Bay Area

San Jose Welcomes Back Watson Park

Rob Klindt/NeighborWebSJ

Watson Park was closed in 2005 for a toxic cleanup.

For many residents in San Jose’s Northside neighborhood, the loss of Watson Park more than six years ago was like a losing a valued friend and trusted neighbor.

The popular 35-acre park at Jackson and 22nd Streets was closed in 2005 after toxins were discovered in the soil from a burn dump incinerator and smokestack at the location, which was used as a trash dump until the 1920s.

After more than five years of planning, design, landscaping and construction, the park is open, with new walking paths, security lighting, restrooms, two play lots, two soccer fields, basketball courts, parking areas and landscaping. There also is a 1.6- acre dog park at the northeast corner.

“When the park closed in 2005 there was a widespread commitment in the city that we had to do right by the community to restore this jewel for the neighborhood,” said San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the Northside neighborhood in District 3.

Watson Park was named in honor of former San Jose mayor Fred Watson in 1961. It is bound by Coyote Creek and Route 101 along its eastern boundary, Empire Gardens Elementary School to the south, a remnant orchard to the north and residential homes to the west.

It was a shock to the neighborhood and surrounding community when the city closed the park, which for years had provided space for recreation, community gardening, picnics and sports. The park was perhaps best known for its soccer fields which attracted teams from throughout the region.

The soil contamination was found when contractors began excavation work for a skate park at the site. Work on the project was stopped and the park was closed to the public for soil testing and cleanup.

While local and county officials put together a plan to clean the site, city officials began to huddle with neighborhood residents, groups and community organizations to come up with a plan to rebuild and redesign the park.

Using surveys, interviews and public meetings, officials listened to community members about what kinds of amenities they wanted in their neighborhood park and came up with a master plan and budget.

But all those improvements didn’t come cheap.

“It cost about $15 million,” said Liccardo, adding that the price tag was not just for park design and infrastructure, but also helped to cover costs to clean the soil and to compensate nearby property owners who were adversely affected by the toxins.

Liccardo was among several city officials and community leaders who attended a grand re-opening celebration held at the park on Saturday, August 27, that attracted about 200 people and included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a mariachi band.

“People came throughout the day to try it out,” Liccardo said. He added that the comments he heard from park visitors were generally positive.

A few days later, visitors were trickling in.

“Very nice,” said Charlie, a nearby resident who liked the park’s wide expanse and good visibility. He, his wife and daughter came to the park to enjoy a picnic lunch.

Meanwhile, Cynthia and Joe Valdez, who also live near the park, were relaxing at a table at the dog park. They were watching their two dogs, a terrier named Ellie and a long-haired Chihuahua named Pepito romp and sniff around newly-planted sod in a fenced-in area. Cynthia Valdez was especially impressed by the separate fenced-in areas for large and small dogs. “It’s a lot more secure; we’ll come often now that it’s open” she said.

Does she have any complaints about the park?

“There’s a lot of places for the dogs to go to potty, but what about us,?” Valdez asked with a smile. She pointied out the hike to get to the restrooms at the other end of the park.

Liccardo acknowledged that the park’s only restrooms are far away from the dog park. Unfortunately, more restrooms aren’t likely to be added in the near future. “That’s not in the plan that was vetted with the community,” he said.

Like any project, Liccardo said the Watson Park redevelopment faced budgetary constraints. “We looked at what we could deliver with the most value,” he said adding that restroom maintenance is expensive for the city. “We don’t have the ability to maintain a lot of restrooms in our parks.”

Liccardo predicts the crowds the soccer fields and basketball courts will be the most popular features. The first field has traditional grass and is designed for daytime use by neighborhood players. The second field boasts artificial turf and field lights for evening games, which officials expect will attract league players from beyond the immediate neighborhood.

“We thought it was important to serve the wider community,” Liccardo said of the second field, adding that “we wanted to have one field of very high quality that didn’t require a lot of maintenance.”

One popular feature from the old Watson Park that is missing from today’s park is the fenced-in community gardens. Liccardo said there aren’t any immediate plans to add them. However, he noted that there is space allotted for them in the park’s master plan, but there’s no money budgeted for them.

The master plan also leaves space for an 8,000-foot skate park and for a pedestrian bridge over Coyote Creek with a creek trail. No money has yet been budgeted for these projects.

Source: NeighborWebSJ []

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