WATSONVILLE — Watsonville Director of Parks and Community Services Nick Calubaquib strongly believes the City is in the midst of a “recreation renaissance.”
The number of people at their events is growing exponentially, community involvement and input has been as strong as ever and the City has had an injection of youth in several important leadership roles — Mayor Francisco Estrada, City Manager Matt Huffaker and Calubaquib are all under 40.
“We’ve started to rebuild the [recreation] team and there’s new folks in place to drive the direction a little bit differently,” Calubaquib said. “On top of that, we have a brand new city manager as well, who has a different vision for parks and recreation services than there has been in the past. We have a really energized city council that’s also really supportive and invested in making sure our parks and recreation system is top notch and cutting edge. And I think we have a community that’s ripe and ready for different things as well…I think people are really excited to start looking at our spaces a little differently.”
Among the spaces the City is looking to make changes to: the City Plaza and Ramsay Park.
The Parks and Community Services department since January has been holding meetings with community members and conducting surveys at local events to draft master plans for Watsonville’s two historic parks.
Currently, there are two proposed design plans for the Plaza and one preferred plan for Ramsay — all three come from Verde Design, Inc. of Santa Clara.
The plans for the Plaza come with several modifications. One would add shaded benches, a children’s park and a short performing stage. The other would move the iconic bandstand from the center of the Plaza a few feet toward Main Street to make way for a raised permanent performing stage and small amphitheater-esque seating.
Here is @WatsonvilleCity’s other proposed plan for the City Plaza. The bandstand would stay as the centerpiece. Shaded benches, a children’s park and a shorter stage are included in this design. pic.twitter.com/RcYOXbJlP3— Tony Nunez (@Tony_Nunez) June 4, 2019
The @WatsonvilleCity is asking for feedback on its two proposed improvement plans to the City Plaza. Here is one of the designs, which will move the bandstand from the center of the plaza a few feet to the west. pic.twitter.com/Nh9aNSso8x— Tony Nunez (@Tony_Nunez) June 4, 2019
Ramsay Park, meanwhile, could see several additions, including an improved softball diamond that could also be used as a soccer field — the park’s third pitch — and a pump track for mountain bikes that would replace the old skatepark.
“The plans that we’re sitting on today are based off of what we’ve heard throughout the process,” Calubaquib said. “As we collect data our consultants have been adjusting the plans.”
Calubaquib and Co. are expected to make their first City Council presentation on July 9. Before that, they will present to the Parks and Services Commission on July 1, according to Calubaquib.
In the meantime, Calubaquib said an online survey on the City website is still available for the public, and he welcomes feedback.
So far, Calubaquib said, community members have been positive about the changes to Ramsay Park. The proposals for the City Plaza, however, have rustled a few feathers throughout the Pajaro Valley.
Chief among the concerns: altering the bandstand that has stood for decades.
Huffaker said the historical aspects of the Plaza — the bandstand and cannons, in particular — must remain part of the equation because of their designation.
In both proposals, the bandstand, which has been inoperable since the 1989 earthquake, according to Calubaquib, would be rebuilt and reinforced to once again house live performances.
“There have been some concerns as we start talking about making changes to the Plaza, because there are folks that have a really strong connection, particularly with the bandstand, which I think for many people has served as a symbol of Watsonville for many years,” Huffaker said. “Our plan is to capture the character of the plaza and be able to build it as more of a place to gather.”
Funding for the improvements would come from state-distributed grants provided by Prop 68, a $4.1 billion bond measure for parks, environment and water approved by voters last year.
Calubaquib said August is the deadline for the first round of funding.
There is no guarantee Watsonville will qualify for funding.
“But we wouldn’t even be in the running if we don’t get these [plans] done,” Calubaquib said.
Calubaquib said the creation of the a master plan for both parks is part of department’s push to update its overarching Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which was first developed in 2009.
That plan, however, was never realized for several reasons — the recession being the biggest — so the department decided to revisit the program this year and make adjustments according to the current direction of the City, which recently walked back its strict alcohol ordinance put in place in 2002 and is in the process of developing a Complete Streets Plan for the downtown.
The most recent Complete Street Plan proposal — presented to the City Council in early May — would make drastic changes to the structure of downtown, including the slimming of the oft-congested Main Street from four lanes to two and the addition of wider sidewalks, high-visibility crosswalks and buffered bike lanes.
“We want to make sure that its complimentary to both of those things, and that it helps to support the next phase of our downtown, whatever that may look like,” Calubaquib said.
These men enjoy relaxing in Watsonville's Plaza under mild, sunny conditions Wednesday. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian
Former Watsonville Mayor Luis Alejo, who now serves as a Monterey County Supervisor, said he was in favor of many of the ongoing changes in his hometown, but would caution city leaders from moving too fast on historic locations like the Plaza.
In 2010, Alejo tried to name the City Plaza after United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, but that pitch was met with heavy pushback from the community. He “very quickly” pulled the proposal.
“It wasn’t what the community wanted, so I had to listen to the voice of the people,” he said. “The Plaza is a special place for many Watsonville residents older or young…I would hope [city leaders] learned from what I went through.”
Any change, Alejo added, could possibly remove the essence of what makes the Plaza “special.”
“I’ve seen other communities try to replicate the Watsonville Plaza, but none have come close to the look and feel of the Plaza,” he said. “It’s the centerpiece of downtown Watsonville, and the city as a whole. Every event imaginable has taken place in the Plaza…I think the City would be wise to not quickly move to make changes if they’re not needed.”
To see the City's current plans for the Plaza and Ramsay Park, visit: https://www.cityofwatsonville.org/1745/Strategic-Plan-and-Park-Specific-Master-