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Ochoa park plans stall in tie
Ochoa playground done
Development of Guillermo Ochoa Park hasn’t progressed much since this playground structure was installed in late 2020. Despite no grass and uninviting condition, Mayor Javier Lopez had the park dedicated a year ago this month. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

The Ceres City Council found itself locked in a 2-2 tie Monday evening over appropriating $1.2 million to complete Guillermo Ochoa Park on Ceres’ east side.

Councilmen Mike Kline objected to the idea, saying the proposal to complete the park is both non-specific and lacked features they wanted to see.

Ochoa Park was dedicated last year despite being far from complete. There are only sidewalks, a children’s playground area, a volleyball area, concrete benches, pavement and an area for playing Cornhole.

City Engineer Kevin Waugh proposed site regrading, installation of a storm drain system and an irrigation well, additional decomposed granite and hydro-seeding turf for grass. Security cameras were also proposed. He asked the council to allocate $1,050,000 of ARPA funds combined with $172,000 from fees collected by developers for park development. Waugh noted that originally the council agreed to use $400,000 of ARPA funds for the park.

Eastgate resident Martin Cox said the plans for the park are nice but said he wanted to see shade trees or an awning to be installed as well as benches to rest on. Waugh indicated that the city doesn’t have money to install everything residents want but suggested the planting of grass will have “a cooling effect and make that park a lot nicer.”

Cox also asked if part of the park could be used for parking but was told by Acting Public Works Director Sam Royal that since the park is for intended for the neighborhood to use, only street parking is available.

Kline suggested that the city hire the engineering consultant to draw up plans with amenities like shade structures and benches first before allocating funds from the second phase of ARPA funds.

A consultant provides a schematic layout and a rough estimate of costs, explained Waugh.  He also noted that city staff modified the scope of the proposed park improvements to meet the budget. That included removing park lighting, shade structures and other amenities so that an irrigation system and irrigation pump as well as turf could be installed.

Waugh said a shade structure and benches could be added as a third phase.

“I know the park needs to be completed and the park should be completed but it’s hard for me to approve this plan not seeing the plan,” said Kline. “This park to me was never done correctly.”

Waugh said he didn’t think it required a plan for planting turf other than showing the council where the irrigation pumps, decomposed granite and future shade structure will be placed.

Kline was not moved.

“Without a plan in place I can’t support it …. All I see is numbers on the thing. I don’t see any drawings, no trees planted, nothing like that. I’m lost. Maybe it’s just me.”

Mayor Javier Lopez urged the council to proceed.

“If we do not do nothing now, a year from now we’re going to be having the same discussion,” said Lopez, who said other amenities could be added later. “I think it’s a bad decision for us to not vote on this today and make this happen.”

Councilman James Casey said his District 1 has an unfinished park in Lions Park and that the city is proposing to divert $600,000 in ARPA funds away from that park to work on Ochoa Park.

“We can work hard as a community, service clubs, ARPA funds, general funds, department funds, grants – we can make this park beautiful at the same time we don’t have to sacrifice the other parks,” said Casey.

To alleviate Kline’s concerns, City Manager Alex Terrazas suggested that the council give city staff the authorization to move forward while coming back with designs that could include desired amenities before any construction takes place.

Vice Mayor Bret Silveira advocated for action, saying “it’s been a long time coming for the most populated area of our city.”

“If we wait any longer, there’s no telling how high it’s gonna go just to put grass in the park and irrigation and wells and pumps it’s gone up,” said Silveira. “It’s gone up more than double in two years. If we continue to wait for this portion it’s probably gonna go up again.”

He said he didn’t understand Kline’s apprehension.

“We need to put grass in that park, it’s pretty simple,” said Silveira. “I don’t think one person would disagree that that park needs grass in it. Does it need some other things? Absolutely but we have the ability to put grass in it right now, starting now. I think we’re obligated as a council to do that. I hate to say it but we’re trying to fix mistakes from the past.”

When Silveira motioned for the allocation to be made, the council was deadlocked in a 2-2 tie, which was a procedural denial. Lopez and Silveira voted in favor of it, Casey and Kline opposed.

Mayor Lopez expressed his disappointment in the tie vote but said he wants city staff to come back within a month to provide plans. Royal asked if a preliminary sketch would do rather than a full-blown design and was told it was acceptable.

“We’ll bring this back on another day,” the mayor promised.