ABOUT FOUR MONTHS after San Jose installed two pole-mounted cameras to surveil the area where Alviso residents are trying to illegally spiff up an undeveloped plot, the city has taken them down.

The city first installed the cameras in October after resident Mark Espinoza began work with a group of volunteers to improve parts of a 3.3-acre parcel of city-owned land bounded by Grand Boulevard between Wilson Way and Trinity Park Drive. City officials said the cameras are part of an ongoing investigation by the San Jose Police Department.

“The cameras were intended to assist the city in identifying those responsible (for the work at the park),” city spokesperson Elizabeth Castro told San José Spotlight.

Espinoza said city crews took down the cameras on Feb. 10. The San Jose Police Department didn’t immediately respond when asked for an explanation about why the cameras were removed.

Espinoza said installing and removing the cameras was a waste of resources and shows someone in power is “pissed off” residents are taking matters into their own hands at the park.

“They were so in a hurry to put them up, and now they’re gone. How could taxpayers in the city of San Jose be OK with that?” Espinoza told San José Spotlight.

San Jose received the land more than two decades ago from a developer, Irvine Company, who built homes nearby so the city could build a park there, but a park never materialized. That long wait is what Espinoza said prompted him to start improving the land without city permission.

City officials have said a lack of funding for a new park is the reason one hasn’t been built. A 2018 city plan estimated it would cost roughly $14 million to overhaul the current Alviso Park nearby and to expand a host of new park facilities across a total of 23 acres, including the vacant plot Espinoza is working on.

District 4 Councilmember David Cohen, who represents Alviso, told San José Spotlight he’s working with the parks department to determine what the city can afford to do in the short term.

Cohen said he’s hoping to have work begin in about a year to build out some trails and other park features on the undeveloped land.

Unpermitted work

Before the cameras went up, the parks department threatened in a September letter to cite Espinoza or file criminal charges against him if he continued the illegal work, saying it posed a safety hazard, violated city codes and needed to stop.

Espinoza’s group used heavy machinery to level dirt, planted flowers and small trees and removed debris. They also took down some old fencing around part of the property Espinoza claims was a hazard because of fraying and rusted edges that protruded over the sidewalk.

The city later installed new eight-foot high fencing, which in combination with the cameras felt symbolic of a prison to Espinoza.

Cohen said the fencing is in place to keep people from driving onto the land via a small maintenance driveway, and tall fencing is common on undeveloped pieces of city land. He defended the cameras, saying the unauthorized work was putting residents at risk, including when a gas main broke during some of the work.

A citizen group used heavy machinery to level dirt, planted flowers and small trees and removed debris from the park site, including some old fencing that posed a hazard because of fraying and rusted edges that protruded over the sidewalk.

Espinoza denied his group broke any gas line or other utilities.

He said a city employee told him the new fencing cost $25,000. The cost of the cameras is unclear. He questioned why there was money available to replace fencing around empty property but there isn’t enough funding to provide some basic park features on the land.

Espinoza said he feels the lack of a park there is an example of how Alviso is poorly treated by the city. Cohen said improvements are being made to the area’s parks and more are on the way.

“Historically, Alviso has had years of neglect, I’m not going to deny that. But I will say they have one of the larger parks in the district and in the city,” Cohen said.

The city last year made some upgrades to Alviso Park’s barbecue areas, bathrooms, play areas and added a community garden, Cohen said, and this spring the city is planning to completely resod the grass area for baseball and soccer.

The councilmember said he hopes to continue to work with residents to get city-sanctioned improvements made at the empty plot of land soon.

“I encourage the community to work with us in the planning phases, but not to try to take matters into their own hands,” Cohen said. “It’s likely that anything the public does will have to be undone or redone just because of standards for development in the city.”

Contact Joseph Geha at joseph@sanjosespotlight.com or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.