City Hall’s $8.5 million grant application to give Ortega Park a bells-and-whistles makeover was not approved by the state agency, leaving plans for the embattled Eastside park in limbo.
City parks czar Jill Zachary considered the $8.4 million critical to funding an estimated $15 million project designed to greatly improve Ortega Park for its neighborhood residents. (Where those additional funds would come from was a matter of political speculation.) The plans included new all-purpose fields: a basketball court, baseball diamond, skateboard park, splash pads, a new swimming pool, Ping-Pong tables, and bocce courts. (The cost of the new pool would require a separate fundraising campaign.)
All this began to unspool dramatically early last year when neighborhood activists objected that the 14 Ortega Park murals — a robust manifestation of the city’s Chicano Pride movement of the 1970s and early 1980s — would be lost. The Architectural Review Board refused to approve the proposal unless greater effort was made to protect the murals. Activists enlisted some of the original muralists to support their demands, but City Hall enlisted other — more youthful — muralists to support their plan. With neither side talking to the other, gridlock ensued. The grant application, its deadline looming, appeared in peril. Finally the state extended its deadline, a public effort brought the two sides together, and the ABR and the Planning Commission approved the project.
Yet it failed. Why is unclear. The grant was funded by a bond measure primarily created to build new parks or improve existing ones serving poorer neighborhoods. Ortega Park certainly qualifies. Zachary told the council she will continue looking for funding, but a finalized park design was critical. To that end, she will work with park stakeholders to better document the murals as they exist today.