Trails, gardens included in draft park plan

Trails, gardens included in draft park plan

Michele Ellson

A future Jean Sweeney Open Space Park could include a BMX bike park, a gazebo, an outdoor classroom and more. Contributed art.

Gardens, biking and hiking trails, a lawn-fronted gazebo and covered picnic pavilion are some of the features proposed for the new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park that’s planned for 22 acres of onetime Alameda Belt Line property.

Recreation and Park Commission members will offer their thoughts Thursday on the draft plan for the park, which will make the rounds of city commissions and will be the subject of an online survey seeking the public’s feedback before coming back to the commission and then, the City Council, for approval.

Landscape architect and Planning Board member Kristoffer Köster created designs for the new park free of charge.

The plans call for more “active uses” along the outside edges of the park and a quieter, more serene setting at its heart. The draft plan puts parking, restrooms and natural playground areas at the eastern and western edges of the mile-long park, with a wide, paved Cross Alameda Trail along its northern edge that will be lighted at all times and a tree buffer on the southern side to shield residents from park noise.

The conceptual designs show a 250-plot food production garden behind the Alameda Food Bank and a BMX bike park at the opposite interior edge of the park, while the center is reserved for butterfly and Zen gardens, a frog pond, a gazebo, outdoor classroom and picnic area. The very center of the park would be occupied by an urban forest, and biking and hiking trails would be scattered throughout.

The plan is to be used as a “road map” for final park design, development – and fundraising; a cost estimate and funding sources for the planned park have yet to be provided.

Fundraising may not be the only challenge facing the city as it seeks to erect a park on the former rail yard, a study on the proposed production garden showed. The site has some soil contamination and is littered with old railroad ties and debris, according to the study, which was conducted by the Alameda Point Collaborative.

Debris, possible contamination and uneven ground could make siting a community garden behind the food bank as proposed both costly and challenging, the study says while building the garden to serve at the opposite end of the park would require a truck to haul its bounty to the food bank.

The former rail yard is dotted with creosote-soaked rail ties, the study says, and students who tested the soil found high concentrations of lead in some areas. It is also subject to illegal dumping, the study says.

A raised berm loaded with construction debris lines the northern edge of the site, the study says.

“During our walk-through and soil testing, there were pieces of pipe, insulation, lumber, roofing material, wiring, cement and asphalt in the surface and immediate subsurface across a large area of the (Alameda Belt Line),” it says.

In order to avoid possible soil contamination and the ever-present railroad ties, the study’s author recommended a 250-plot garden grown in raised beds or containers; food bank clients would be given preference for plots.

The late Jean Sweeney, the park’s namesake, discovered an old contract that required Union Pacific to sell the Belt Line property back to the city for 1924 prices, plus improvements; in 2010 the city purchased the land, which includes the mile-long, 300-foot-wide rail yard and the narrower rail line property, for just under $1 million. The former rail yard is bounded by Constitution Way, Atlantic Avenue and Sherman Street.

A 2012 master parks plan identified the property as an ideal spot to build a park, and the city has been working toward that goal, conducting workshops and an online survey to gather residents’ thoughts on what should be included. In May, the council approved half a dozen potential uses to be included in the park, a list that includes walking and biking trails, natural open space, picnic areas, community gardens, natural playgrounds and open lawn space.

In September, the commission declined to pursue a proposal from a group seeking to set livestock grazing on five of the rail yard’s 22 acres as a land management and food production effort. They said the proponents of the Alameda Land Preserve waited too long to offer their plan.


Submitted by Bill (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Though the commission rejected a plan for livestock grazing, it was primarily based on the community input received from over 800 Alameda residents. No one listed livestock as a need via the online surveys or the community init sessions. The other uses you listed were identified by the community and the commission is honoring that list, while also honoring Jean Sweeney's request that the land be used for open space and park activities.

Submitted by luczai (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

This plan looks like it would be very expensive to build and maintain. I thought this was intended to be more of a passive, natural setting. The parking lot and BMX area are a shock. I hope this isn't what they end up doing.

