Emeryville’s latest Children’s park was recently unveiled to the public. The small play area just to the west of the Watergate complex was over five years in the making and the result of the persistent advocacy efforts of Watergate resident and Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee member Patricia Weber.
Weber initiated the idea for the park when her now six-year-old daughter Hayden was just a year old (Hayden now has a younger sister named Daphne).
Weber is pleased with the outcome, although there were a few frustrations along the way. She hopes her experiences can provide a clearer, faster roadmap for others in the city looking to actualize their projects.
The Peninsula’s First Kid’s Park
Watergate, originally built as an adults-only apartment complex in the 70’s, lately has become a destination for young families because of its prime location and relative affordability.
Despite being home to approximately 20% of the city’s population and a swelling contingency of families, the area has lacked an enclosed kids’ play area within walking distance.
Living at the Watergate can feel a bit like living on an island with the only access point being Powell Street. The closest “walkable” kids playgrounds were previously on the other side of the menacing I-80 offramp and the dangerous Shellmound intersection.
The first couple of times I tried walking to a playground with a stroller, I experienced close-calls with motorists…
“The first couple of times I tried walking to a playground with a stroller,” Weber recalled. “I experienced close-calls with motorists and now I almost never walk that direction with the kids. Emery Go-Round would be nice but the current route is long and impractical and the buses are not very stroller-friendly.”
Weber notes that these obstacles discourage families like hers from walking within the city and loading kids in a car for a brief playground outing is impractical. “All families in the city should have a walkable playground.”
Initially Approved in 2018
After becoming a parent in 2016, Weber soon realized the lack of amenities and community spaces that her neighborhood offered families. She identified the open space on the Marina as an opportunity for a playground and rallied support for it through a neighborhood parents group she co-founded.
In 2017, the group met with city council members and presented a signed petition to the city manager. Weber brought the idea forth to the Parks and Rec committee who hosted a community meeting at Watergate to hear resident input about the project.
The playground eventually became an action item on the Parks & Recreation Committee agenda in 2018 and was ultimately approved later that year with $150K earmarked in funding. Weber, a licensed civil and environmental engineer, joined the Parks & Rec. Committee to help advise on the project and further advocate for park space for Emeryville families.
The project was moving along at a reasonable pace but soon got bogged down by various forms of regulations and bureaucracy.
Davenport Park Obstacles & Challenges
While many delays were inevitable and caused by outside factors like permitting agencies and site limitations, Weber notes that some of the delay was due to the city’s small staff and lack of a dedicated Parks department. The city currently allocates only a fraction of a public works engineer to work on parks projects. They are not present at committee meetings, which are run through the Community Services Department. Weber notes that the Parks & Rec. committee is advocating that the city prioritize parks by dedicating a full member of staff to city parks development, planning and project management.
In 2020, the pandemic hit and the limited city resources were focused on continuing community programming and less on city parks. While the Parks and Rec committee was supportive of this, they also urged the city to find the resources to move forward with parks projects, as outdoor spaces became more critical to residents’ well-being.
Many city committees recently lost their city councilmember liaison as a result of the city’s efforts to reduce the time burden that being a councilmember requires. The liaison can provide an important advocacy arm and keep city staff accountable to the various committees.
“We on the committee firmly believe that Parks are essential infrastructure,” Weber noted. “as they profoundly benefit the physical, mental, emotional and social health of our community. That needs to be reflected in city staffing and planning.”
Underground PG&E lines running through the park site required adjustments that caused some delays and increased the footprint of the playground area. Inflation since the original design was approved also increased project costs and city staff had to receive approval for additional funding from council.
“The level of effort I had to put into this to bring it to life is a major equity issue.”
When the city was finally ready to begin construction, there were equipment delays. The playground was on track to be completed by the end of 2022, then the area was hit with a wrath of storms causing further delays. The park unofficially opened to the public on February 10.
“The level of effort I had to put into this to bring it to life is a major equity issue,” said Weber. “You have to have the time, energy and resources to make changes like this, which families just don’t typically have in general. And as we know, some families have less than others.”
Will More Parks Keep Families in Emeryville?
The park has gotten immediate use and has quickly become a gathering space for children and parents.
The play area is also benefiting the handful of Marina Liveboards who have families.
“I’ve been here everyday since it’s opened, sometimes twice!” noted fellow Watergate resident Jon Swann who has an 18 month-old son. “It’s been an incredible addition to our community. We’ve connected with families who I had no idea were here!”
“It’s been a great asset to the community and it’s made our lives better,” Weber noted with satisfaction. “And I believe our city’s park situation is going to get better.” The Parks and Rec committee has been advocating for a children and nature program that is gaining momentum in the city. In addition to working to improve the staffing situation, the committee is also taking steps to increase community input. Weber urges community members to attend meetings and/or write to the committee with their ideas and concerns so the committee can advocate on their behalf.
Weber hopes the park will help extend Watergate families tenure in Emeryville, but she knows the condominiums are not the ideal size for families. Her now family of four has a 2-bedroom, which is the largest at Watergate, and she says it is a tight fit.
“A lot of families left during the pandemic,” Weber said. “But we’re seeing new families and this park is helping us to connect with each other.”
Official Ribbon Cutting Event
An official Ribbon Cutting event with local dignitaries was held on March 3rd at 4 p.m.
Feature Image: Weber enjoying the benefits of the playground with with her youngest daughter Daphne.