Visalia may get a $3 million park for free
City may be able to use two $1.5 million grants to build first phase of regional park on the east side
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – The City of Visalia is planning to build a multi-million-dollar park on the city’s eastside and it may not cost the city anything at all.
At its Dec. 18 meeting, the Visalia City Council authorized staff to apply for a minimum $1.5 million grant to build 32 acres of a 200-acre park around Mill Creek and Packwood Creek east of Tower Street. About half of the acreage of the park would be developed as a ponding basin used for groundwater recharge while the other half would eventually be a recreation amenities similar to the Riverway Sports Park.
The grant is from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) administered by the California State Parks Office of Grants and Local Services (OGALS), which is funded through mineral receipts, sales of federal surplus real property, federal recreation fees, and federal motorboat fuel taxes. The City is eligible for up to $3 million but must provide a 50% match for the project.
Parks and Recreation Director Jeannie Greenwood said the city can use $1.5 million in funds from another grant to cover the other half of the project. The park, officially called the East Side Regional park, has already been awarded $1.5 million through Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion statewide water bond approved by voters in 2014, due to its primary function as a groundwater recharge basin. During dry months, these basins could be used as an 18-hole disc golf, riparian trails along Packwood Creek and Mill Creek and multi-use trails with fitness equipment.
The project, depending on available funding, could also include an interior park road, a large special event area, a restroom/storage facility, picnic arbor, playground and some parking. Future phases of the park would include lighted soccer, baseball and softball fields, tennis and pickleball courts, an amphitheater and an education barn.
“It is in a park deficient and economically disadvantaged area and it has the tie with groundwater recharge which could move it up as a priority based on water conservation efforts,” Greenwood told the council.
The councilmember to voice concerns about the park was Greg Collins, who suggested that $1.5 million could be better spent on facilities that don’t duplicate similar recreational opportunities in other parts of the city. Collins suggested using the money to build an aquatic center, an effort he spearheaded through most of last year.
“That project might score higher than what staff has selected,” Collins said. “An aquatic center would serve tens of thousands of people per year.”
Greenwood said the park project was chosen over other projects because the city must own the land at the time of application, the application is due by Feb. 5 and the project must be completed within three years of receiving the funding. Greenwood said the park touches on every criteria listed in the grant application process including a possible outdoor pool and also satisfies a shortage of cross country courses in Tulare County. The project was also reviewed by a small focus group comprised of City staff from Engineering, Finance, Administration, Parks and Recreation and Public Works, along with representatives from the Parks and Recreation Commission. The group considered other projects, including phase V of Riverway Sports Park, Civic Center/Central Park and Greenway Trail, before recommending the East Side Regional Park.
“We felt like the East Side Regional Park is the strongest candidate for the award,” Greenwood said.
Mayor Warran Gubler suggested the possibility of submitting two proposals, one for the eastside park and one for an aquatic center. It was quickly shot down by staff and Councilmember Phil Cox. “I don’t like the idea of two proposals. We would be dividing against ourselves and [the park] project is a build ready project.”
Councilmember Steve Nelson, who has also been involved with the aquatic center discussions, said little has been decided on the aquatic center and that open space needed to be planned for the eastside of town as the city continues to expand around the Golden West High School complex. Nelson challenged his fellow councilmembers to “Name something else we have done for this segment of the populaton?”
Nelson made the motion to apply for the funding for the eastside park and the motion was seconded by vice mayor Bob Link, who said “We need to make a statement to the community that we are going to start investing in the east side.”
The motion passed unanimously, as Collins said he would not stand in the way of the park funding but wanted to continue to “think outside the box” when it comes to recreational opportunities. Greenwood did admit there are some challenges to the project because it has limited access, is completely undeveloped and would require costly infrastructure extensions to connect to water, sewer, electricity and streets.