Submitted by Schmuley Goldma... (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Didn't know there was such a demand in our community for a BMX bike park.

Submitted by Aaron Thies (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Hello, I have been working to guide the planning of the bike trails and bike skills features in the JSOSP draft plan and conceptual design. I would like to correct one very important error in the plan that was released. The designer has incorrectly labeled the biking facility as a "BMX Track". In fact, this facility will NOT be a BMX track, rather it is intended to be a "pump track". A pump track is a small scale closed course that uses "rollers" (trail undulations) and "berms" (banked turns) to provide place for people of all ages to practice and learn advanced biking skills in a safe environment. A pump track is NOT a racing course and does NOT include jumps. Most pump tracks include a track for more advanced riders ages 5+, along with a small beginner course suitable for kids ages 2-5. BMX is a highly developed sport requiring a big, developed track to be used for racing. We have NOT EVER advocated for a BMX track and have never described the bike facilities as a BMX track. I have no idea how the Rec & Park adopted that label but it is incorrect.
For anyone who would like to volunteer to get involved in community planning for the trails and off-road biking facilities in JSOSP, we are having a meeting tonight (Tues, 11/12) at 8 p.m. at the "1400 Bar & Grill" (formerly Croll's) at the corner of Webster and Central in Alameda. If you would like to have your email address placed in our volunteer planning list, please send me an email at athies at yahoo dot com. Thank you, Aaron Thies, Alameda resident.

Submitted by alamedacurious (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Who will be managing the 250 food production plots: Alameda Rec & Parks, Alameda Food Bank or Alameda Housing Authority? Also wondering if the Housing Authority's community garden plots still be available at the Bay-Eagle site?

Submitted by Neighbor (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Looks like a good portion of the land is devoted to 100 parking spaces, why the need for so many in a passive park?

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Hi everyone: Thanks for your comments. Bill, to add on to what you're saying, my notes on the meeting show that the exchange regarding interest in the Alameda Land Preserve's proposal involved board members questioning the group about their apparent lack of participation in the public meetings and survey for park design and the ALP folks saying they didn't see something like what they were proposing included in the online survey and also, that they had collected 200 signatures on a petition supporting their proposal subsequent to that process. a/c, on the food production plots, I'm not sure yet who would manage those - one of the issues raised by Alameda Point Collaorative's study was that the plots would have to be staffed or overseen by active, well-managed volunteers - and to my knowledge, nothing has been written or said indicating any changes are afoot regarding the Bay-Eagle site. As to parking spaces, the materials submitted to the Rec and Park Commission for this said the goal was to keep people who are visiting the park from parking in the residential neighborhoods adjacent to it; can't at this point speak with authority on why that particular number.

Submitted by Jeff Ward (not verified) on Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Aaron Thies, thanks for all the hard work you've done to promote bicycle features in the new park, and thank you for your clarification about it not being a BMX track. I have a young daughter who loves to "zoom" her mountain bike on little hills. I imagine we would use the pump track and skills park a lot. I wasn't able to attend the planning meeting tonight but want to lend my support in the future if I'm able.

Submitted by Quinston jefferson (not verified) on Sun, Nov 17, 2013

I think a skate plaza should be built in a seperate area of the park.

Submitted by Belt Line neighbor (not verified) on Tue, Jan 21, 2014

You have got to be kidding me! Are people really going to grow food on that polluted land? Decades of hazardous materials leaking from tanker cars parked in that yard from Pennzoil and Liquid Bulk Terminals not to mention the area of the diesel maintenance facility near the food bank should be considered. This is a serious issue I implore you to look into!
Here's a pic of the engine facility that sits on the western edge of the property, note that no weeds or organic material exist from decades of petroleum fluids used in the locomotives that were dripped, leaked and spilled onto the ground. As I recall walking this area the ground is caked in lubricants which obviously go way way down into the ground.