OCEANSIDE — The sounds of children laughing and playing have returned to Joe Balderrama Park, which has been officially transformed into a safer gathering point for the Eastside community.
The city rededicated the park on Nov. 2, with hundreds of Eastside residents attending festivities throughout the day at the park during the celebration.
More than $1 million was put into renovating the park, located in an Oceanside neighborhood known for its past high crime rate and gang issues.
The Eastside is a largely Latinx community with a past reputation for gang violence. In recent years that reputation has subsided a bit with declining crime rates thanks to the help of community members and law enforcement working to improve relations there.
“Many in the community were and continue to be challenged in terms of livable wage jobs, and where there is poverty often people lose hope in a better life,” said Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who grew up in the Eastside, during the ceremony. “The Eastside has been challenged by a high drop out rate, based on literacy and language differences and difficulties, violence, drugs and generally a lack of alternatives, and we have lost many of our children caught up in economic and discriminatory and disparaged treatment.
“We are here today as leaders before us to continue to fight for a better life for our children,” Sanchez continued. “Because it’s about the kids, it’s always been about the kids.”
The park was first renamed in 1967 after John “Joe” Balderrama, a young man from the Eastside who was killed in action during World War II on Oct. 13, 1944. His family lived right across from the park.
Approximately $1.12 million in grant funds from the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development grant funded the park’s improvements, which include a new playground, three new picnic shelters, new barbeque spots, improvements to the turf in the open play area, new LED sports lighting and updated restrooms.
The rededication also reached out to any remaining Balderrama family members to celebrate the park’s reopening. The city received more than 70 RSVPs, and several family members were observed in attendance.
One such family member was Rosie Balderrama Salazar, the niece of Joe Balderrama, who spoke during the celebration.
“This is an honor for our family, and we’re very proud for this rededication of the park in our uncle’s name,” Salazar said.
Other guest speakers included Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) and Satia Austin, president of the North County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Samantha Taylor covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son