Pleasanton Sports and Recreation Park, a main public sports complex that extends northeast of Hopyard Road along Parkside Drive, has been renamed "Ken Mercer Sports Park" to honor the city's longest-serving mayor, who died last January.
The suggestion to rename the sports park was made at Mr. Mercer's funeral service at the Pleasanton Senior Center to loud applause from the more than 300 who attended. The city Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed the proposal last month, and the City Council gave its final approval June 3 in a 4-1 vote.
Only Councilwoman Karla Brown objected, urging the council to wait for five years as called for in a 2004 resolution the council adopted to avoid the emotions that often follow the loss of a well-known Pleasanton civic, city or business leader.
She also said there are others who may be deserving of having a municipal building or park named for them, including four-term Mayor Ben Tarver, who served after Mr. Mercer left office. Mr. Tarver died in 2010.
But others on the council agreed with the Parks and Recreation Commission and Susan Andrade-Wax, director of Community Services, that the waiting period should be waived and the sports park renamed for Mr. Mercer, who was instrumental in obtaining the centrally located fields from the federal government. He was also a frequent visitor to the park as a fan for his children and grandchildren who played sports there.
While not opposed to renaming the park for Mr. Mercer, Mayor Jerry Thorne questioned whether that was a big enough recognition for the former mayor whose influence and civic achievements embraced the entire city. He suggested renaming the Pleasanton Civic Center for Mr. Mercer, but others on the council prevailed, with Thorne agreeing in the 4-1 majority vote.
In response to questions, Andrade-Wax said all the other parks in Pleasanton named for city leaders were given those names before the 2004 five-year waiting policy was adopted, including the Dolores Bengtson Aquatic Center. Bengtson, a retired Community Services director, is still very much alive although she often hears from those who think the center is a memorial to her.
The controversy over renaming the sports park for Mr. Mercer stems from a resolution the council approved April 19, 2004, establishing a policy for naming parks, recreation facilities and other city-owned public facilities. The policy stipulates that any requests to name a public facility "after a specific individual will be considered no earlier than five years after their death."
Several speakers expressed support for renaming the sports park at public hearings before the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council, including Mr. Mercer's daughter, Shelley Despotakis. She said her father considered the establishment of Pleasanton Sports Park one of the city's greatest achievements in support of youth, adding that he would have been pleased to have his name associated with it.
Businessman Brad Hirst added his support of the name change and read a list of former city officials who agreed. He asked that the name change and signs be in place by Sept. 2, on what would have been Mr. Mercer's 72nd birthday.
Andrade-Wax said sign designers are already working on plans for a new monument sign that will replace the large stone marker at Hopyard and Parkside, as well as smaller signs at various places in the sports park. If the sign's design and construction can be completed on time, a ceremony could be held Labor Day weekend to put the main monument marker in place.
Mr. Mercer was elected to three terms on the City Council between 1976 and 1988. In 1986, he became the city's first directly elected mayor and served in that position until 1992.
During those years, Stoneridge Shopping Center, Hacienda Business Park and several large-scale residential developments were approved.