A Park Grows in Alameda

Development is imminent for the new 22-acre Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.

The park has been a long time coming and is a cause the late Jean Sweeney championed.

The park has been a long time coming and is a cause the late Jean Sweeney championed.

City of Alameda

No city west of the East Bay hills possesses what Alameda does—22 acres of open space that can be turned into a new park within the city’s limits. For park lovers, it’s a gift, a rare opportunity, a chance for Alameda to create one of the most impressive new parks in the Bay Area.

And it’s happening soon.

The Alameda City Council voted over the summer to approve the design for the new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, and city officials plan to break ground on the first phase of the park this fall. The park, formerly known as the Alameda Beltline, is bordered by Constitution Way, Atlantic Avenue, and Sherman Street.

The first construction phase, which is fully funded at $6.5 million, will include a portion of the Cross Alameda Trail—a walking and bicycling trail that will eventually stretch from Main Street to Broadway. Construction on another portion of the park, including a natural playground and a group picnic area on the eastern end of the park, will start in 2017.

“Given how long we’ve been waiting and what we had to go through to get here, this is great for the city right now,” said Mayor Trish Spencer.

The creation of the park is due in large part to the efforts of the late Jean Sweeney, a longtime Alameda resident and activist. Starting in the 1990s, Sweeney worked to figure out the ownership of the Alameda Beltline property and dug up a 1924 purchase contract for the beltline between the city and the railroad that owned it. The contract stated that Alameda could buy back the land for $30,000 plus any money the railroad spent on improvements. Sweeney died in November 2011 before she could see the city secure the property for about $1 million.

“She would have been delighted” to see the groundbreaking of the park, said Jean Sweeney’s husband, Jim Sweeney. “You can imagine all the work she went through to get this going and all the tremendous research, persistence, and determination that went in this for years. It’s a David and Goliath victory.”

Recreation and Parks Department Director Amy Wooldridge called the first community meeting regarding the design of the park in February 2013 and asked the hundreds of attendees to decide what they wanted the park to be. Ideas included adding a skate park, installing a water feature, building community gardens, creating a dog park, and constructing a teen center or a swimming pool.

City officials and community members ultimately decided that the park, when completed, would be designed mostly for passive use and offer rambling trails, a gazebo, a butterfly garden, a frog pond, and community gardens.

“I think people are looking forward to having a peaceful spot in an urban environment,” said Recreation and Parks Commissioner Bill Delaney. “People will be able to walk for a fair distance and simply enjoy the open space and enjoy the trees, bushes, and the grass and not really have the concentrated noise that you have in some other parks.”

The second phase—the middle of the park—will be a natural open space area, and the third phase, the western portion of the park, will be the community gardens. The last two phases are not yet funded, and Wooldridge said she does not know where the money will ultimately come from. But that hasn’t dampened her spirits.

“It’s really been an awesome process to get where we’re at,” Wooldridge said. “We’ll definitely have a groundbreaking ceremony, which will be very exciting for the community.”

As it stands now, the park is rocky and loaded with weeds and shrubbery. There is a smattering of homeless encampments on the property, and Wooldridge said she has been meeting frequently with the city manager and chief of police about what to do about them. An Alameda-based nonprofit organization will work with the city to provide onsite case management for people who would like to be housed, and notifications have been posted to let the public know the time frame of the park construction.

When the park is fully completed, it will cost about $250,000 annually to maintain it. Wooldridge said the city has not yet identified a solid funding source for maintenance. There is a measure on the November ballot that asks Alameda voters to approve the Utilities Modernization Act, which will ensure that Alameda Municipal Power keeps giving money to the city’s general fund, which pays for park maintenance. The measure does not raise individual taxes.

Vicki Bell, who lives near the soon-to-be park, said she’s going to donate a bench to the park to be sold through the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park Fund (www.SweeneyOpenSpacePark.org). Donated park benches will sell for $850 to $1,750. She said she wishes a carousel just for seniors would be included but is happy the way it is.

“I think it’s just going to be a fabulous, fabulous park,” Bell said.

Published online on Oct. 12, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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