The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence performed a study for the Association of Bay Area Governments, one component of which was identifying examples of how recently completed infill parks were financed. We will be publishing each of the four case studies (see the first here and the second here), with Oakland’s remarkable FROG Park as our third case study.
The city of Oakland has an impressive amount of parkland. In fact, of the nation’s densely populated cities, it has the most parkland per resident. But the land is unequally distributed: the hills are green but the more populous portions of the city are lacking. This fact was the impetus for the formation of the Friends of the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt (FROG), which began an effort to build a community park in the Rockridge neighborhood in 1997. The story of FROG Park is a paragon of community initiative and drive.
The first effort to create a park failed. When a Department of Motor Vehicles licensing facility underwent renovation, green space advocates suggested converting half its parking lot into a park to mitigate the development impact. Other neighbors, however, protested, fearing the loss of parking, and the FROG proposal was rejected. Though unsuccessful, the group remained determined to find a space for a park, and began researching other nearby sites. They soon discovered an area that combined an underused basketball court and dog park with fenced-off land owned by the Alameda County Flood Control District.
The site was complicated, both in shape – it is long and narrow, and passed over by a major highway – and in ownership. But it also offered tremendous potential, with a creek and an already-existing 120-foot-long mural under the highway. The idea for a park gained additional traction when two FROG volunteers came up with a master plan inspired by the idea of building playgrounds – one for toddlers and one for older kids – to serve as anchors on either end of a linear park.
To secure a lease on the site from the city, FROG was required first to deal with a number of liability issues, negotiating with CalTrans for permission to improve the site below California 24, and assuring unfettered passage for the Alameda County Flood Control District to service the creek and its utility area.
By early 2000, it became clear that FROG would be able to secure the cobbled-together park site, and fundraising began in earnest. By working with Oakland Vice Mayor Jane Brunner, FROG positioned itself to legally receive funding from city bond measures. (Later, Brunner also provided her entire $125,000 annual discretionary allotment to the park as a challenge grant.) Oakland’s Measure DD (the Trust for Clean Water and Safe Parks) provided $140,000. California Proposition 12 (the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000) supplied $493,000. They also manage to snag $60,000 for a tot lot under Measure I (the Oakland General Obligation Bonds for Parks) — and then, with the help of Friends of Oakland Parks, an amazing additional $400,000 of interest money on unspent Measure I funds.
Private fundraising followed in 2000, consisting of a mail campaign, monthly articles in the local newspaper, direct solicitations of businesses, a reception and a silent auction, generating well over $200,000, along with a critical $350,000 worth of volunteer labor and tools.
The park was built in two phases (with a third and final phase still to come). Phase I consisted of improved access to Temescal Creek (most of which flows below in an underground pipe), the construction of two playgrounds, the restoration of the 1972 mural (by the original artist along with students from a local arts college) and Phase II, completed in 2006, yielded paths, basketball hoops, swings and a water fountain, and the public art element: a series of obelisks equipped with small telescopes aimed at brass castings of animals that inhabit the landscape. (There is also a reproduction of the castings on a table so that the visually impaired can feel the sculptures.). The final addition will be a solar-powered restroom, as the park has only a porta-potty for 10 years, funded by FROG.
Total costs for Phases I and II totaled only $2.87 million, partly because FROG mobilized the entire community to help — 1,300 volunteers showed up over 10 days to construct the playgrounds under the direction of Leathers & Associates of Ithaca, New York. (FROG volunteers also prepared three meals a day for the volunteer workers and offered free child care during the entire period.)
FROG now works to sustain community involvement, which remains the backbone of the park. All maintenance besides grass cutting and trash removal (done by the city), such as creek cleaning and refinishing the wooden play structures, is done by neighbors on semiannual work days. A local high school sends its entire freshman class each year to work on replanting the native garden.
The park is a seven-minute walk from the nearest BART station, and park co-founder Theresa Nelson reports that many park visitors arrive on public transit. The weekend farmer’s market, held in the DMV parking lot, brings in “probably a thousand people, from kids splashing in the creek and sailing boats to older couples walking to the market,” according to Nelson. FROG has also worked with the developers of two adjacent infill developments to extend the park into their properties. Realtors have begun to pitch the park in advertisements, and surrounding properties seem to have benefited: while Rockridge property values have generally remained stable since the park was constructed, Nelson estimates an average home near the park has increased in value by about $150,000.