Long-awaited Roseland park approved but challenges, including legal threat, await
Roseland residents have waited over a decade for park plans to coalesce on a protected, city-owned property near Roseland Creek Elementary School.
Last week, many of those residents had cause to cheer as the City Council accepted a master plan for the roughly 19.5 acres that includes two parking lots, restrooms, play areas, walking paths, a lawn and a “sports court.”
But developing the property between McMinn Avenue and Burbank Avenue south of Hughes Avenue faces fundraising hurdles and a likely legal challenge from park advocates whose vision for the property differs from the plan.
The city’s first step in park development will be to construct an east-west path across the property between the two avenues, including a crosswalk offering safe passage over Burbank to the elementary school. That initial work also includes removal of underground septic tanks and old house formations.
The price tag for that work is estimated at around $1 million and the city has park construction funds available to pay for it.
From there, city officials say the project needs $8 million to $12 million to install the other approved park amenities, with plans to add those “as funding becomes available” through park development funds or grants, according to a Friday news release.
The future park today is home to the foundations of various homes torn out by the city, a section of seasonal Roseland Creek that a city official described as “heavily disturbed,” and a small woodland bisected by informal trails.
The city owns all four properties and began negotiating the purchase of the first parcel in 2009. The county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District helped fund the property acquisition.
Community members and waves of city officials since then have talked of a park at the location.
In 2017, Santa Rosa annexed most of the Roseland area and the same year established district elections under threat of a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in the city’s at-large election system.
The heavily Latino District 1 elected its first council member, Eddie Alvarez, in 2020. Alvarez and other council members celebrated their Sept. 28 vote on the park as a step toward equity in a portion of the city historically short changed on community investment by city leaders.
“They’re recognizing their voice,” Alvarez said of his constituents just before the vote, which came after two hours of public testimony.
“When they speak up they are heard, and thank you for hearing them,” he said to his fellow council members.
Still, public testimony on the park project was far from monolithic. Some citizens, including a long-standing advocacy organization called Roseland Action, spoke against the amount and type of infrastructure slated for the park, which they said could degrade a precious piece of nature in a growing city.
“Nature and wildlife is what our children are going to look for in the future,” Maria Manieri, who spoke in Spanish and did not identify herself as part of any organization said. Another plan opponent, Melissa Neufer, said she often brings her children to the woodlands on the property. On recent trips they saw two great-horned owls, she said. adding that she worries building the park might drive such wildlife away.
But others embraced the newly approved blueprint and criticized plan opponents’ stance as exclusionary. “People want a real community park,” said Magdalena McQuilla, who described herself as a mother of five.
“There’s always been a vocal opposition by people who live close to it and want it to stay the same because there’s not people there,” McQuilla said, “because it’s their own private place.”
Southwest Santa Rosa has less access to parks than much of the city, and is falling short of park access goals outlined in the city’s master plan.
The area today has 2.4 acres of park for every 1,000 residents, falling more than an acre short of the 3.5 acres per 1,000 residents called for by the city.
Santa Rosa plans to add nine parks to the area by 2035, which with projected population growth would equate to 3.9 acres of park per 1,000 residents.
Demand for recreation spaces is already high in Roseland and is growing along with the area’s population, said Jen Santos, deputy director of the city’s park division. There are over 800 new homes in various stages of planning within a mile of the planned park, Santos said.
The property, though undeveloped, is open to the public today. Duane Dewitt, a longtime community activist and member of Roseland Action, said the city was hijacking a preservation effort with its “roads and parking lot project.”
His group wants a less developed park and opposes the construction of a parking lot, lawn and a play area that will cover existing wildlife habitat and native plant species with impermeable surfaces or manicured grass.
Roseland Action intends to ask a judge to force the city to conduct an environmental impact report, Dewitt said, which would touch off a time-intensive but thorough scientific analysis of impacts to wildlife, habitat, water and soil. The city has downplayed the impacts of its planned construction, he said.
City staff argues the park project’s environmental impacts are not sufficient to trigger that legal step, a finding the council endorsed with its vote Tuesday night.
Alvarez called Tuesday’s vote a win even with such a possible challenge ahead. The property would be improved for the public by the coming work, Alvarez said. Santos said city officials hope to begin initial construction within nine months.
“Even if the most that we get out of it is a safe access from one side to the other and the rest of it grows back to a natural state that’s not a loss to the community,” Alvarez said.
In the meantime, he said, he and city officials would be working to secure funding needed for the approved project.
You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or email@example.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.