Saturday, July 5, 2008

Pittsburg looks at park annexation

A secluded park nestled between Pittsburg and Bay Point could soon be brought within Pittsburg's city limits — much to the chagrin of some longtime Bay Point residents.

Ambrose Park, 12.3 acres of land donated to the county by the Enes family in 1947, includes a swimming pool, picnic areas, tennis and basketball courts and hiking trails. The park is operated by the Ambrose Park & Recreation District, whose residents are mostly from Bay Point. About 20 percent are from Pittsburg, according to district officials.

On Wednesday, the county's Local Agency Formation Commission will consider annexing the park into Pittsburg as part of a plan to improve the park with the city's money and the district's direction.

Some Bay Point residents argue they voted to pay taxes for the park, and annexation could give their money to Pittsburg or divert it elsewhere.

The annexation is supported by the district's board of directors, which voted to move forward in February 2007 and April of this year. Those leery of annexation say the public wasn't properly informed of meetings on the issue.

Further, some say that because the public owns the park, the decision to annex should rest in the hands of voters, not the district.

When the issue was brought up at the Ambrose board meeting in February 2007, it came out of left field, said resident Debra Mason. "A lot of people didn't know what they were voting on. If this is supposed to Advertisementbe such a great thing, why does it seem like it's being done so secretly? I hope LAFCO considers that," she said.

In April, the district approved the park annexation during a presentation by the Contra Costa Redevelopment Agency on the nearby Orbisonia Heights project. During that meeting, county planner Maureen Toms asked the board to drop its request for annexation out of concern that it would interfere with its plans for Orbisonia Heights.

During a Bay Point Municipal Advisory Council meeting last week, residents were allowed to speak on the Ambrose Park issue in public comment but not when a report was given on the annexation by Ambrose General Manager Tarry Smith.

"Nothing will change" regarding the park's operation, Smith assured the council at the meeting.

County Supervisor and LAFCO board member Federal Glover, whose district includes Pittsburg and Bay Point, said if annexation "is the desire of the park district, LAFCO shouldn't get in the way of that."

Further, he said annexation "would be beneficial to both communities."

If the park is annexed, the Ambrose district board would still have jurisdiction over it, Pittsburg City Manager Marc Grisham said, noting that Pittsburg works in similar collaborate efforts with agencies such as the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

Annexation would allow Pittsburg to use its funding resources to improve the park for all its users, Grisham said, adding the city would look at using park land dedication fees for short-term and long-term upgrades to the land. A consultant for the plan would be hired by the district.

"Until it's in writing," Bay Point Councilwoman Vicki Zumwalt has doubts. Without a written document between the two parties, she says she is unsure what Pittsburg is agreeing to provide.

A.J. Fardella, director of the Oak Hills Community Group in Pittsburg, said he favors annexation because the park is important for both Bay Point and Pittsburg. Pittsburg's pocketbooks would increase the usage and awareness of the park's beauty, he said.

Julie Nelson of the Bay Point Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying there's "no dividing line" between the two areas and the community could come together. "It's older and needs a lot of work. It could be an outstanding park that serves a lot of people," Bay Point Councilwoman Norma Siegfried said. Pittsburg could add security enhancements, she added.

The park is part of a broader issue. Echoing the thoughts of many, Bay Point resident Vivian Lisa is concerned that Pittsburg is cherry-picking Bay Point land bit by bit through annexation, thus threatening the community's autonomy.

"They're trying to eat us up," she said, adding she thinks Pittsburg wants to annex the Bay Point waterfront as well. "Soon, there will be nothing left. I've been here over 80 years; if I wanted to live in Pittsburg, I would have moved there."

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