The City Council on Tuesday night approved a plan to add more sports fields and create a wooded area to be called Oak Woodland on Bernal Community Park, a 318-acre mostly barren parcel where a lighted baseball field was built two years ago.
The project, when completed, will cost an estimated $15.8 million and is the first major capital improvement program since a city freeze went into effect after the Firehouse Arts Center was completed.
Part of the funding will come from a Bernal Community Park Reserve that the city government has maintained during the recent recession when sales and property tax revenue tapered off. Another $810,000 would be available from a Capital Improvement Program reserve, also maintained by the city.
City Manager Nelson Fialho said he expects to receive another $3.2 million from the East Bay Regional Park District through funds approved by voters when they passed the district's Measure W bond issue.
That would still leave a funding gap of more than $5 million which could be raised through a combination of fee assessments for users of the sports fields, contributions from sports organizations, corporate sponsors and a community fundraiser similar to the one that raised more than $1 million for the Firehouse Arts Center.
Mayor Jennifer Hosterman endorsed the project, which would be completed by 2015, and said it will serve as a legacy for the current City Council where she and two others are termed out and will leave their posts on Dec. 4 after voters select their replacements n the Nov. 6 municipal election.
Besides Hosterman, council members Cindy McGovern and Matt Sullivan also will be stepping down after serving eight years on the council.
"The three of us who are leaving the City Council shortly have a huge interest in this project," Hosterman said. "It's a great opportunity for our community."
Although Sullivan also supported the Bernal park plan, he urged those sitting on the next council to review the plans carefully when they come back for a more detailed review next year to make sure the city can still afford it.
With regard to the economy, Sullivan said, "I don't think we're out of the woods yet."
"This is kind of thing politicians love to do, but moving forward I ask the future City Council to look at this in 2013 and look at what the economy looks like," he added. "If we can't make up the $5 million shortfall, I'd be concerned about going forward."
But Councilman Jerry Thorne urged the council to approve the plan.
"Due to lack of space here, I've found that some of our sports teams have to use fields in neighboring cities," he said. "There's really a need in our community for this project."
Susan Andrade-Wax, director of community services, told the council that the planned expansion on the Bernal Park would closely adhere to the overall master plan prepared by San Francisco landscape architect Michael Fotheringham in 2004. Phase 1 of that plan, the lighted baseball field with parking, a restroom and children's play area, has been completed and those facilities are now in use.
The new plan would add three lighted multi-purpose fields in the same section of the park and, eventually, another lighted baseball field, outdoor amphitheater, a cultural arts center and a park maintenance facility.
The multi-use fields will be designed to accommodate soccer, lacrosse, rugby and football, she said.
The Oak Woodland, which will cost $4.2 million, will offer a new open space amenity to Bernal Park, she said.
When fully expanded, the new sports fields, with parking and other public facilities, will comprise 50 acres of the 318-acre Bernal Park. By comparison, Pleasanton Sports Park, one of the largest in the area, occupies 100 acres.
Assistant City Manager Steve Bocian, who described the financing plan for building the new project, told the council that the most controversial part of proposed fund measures might be a plan to have sports groups assess a fee as one of the components of their registration fee that would then be pledged over a number of years to reimburse the city for any "upfront" money used to meet park construction costs. With those pledges in place, the city would then loan funds from its various reserves to meet immediate park construction needs.
Potential sponsorships from local corporations also could be solicited in return for "minimal" posting of their support of the park improvements, Bocian added. A specific field could even be named in recognition of a corporate contributor.
That brought a complaint from Sullivan who said he didn't like the idea of corporate sponsors.
"I certainly don't want to see a 'JPMorgan Chase' field in the community park," he said.
With the council's approval, Bocian said he and Andrade-Wax will finalize their strategies for moving the Bernal project forward at a council meeting in December, return again in January with design development plans, and then work to start construction next fall.
They hope to open the park in 2015, he said.