front of the room as his young daughter hid behind his legs and played with a plastic bag full of crickets.
“We’d like to get your input here so we can then go to the granting agency,” city project manager Ali Schwartz said to the gathered neighbors, adding that input is crucial in showing the state that “we’ve done our due diligence” in terms of considering what people want in a local park.
After the March deadline, Schwartz said, the grant — if awarded — would probably come through within six months, and the actual park would likely be in place some three years from now.
At Monday night’s meeting, city planner John Gibbs moderated the group discussion on possible features for a new park. Having spent eight years raising children in the neighborhood, Gibbs said, the new park “is going to be a really important space within Temescal.”
Oakland International High School principal Carmelita Reyes attended the meeting as well. A number of questions remain about what the new park’s location on school grounds would mean – for example, if the park would be open to the public during school hours, and who would be responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. Those questions are still to be answered and are not up to Reyes to decide, though she said that she is sure of one thing: “The school district is broke,” she said. “The community’s going to have to come together to really make this happen.”
Based on comments from the audience, everyone in the school library last night seemed to understand that. In fact, Wald said, Brunner’s office recently started the North Oakland Parks Volunteer Project to mobilize community members to help maintain parks and median strips. Meeting attendees expressed support for the project and voiced no reservations about pitching in to help maintain what could be a new green space in their neighborhood.
But actually locking gates, pulling weeds, or picking up litter at the possible 48th Street park remains a long way off for hopeful neighbors. “We’re still at a very conceptual stage,” Schwartz said. “It’s important to get your input on what we put in the grant plan. When we get the funding, we’ll come back and talk about more detailed plans for the space.”
A second meeting about what to put in the grant proposal is tentatively scheduled for January 11.
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