Neighbors plan park march, rally

Harborside Park in Chula Vista was closed by city officials after nearby residents raised concerns of homeless camps becoming a nuisance in the park. (File)

On Aug. 23, City Council authorized the temporary closure of Harborside Park in order to allow staff time to address health and safety concerns due to illegal activities being conducted at the park. Since such time, staff have worked with the community to address both short-term concerns and identify long-term opportunities for the redevelopment of the park site.

A neighborhood group, Save Harborside, is holding a Save Harborside March and Rally on Sept. 16 at 8:30 a.m. to save the park for the community. The march starts at Lauderbach Pocket Park and ends at Harborside Park.

Delfina Gonzalez, a member of Save Harborside said the group is a group of families that live in District 4 that have been active in keeping the park open.

“That is where we drop off our kids, walk in the neighborhood,” she said. “We are mostly families raising our children in this district. And we are very disappointed in how (council member) Andrea Cardenas has not listened to her constituents in the community.”
Gonzalez said she has raised her family in District 4, and though her children are grown, they have used Harborside Park for outings after school, birthday parties, and that it is the only green space in the neighborhood.

Gonzalez said that the group was disappointed when City Council voted not to reopen the park, but asked staff for more information on joint use with Harborside Elementary, or the possibility of designating the land as surplus land for the use of housing.

At the May 16 City Council meeting, the council discussed the beginning of reopening Harborside Park with American Rescue Plan Act funding, providing improvements, and making the park a safer environment for residents and keeping the green space open to the public.

Staff reported the community supported keeping Harborside Park to maintain outdoor amenities and provide indoor gathering spaces for community and recreational programing. The proposal had three phases. Phase 1 included reopening a portion of the park with the following improvements: permanent wrought iron fencing, turf replacement, irrigations system repair, basketball court resurfacing, light and security camera repairs, restroom facility repairs, general cleanup, removal of the amphitheater and landscape, and purchase and installation of a ranger station that would be manned during future park opening hours, and a higher police presence. Phase 1 project projected costs was $900,000, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. If approved, staff looked for Council direction to proceed with Phase 2 and 3 plans with the goal of incorporating a community center onsite. Phase 2 and 3 Harborside Park improvements and operations maintenance costs would be included in future year’s budget.

Mayor John McCann supported staff’s recommendations on the renovation of the park. But Cardenas did not.

Cardenas said that though the proposal sounded good, that many of the factors that led to the closing of the park are still there and was hesitant to spend the money on a situation that might return.

Cardenas said that when looking at these types of issues that it also needs to be looked at through “a housing lens” with housing still being such a crisis.

Cardenas made an alternative motion for staff to research joint use agreements with the school district, and to research options of analyzing surplus land while the park remains accessible to the community. Cardenas’ motion passed 4-1, with McCann voting no.
McCann said the Harborside community wants the park open now.

“We did a massive outreach program to be able to understand what was going on and the desires of the community,” he said. “But the number one thing that they talked to me about, they wanted it to continue being a park. I cannot not move forward on an item that analyzes the Surplus Land Act. The only reason we would do that is if we were going to sell it to be able to make condos. That was the thing that almost every person in the community that talked to me did not want to get rid of the park and put housing. I think if we were to go on with Phase 1, it is going to be much more secure.”

Gonzalez said the plan presented to reopen the park was supported by the group and had the necessary improvements to keep the park safe and a viable community space for the residents.

“This is the part that is concerning, is that we do not have elected officials that are raised or part of this community, or have children here,” she said. “They do not understand the impact this has and what this park means to this community. Chula Vista is going to become gentrified when the Bayfront comes in. We need to protect open land. We need to follow the money. Who’s bringing these ideas when the community is asking for the park? Housing came in from the elected officials.”

“We really need to have safe places to be able to bring our children to gather. To be able to do those birthday parties close by. Eastlake has all these amazing parks opening and here in District 4 they are closing them because they want to add low-income housing. That does not make sense…Why can’t we open it to make it available? The money has already been allocated. It is ready to be put into that park.”