|Under a proposed bond issue, $27 million would go to upgrading the city's parks, including Brackenridge Park, which features a train that carries passengers through it. Photo by Mark Greenberg|
Stand on an 80-foot hilltop near Old Pearsall Road and what might you see? In the distance, downtown; closer, the hangars at the Boeing complex at Kelly USA. Then look south and imagine the fumes rising from the Covel Gardens - gardens? - Landfill a couple of miles away.
Actually, the hilltop on which you are standing is another garbage heap, a former city dump operated from 1967 to 1982. After the landfill closed, the city fenced off the 247 acres and renamed it Pearsall Park. Now the city parks and recreation department is reworking the landscape to allow visitors to see San Antonio from atop the "Sunrise Hill Overlook." The department also is putting the finishing touches on the city's first dog park, complete with a fence, walkway, landscaping and about 10 icons of the canine world - fire hydrants.
San Antonio has earned a reputation for its dearth of parks and other green space. Monticello Park near Jefferson High School is little more than an oversized median with a water fountain. As a result, the city has devoted a portion of its proposed $162 million bond issue to upgrading the city's parks, including $80,000 to develop a Frisbee golf course at Pearsall Park.
Voters will be asked to approve the municipal bond issue on Tuesday, November 4. More than $27 million of those bonds are slated for 53 park projects. But that amount is more than $100 million less than the original plan, which called for a proposed $140 million bond sale for 200 parks and recreation department projects, explained Scott Stover, park projects manager for the city.
The largest parks project is the $5.8 million in sports facility improvements throughout town. The San Antonio Zoo would get $1.45 million for a facelift, and the city would spend $750,000 to renovate the Japanese Tea Gardens in Brackenridge Park.
Another project includes rehabbing the Farmer's Market building with improved lighting, roofing, and a heating/air conditioning system, to the tune of $419,000.
As for Pearsall Park, Stover said the parks and rec department submitted two projects for the site that would have cost $1.4 million. "One plan was for active recreation around the dog park and one development was for the north end of the park, a more passive, nature type," he said. The park plan was based on the master plan, which had a disc golf course in it.
Carole Abitz suggested the dog park when she was recruited as a "stakeholder" in the neighborhood south of the former Kelly Air Force Base in the late 1990s. "The dog park was my suggestion. It lets owners and pets play and socialize - and foster more responsible pet ownership."
The city's $161.8 million bond program breaks down into $115 in general obligation bonds and $46.8 million in stormwater revenue bonds. The breakdown for the general obligation bonds is, in millions: $29.4 for streets and pedestrian improvements; $18.91 in drainage improvements; $3.97 for library projects; the $27.22 for parks, and $35.5 for public health and safety.
The city included $20.5 million to kick in with the county to build an emergency operations center. About $12.1 million was slated for a new animal control compound.
Abitz pointed out that although the area south of Kelly Field has earned a bad reputation over the years, good people live in the neighborhood. She resents the perception other city residents have of the area, which is pockmarked by landfills. "This is not our garbage. Everybody in the city contributed to this pile. With all the disposable diapers dumped here, we probably have DNA from every family in the city."
Abitz appeared at an August 7 public hearing to chastise the city for leaving the park fenced and for not funding projects she and other "stakeholders" devised for the property in the late 1990s at the request of city officials.
The master plan they drew for Pearsall Park included the dog park, the Sunrise Overlook, the Sunset Hill Overlook on the adjacent trash pile, nature and bike trails, sports fields, a birding outpost, and a community center.
"We most strongly urge the mayor, council, and city staff to display leadership and cooperation to include this project for city-wide funding in the 2003 bond issue," Abitz, who serves as vice president of the Southwest Community Association, told the council. "Prove that no part of the city continues traditionally underserved."
Abitz said she wondered why the city asked citizens to develop a master plan in 1998 when there was no money available to implement it. Spending $80,000 to build the Frisbee park, Abitz explained, is just a baby step for the 247-acre former city dump. "You can't just throw $80,000 at it every five years. It's not going to be done."
Stover said he realizes that many of the city's park projects cannot be fully covered by the city's general fund or bonds. "We're always on the lookout for other funding sources," Stover said. "We get at least one grant a year - we have $700,000 from the feds to repair the Lincoln Park pool on the East Side. We've looked for grants from Texas Parks & Wildlife, the federal government has grant programs for parks and there are also CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) grants we can put in for each year."
Stover said the dog park and the Sunrise Hill Overlook is slated to be finished sometime in October. The city at that point would conduct an official dedication.
Abitz visited the park recently to check on the progress of the two projects under way. She pointed to the cluster of fire hydrants that stood near a portable toilet, waiting for human workers to install them in the dog park area.
"That's a good sign. They're making more progress than I thought."
If voters choose to fund the parks in November, perhaps San Antonio can make progress in losing its reputation as a barren, defoliated city. •