Grant funds $1.1 million in city park improvements

OCEANSIDE — Joe Balderrama Park will soon get a needed makeover, which includes new playground equipment, benches, handball courts and half basketball courts. Improvements will be funded by a recently awarded $1.1 million state grant.

Cecilia Barandiaran, city neighborhood service management analyst, said the goal is to “enhance the park, increase visibility, safety and use of the park.”

As part of the plan, park features will be reconfigured to create greater street visibility and increase safety. The playground equipment will be relocated toward the street and sidewalk, and the handball courts will be rebuilt to face into the park.

Other features that will be added are a new shade area, a community stage and a Fit-Trail system.

“Park improvements provide more resources and uses by the community,” Barandiaran said.

Park upgrades will also set the groundwork for future improvements, like desired soccer fields.

The city has actively sought funds for recreational fields since residents requested them to support a grassroots kids’ soccer league in December 2006. Two small turf fields with goal posts, lighting, irrigation and painted boundary lines are estimated to cost $500,000. 

Maria Yanez, city housing and neighborhood services management analyst, said playing soccer is a great way to keep kids active, out of gangs and away from drugs.

For now, the soccer fields remain on the wish list.

Joe Balderrama Park is used by residents in the surrounding Eastside neighborhood. Playground romping, after-school activities and soccer games regularly take place there. The park also sports a recreation and community resource center where a variety of groups meet.

Park grounds are used to host annual community celebrations including the Halloween Carnival, Spring Egg Hunt, Day in the Park and National Night Out.

The park is also known to attract unwanted activity. Most of the Eastside neighborhood has been under a gang injunction since the 1990s, which makes it illegal for known gang members to loiter, congregate, flash gang signs or carry weapons.

Planned safety upgrades will make the park less attractive to criminals.

The need to improve park safety was brought home in September 2016 when a 15-year-old girl was fatally shot by gang members while on the playground jungle gym. The community asked the city for more youth programs, solutions and change.

Years earlier residents created a $12 million wish list of park improvements during a Master Vision Plan process in 2007 and 2008. Barandiaran said since the vision plan was created “no significant improvements have been done to the park due to lack of funding.”

The awarded Housing Related Park Improvement grant will allow essential improvements to be made.

“Once the award agreement is in place we will work with public works and engineering to determine final scope,” Barandiaran said.

Next steps are to determine final improvement plans and costs, share information with residents and get City Council approval to start construction. A date to bring planned improvements to council for an OK has not yet been set.

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