Although the ground is still barren of a single blade of grass or trees, a formal dedication ceremony held Thursday evening in Eastgate to remember the legacy of the late ex-city councilman Guillermo Ochoa, whose name is now attached to Ceres’ newest park.
Ochoa died at age 54 in 2015. Among those attending the ceremony were his widow, Martha Ochoa, and their two children, Kimberly and Christian.
The Ceres City Council voted 3-1 on March 22 to rename Eastgate Park to Guillermo Ochoa Park. The renaming followed a month-long park naming contest in which the city received 181 applications. A total of 54 individuals supported Ochoa’s name, while 48 called for the name of Veterans Park and 35 for Howard Stevenson Park after the slain officer.
Mayor Javier Lopez said the park name will “serve as a permanent reminder of the spirit of community he so often inspired.”
Councilman Bret Silveira said he often will see 30 to 50 people enjoying the park when he drives by the site and asked the public to be patient for the planting of grass and trees.
“This right here is better than no park,” Silveira told the crowd.
Former Ceres mayor and state Senator Anthony Cannella, who was on the council that appointed Ochoa to his empty council seat, said he built a close friendship with him.
“He was an incredible human being, just a real saint of a person, very soft spoken and just very, very kind. He cared deeply about the city of Ceres, he cared deeply about his family, he cared deeply about his business and he just had so much life in him and what a tragic loss.”Former Ceres Mayor / state Senator Anthony Cannella
“He was an incredible human being, just a real saint of a person, very soft spoken and just very, very kind,” said Cannella. “He cared deeply about the city of Ceres, he cared deeply about his family, he cared deeply about his business and he just had so much life in him and what a tragic loss.”
Cannella said the mayor assured him that a grant would be obtained to finish the park.
Former Councilman Bret Durossette said Ochoa was passionate about getting the park built as the city struggled to find the funds for it. Not long afterward he passed away.
“This is going to be phenomenal for the young kids,” Durossette said of the park.
Ken Lane, who also served with Ochoa on the council, said he was always an advocate for Eastgate residents, even after he left the council.
Lisa Mantarro Moore, who backed the naming of the park after Ochoa, said she first met him while serving hotdogs at a National Night Out event at Don Pedro Park.
“What a great guy – just wanted to do something for people around him,” Moore said.
She added that “is a really big for our community to name a park after a member of our community … that doesn’t always recognize members of the Hispanic community.”
Ochoa had served on the Ceres City Council from 2005 to 2011, first appointed to fill a seat vacated by Anthony Cannella, who moved up to mayor. Ochoa won re-election to a four-year term in 2007 but was defeated for re-election by Mike Kline by 32 votes in the 2011 election.
While serving on the council, Ochoa supported the building of the Ceres Community Center, the development of five new city parks, the renovation of Costa ball fields in Smyrna Park and the completion of the Whitmore interchange and overpass.
Daughter Kimberly said that dad came to the United States at age nine from Michoacan, Mexico and attended Caswell Elementary, Mae Hensley Jr. High and Ceres High. Christian Ochoa said his father encouraged his children to be involved in school and the value of working for what they wanted.
Ochoa lived in Ceres from 1972 to 1982 and then moved back in 1998 and had lived in Ceres since. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Economics from St. Mary’s College.
County Supervisors Channce Condit and Vito Chiesa attended the event as well as representatives of Rep. Josh Harder and state Assemblyman Adam Gray.
Renaming the park came after the council had hired a contractor to begin work on the park in April 2020 and delivery of a concrete sign reading Eastgate Park. The change was requested by Condit on Sept. 14, 2020 as he was running for the District 1 supervisor’s seat. Recasting a new sign cost $2,500.
City Manager Tom Westbrook said that the city sought bids on the park but didn’t have “anywhere near” the $1.9 million to get the park looking more like a park. Instead the council opted for a phased-in approach with Phase 1A costing $780,000 which included the playground equipment, rough grading and concrete work. The work included hydro-seeding of the park but winter rains were scare and thus the grass didn’t sprout. Landscaping and irrigation had to be removed because of the price-tag of $360,000.
“I don’t have a plan on when that grass is going to be planted,” said Westbrook, who said the city will seek grants. “In hindsight, in the midst of this drought, I’m sure we would get folks saying, ‘Oh look, they built a new park with a bunch of sod and they’re watering it every day to keep it alive’ so in hindsight it’s probably better that there’s not grass there anyway.”