San Jose has installed two surveillance cameras in Alviso to watch over a vacant plot of city land, following residents taking matters into their own hands for a long-planned park.

The cameras mark an escalation in the city’s cold war with resident Mark Espinoza, who along with his son Marcos and other volunteers, have been illegally working to improve a small portion of the land.

Last month, without city authorization, Espinoza’s group brought in heavy machinery to level dirt, planted flowers and small trees and removed debris. The work was done mostly on a strip of land along Grand Boulevard between Wilson Way and Trinity Park Drive. The group also took down some fencing along Wilson Way.

Espinoza thinks the cameras have been installed to try and deter any further work on the land.

“I think that’s their plan. We’re still going to put plants and some trees, and we’re going to continue to clean it up,” Espinoza told San Jose Spotlight. “If they want to arrest me or something for that, they’re welcome to do that.”

In mid-September, Jon Cicirelli, city director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, sent Espinoza a letter ordering him to stop work on the site, or risk facing citations or criminal charges.

“By your own admission, you performed work on city property without permission by excavating, digging, or removing dirt using heavy machinery,” Cicirelli wrote. “These actions are clear violations of San Jose Municipal Code… and may constitute additional violations of additional state and local ordinances as well.”

The small portion of land Espinoza and others have been working on is part of a roughly 3.3-acre parcel the city received from developer Irvine Company in 2000 to satisfy parkland requirements when it built about 60 homes across the street.

Residents, including those who purchased the homes Irvine built, have been waiting for two decades to see the land turned into a park.

Earlier this month, the city reinstalled new fencing in the areas Espinoza removed it, even though the fencing does not actually block off access to the plot of land, Espinoza said.

The plot of land is adjacent to the original Alviso Park, which Espinoza contends has safety hazards and dilapidated features that the city is not fixing.

By doing the work with volunteers on the vacant land, Espinoza said he’s trying to encourage the city to invest money to improve the area. Instead, he’s disappointed to see the city spend money on a fencing replacement and surveillance cameras.

“The parks department is so upset that the community has reclaimed or taken over the park to revitalize it and clean it up, they’re willing to spend taxpayer money to put cameras up?” Espinoza said. “For what? To stop someone from cleaning up a park?”

Daniel Lazo, a spokesperson for the parks department, did not confirm the cameras were put up by the parks department and did not respond to questions about the cost of the cameras and fencing.

“We understand the frustration of residents, and the city of San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department is assessing the work being done at Alviso Park,” Lazo said. “Since this is knowingly unauthorized work, continued work will result in further enforcement.”

In a 2018 city master plan update, the city looked at overhauling the current Alviso Park and expanding park facilities across a total of 23 acres, including the plot Espinoza is working on. The project was estimated to cost $14 million back then. The city at the time said there was only $450,000 available in capital improvement funds for the park plans.

Espinoza said he’s hoping to have a meeting with the parks department and District 4 Councilmember David Cohen about the issues. Cohen’s office deferred questions from San Jose Spotlight to the city, adding the councilmember is focusing on renovating the area library.

“I want to find out who’s able to make these decisions without any consultation of the community in District 4, and spend taxpayer money wastefully,” Espinoza said, referring to the cameras and fencing.

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