The Coast News Group

City wins $1.12 million grant for park improvements

OCEANSIDE — Improvements for Joe Balderrama Park are being finalized after City Council on Dec. 6 approved acceptance of $1.12 million in grant funds for park renovations.

Parks and Recreation Division Manager Eileen Turk said community meetings will be held to share an overview of planned improvements and collect final input from residents before the project moves forward.

“We’re still looking for input from the community,” Turk said.

Turk said $1 million in improvements will be a tremendous boost to the neighborhood.

Joe Balderrama Park is regularly used for after-school programs, soccer games and playground use. The park also has tennis, basketball and handball courts.

Grant funds were awarded by the Housing Related Parks Program, which encourages cities to develop affordable housing by rewarding them with park improvement grants.

Oceanside applied for the grant early this year.

Park improvement plans also began. Initial input for improvements was collected from Eastside neighborhood residents, Oceanside police, city engineers and city public works staff.

Discussed improvements include new playground equipment, fencing, benches and a shaded area. Plans are to relocate playground equipment closer to the street and sidewalk for greater visibility.

Also recommended is demolition of the existing handball courts, and rebuilding them to face into the park for added safety. A community stage, Fit Trail system and new half-court basketball courts are also planned.

Cecilia Barandiaran, city neighborhood services management analyst, said planned improvements will enhance the park and increase visibility, safety and park use.

With the award agreement in place, the neighborhood services staff is in the process of working with the public works and engineering staff to determine the final scope of the project.

Funds will not come close to completing all improvements in the park’s 2008 Master Vision Plan, which exceed $12 million in renovations.

An improvement of community interest that may be considered is the installation of two small soccer fields for kids’ recreational use. The fields, goal posts, lighting, irrigation and field markings are estimated to cost $500,000. Putting in lower cost temporary soccer fields, to encourage youth sports, has also been discussed.

More than 60 kids take part in grassroots soccer games led by neighborhood dads. City officials say organized sports are a good deterrent from gangs and drugs.

Residents and community groups have supported the grassroots league with equipment donations. Community support has allowed kids who cannot find transportation to leagues outside of their neighborhood and afford league fees to play soccer.

Neighborhood soccer games are played in the park on uneven grass, which could lead to injury. City staff says added soccer fields would improve safety for players and validate the positive efforts parents have taken to provide a healthy activity for their kids. The city is taking another look at the request as it determines final park improvements.

At this point no date has been set for City Council approval of improvement plans or for construction groundbreaking.