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Open Space Advocates Eye Grant Funds

Planning for the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park on the old Beltline property begins in February, 2013.

The City of Alameda needs grant money to transform the former Beltline Railway property into parkland.

Alameda open space advocates are setting their sights on some $7.5 million in grant funds offered through a new Priority Conservation Program, sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments, and the State Coastal Conservancy.

According to a press release late last week, the money is on offer for projects that “protect globally unique ecosystems and productive agricultural lands, while promoting healthy fisheries, recreational opportunities and climate protection.” Proposed project must be located in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara counties, and “should protect or enhance resource areas or habitats, provide or enhance bicycle and pedestrian access to open space and parkland resources, or support the Bay Area’s agricultural economy.”

Jim Sweeney and Dorothy Freeman, who have been working to realize Jean Sweeney’s, vision of an open space preserve on the former Beltline Railway property in Alameda, told Action Alameda News that, “these are the very things that Jean Sweeney (Jim’s deceased wife) dreamed of for the park and the people have agreed with her. The $7.5 million being offered by the Priority Conservation Grant Program is made for the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park. The people have said they want open space, walking/bike trails, non-structured recreation and a community garden. But the greatest thing of all is the opportunity to have 22 acres of open space park land in the middle of the city. The Jean Sweeney Open Space Park will not only be an open space for Alameda, it will enhance the greater metropolitan Bay Area. Obtaining a grant from the Priority Conservation Grant Program would help shorten the time it will take to complete the park in the way the people want.”

Separately, Melanie Wartenberg, co-director of Project Leaf, an Alameda citizen’s group advocating for more green space in Alameda told Action Alameda News, “Project Leaf is excited to learn of new funding possibilities, and we’d love to explore an opportunity to do a public/private partnership with the City of Alameda to advance green space and community gardening in the city. For us, that would include continued interest in the old Island High School site, and the Beltline property, and any properties that would fall within the grant opportunity parameters.”

There are some hurdles to overcome, however, according to Amy Wooldridge, Director for the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department. By e-mail, she told Action Alameda news, “We are exploring this grant opportunity and determining whether our project meets the criteria. The Belt Line/Jean Sweeney Open Space Park is not currently a designated Priority Conservation Area (PCA) and this is a grant requirement. However, we plan to request a PCA designation for this site. This funding stream also requires a 3 to 1 funding match, which is a hurdle, as this project is currently unfunded. We will be seeking grant funding opportunities, corporate donations, and private funding to fund the development of this new community park.”

The second of two public workshops is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. this Thursday, in Oakland. The State Coastal Conservancy is administering the grant program.

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