After two decades, one San Jose community is still waiting for a vacant lot covered in dried grass and weeds to be transformed into a promised park.

A group of Alviso residents is working, without a permit, to improve a small portion of the plot of land, raising eyebrows in the community and at City Hall.

Over the past couple of weeks, resident Mark Espinoza, his son Marcos and several others have brought in heavy equipment to remove excess dirt and level out a strip of land along Grand Boulevard between Wilson Way and Trinity Park Drive. The strip is part of a roughly 3.3-acre parcel the city received from developer Irvine Company in 2000 to satisfy city parkland requirements when it built about 60 homes across the street.

The group of residents has also removed trash and cement chunks that had been dumped there, trimmed trees and planted flower seeds, Espinoza told San Jose Spotlight.

“I want to live in a nice community just like everybody else,” he said.

On Tuesday, a city code enforcement officer visited the site after receiving a complaint and questioned the group, but no citation was issued, according to city officials.

Because the parcel is city park land, San Jose’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department would likely take the lead on any potential citation or warning letter to Espinoza or the group, a city spokesperson said. Code enforcement typically handles issues on private property.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Espinoza said of the group’s unpermitted work. “I challenge the city to come down here and do some kind of penalty, or threat or arrest. Because I won’t stop.”

Daniel Lazo, a spokesperson for the city’s parks department, said San Jose understands the frustration of the residents, but added the work being done is unauthorized, is considered trespassing and could pose safety risks.

“Since this is knowingly unauthorized work, continued work will result in further enforcement. Our next steps are to issue a warning to the resident or residents involved,” Lazo told San Jose Spotlight.

Lazo said work needs to be done through a competitive bidding process to ensure it’s done safely and with city oversight.

Espinoza said he initially tried to go through District 4 Councilmember David Cohen’s office, which oversees Adopt-A-Park volunteer efforts, but was frustrated by the process that required an application and waiting period.

“We waited 20 something years for them to do something, why are we going to continue to wait for an application?” Espinoza said. “My kids were babies when the park should have been developed. They’re adults now.”

Espinoza has become something of a polarizing figure in Alviso, in part because of his involvement in numerous lawsuits trying to stop several developments in the area over the years, including Topgolf.

He has also lodged environmental challenges against two recent developments, a hotel and Second Harvest’s new food bank headquarters. He told San Jose Spotlight he plans to sue to try and stop those developments.

Espinoza said he’s doing the park work in the hopes the city will take notice and refocus on building the long overdue park on the land, though it’s unclear what will happen due to a lack of funding.

Decades of waiting

A 2018 city Master Plan Update for the park estimated it would cost roughly $14 million to overhaul the current Alviso Park and expand new park facilities across a total of 23 acres in the area, including the plot Espinoza is working on.

The city at the time said there was $450,000 available in capital improvement funds for the park plans. A charity, Santa Visits Alviso Foundation, run by Alviso advocate, property owner and Valley Water board member Richard Santos, has $272,000 which was intended to be used for Alviso Park improvements. The money came from a 2015 lawsuit settlement between a community group and developer Trammell Crow, which built three large warehouse facilities next to the existing park site and a school. The settlement also includes $60,000 for park maintenance annually for 20 years.

Santos told San Jose Spotlight he won’t release the money until the city shows him proof, such as a contract, that work will be done to build the new park.

Lazo, from the parks department, chalked up the lack of a park to a significant funding gap.

“What’s feasible to be done at the park, that’s currently being assessed by our capital projects team at this time,” he said.

Santos, a frequent critic of Espinoza, said he too is frustrated by the city’s broken promises to make a park there, but questions whether doing unsanctioned work is the best way to go.

“Who gives him the authority to do it? Is he doing it right? Does he have permits?” Santos told San Jose Spotlight. “You can’t take the law into your own hands, even though the city is neglectful.”

He said it’s ironic Espinoza is behind the effort, since he has brought environmental quality challenges to developments, often over concerns about air quality.

“Here’s the guy who complains and fights the city about these environmental issues, and here he is driving a tractor and making dust that nobody wants,” Santos said.

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