The Ceres City Council met Monday with a physical audience present for the first time in about a year and got down to business, including voting 3-1 to rename Eastgate Park to Guillermo Ochoa Park.
The city has been planning for the new park in the Eastgate area of Ceres for over a decade, using the name Eastgate Park, and awarded the construction contract in April 2020. On Sept. 14, 2020 as the contractor was winding down construction and ready to set the concrete park sign in place, then-Councilman Channce Condit requested that the park be named after the late Councilman Guillermo Ochoa. Despite learning that a new sign will cost about $3,000, the council decided to follow the park naming policy by forming of an ad hoc committee to field name suggestions from the community.
After a month-long park naming contest, the city received 181 applications, of which 54 supported Ochoa’s name, 48 calling for the name of Veterans Park and 35 for Howard Stevenson Park after the slain officer. Other suggestions were not publicly noted.
John Warren phoned in to ask the council to name the park after veterans.
Lisa Mantarro Moore, a member of the ad hoc committee, plugged Ochoa’s name and said the contest did not operate as a voting process but rather a suggestion process.
“The opportunity to recognize an elected official who left us while serving in office is something unfortunately that only happens when it does,” said Moore. She was incorrect, however, in her statement as Ochoa died in 2015 after he was defeated in the 2011 election.
“The work that Guillermo Ochoa left on this community is undeniable,” commented Moore, who also suggested that the council look for ways to recognize veterans.
Don Donaldson, whose name was suggested for park naming because of his three decades of coaching youth sports in Ceres, spent nearly eight minutes addressing his role in the community and accused the city of playing politics with the naming.
Eric Alvarez of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce credited Ochoa for motivating him to seek community service.
Councilman Bret Silveira, who sat on the ad hoc committee as well, noted that many people are deserving of a park name and said the conversations weren’t political in nature.
“It was not political,” said Silveira. “Mr. Ochoa had a lot of support in that meeting and has a lot of support from the community.”
Councilwoman Linda Ryno called Ochoa “a nice person” but said the park naming process should have started before the contractor started moving dirt.
“It’s been 14 or 15 years that the site has been out there, the people that live there call it Eastgate Park – I think everyone calls it Eastgate Park – and for that reason, as much as I think that Guillermo was a nice person, I would have to say I’d like to see it continue as Eastgate Park.”
Mayor Javier Lopez suggested another ad hoc committee to come up with ways to honor veterans, suggesting possibly along Hatch Road.
The new Ochoa Park sign will be installed once it is manufactured and delivered in several months.
Ochoa’s daughter Kimberly Ochoa offered her thanks for honoring her father with the park naming.
Also during the meeting, John Warren asked the council to revisit the issue of fireworks enforcement and to reverse the 2020 council decision that allows residents to place garbage cans in public view. He suggested the addition of 11,000 new cans to Ceres will exacerbate the problem.
Both items will be discussed at upcoming meetings, said City Manager Tom Westbrook.
The council also directed city staff to reach out to Hughson city officials about the prospects of forming a permanent green belt between Ceres and Hughson.
Westbrook said when the Ceres General Plan was updated in May 2018, Ceres reached out to senior leaders in Hughson. They held off since Hughson was also updating its general plan. He said it would be fitting to re-engage those discussions.