The Tracy City Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Oct. 16, to leave the park as it is and sought options for how to protect it as parkland for years to come.
At a Sept. 17 meeting, a consultant and city staff presented ideas for redeveloping the 68-year-old park, including turning it into a housing development or apartment complex. Tracy residents have attended several meetings to oppose the idea, including an Oct. 2 City Council meeting and Oct. 4 Parks and Community Services Commission gathering.
On Tuesday, residents again hammered home their desire to keep the park — sold to the city for $10 in 1944 by C.E. and Margaret Ritter — as a park.
Among 12 speakers to address the council, Whittier Avenue resident Greg Welch presented a petition signed by 2,151 residents seeking to keep Tracy Ballpark a public greensward. Welch, who partnered with Bessie Avenue resident Phillip Treat to start the petition drive, said 523 of the signatories live within a half-mile of the park.
Treat was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s what we wanted, and what they should have done,” he said after the meeting.
Also smiling after the decision was Paul Ritter, whose grandparents deeded the property to the city.
“I think I have a very proud grandfather tonight,” Ritter said.
The council also unanimously approved a motion by Councilman Steve Abercrombie, seconded by Councilman Robert Rickman, to have city staff members look into ways the ballpark could remain a park “in perpetuity.”
Later in the evening, the council also told the staff to review how it gathers public feedback.
Abercrombie said the way staff members handled the discussion of options for developing Tracy Ballpark was in part responsible for the backlash against the proposals, though he added that council members in the past had directed them to examine economic development projects and reach out to the community before addressing the council.
“Council has told staff to look under every rock for economic development,” he said.
But Rickman said showing the public what looked like completed plans made it seem that someone was trying to make an “end run” around the City Council and the public process.
“I’m not happy on how this whole process transpired, and I do find it very troubling,” he said.
Assistant City Manager Maria Hurtado admitted that the images showing a possible arrangement of homes were a poor choice to start the conversation about the Tracy Ballpark’s future.
“Visual tools gave the community the impression that the project was already a done deal, which was not the intent,” she told the council.
She explained that the slides were meant to “create opportunity for visualizing what the neighborhood and park could look like.”
As part of the council’s Tuesday decision, renovation of Tracy Ballpark will remain up for funding via the capital improvement budget. Several council members and residents who spoke sought to improve its fields and facilities.
An estimate from the city manager’s office in early October stated that the cost of adequately repairing the athletic fields’ uneven surface and upgrading amenities such as bathrooms would be about $3.9 million.
A letter from City Manager Leon Churchill that was read at the Oct. 4 parks commission meeting stated that repairs at Tracy Ballpark had been bypassed in favor of a swim center and a new animal shelter in the most recent capital improvement priority process.
“There clearly is competition for limited dollars,” said Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel on Tuesday.
Maciel said the city should keep the park as public space for now but shouldn’t be too quick to handcuff itself when it comes to meeting the needs of what could be a very different city in the future.
“This situation is a pretty bad fit, but we shouldn’t fault staff for floating it as an option,” he said, regarding development of Tracy Ballpark. “I’d rather have (residents) come here and say ‘What were you thinking?’ rather than have staff lay back and not be aggressively looking for … the best utilization of (city) assets.”
At a glance
WHAT: City Council regular meeting
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16
WHERE: City Hall, 333 Civic Center Plaza
DETAILS: Mayor Brent Ives, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Maciel and councilmen Steve Abercrombie, Bob Elliott and Robert Rickman were present.