CONCORD — Longtime residents near Ellis Lake Park who say they’ve worked years to see the park improved for years now want to make sure they can afford to enjoy the results of their efforts.
The city recently applied for $6.7 million in state funding would beautify the 10-acre park, located in the city’s Monument Boulevard corridor, a part of Concord densely populated by mostly Latinx residents and businesses.
When finished, improvements would include a new basketball court, better lighting, shaded seating and a garden space to surround the bass- and catfish-inhabited lake.
But some residents along the north end of the Monument corridor are now concerned that the improvements would raise the market values — and, eventually, the rent — of homes nearby the park, displacing lower-income tenants.
These residents warn that if the City Council doesn’t create “anti-displacement protections,” or certain strategies that prevent tenants from losing their homes because of new public investments, then it can stop counting on their support for securing the grant.
“We residents should not have to choose between having a beautiful Ellis Lake Park and being displaced from our neighborhood,” said Concord resident Dalila Quirarte during public comment at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
In a unanimous vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved the grant application but did not attach any future anti-displacement protections. Multiple council members pointed out that the application needed to be written in very specific language defined by the state with little flexibility.
The council did, however, direct its policy committee to begin discussing the issue of housing displacement related to potential park improvements and what could be done to prevent it.
In this case, the residents’ opinions hold weight with the city, which needs the support of community partners First 5 Contra Costa and Monument Impact, nonprofits that worked directly with the concerned residents to provide input on the application.
“If the partners don’t support the project, the city does not have a valid application,” city engineer Kevin Marstall said at the meeting.
More than a dozen residents who spoke on Tuesday maintained that they do enjoy the park and want to see a day when their families can relish in the improvements. But they also made clear that the city must ensure that the residents are still around when that day comes.
“We need you to start by forming an anti-displacement task force and committing to respond to (its) recommendations,” said Quirarte, who delivered a statement in Spanish that was translated for the council by Cecilia Pérez-Mejia, a community liaison at First 5 Contra Costa.
The city already has an established anti-displacement plan, which includes moving developments away from places where displacement is a possibility, as well as providing relocation and rental assistance for tenants whose homes are demolished for new projects.
But the plan applies only to projects that receive federal funding, whereas the Ellis Lake Park improvement grant would come from the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
“There are residents who live in other areas of Concord who think they speak for residents of Ellis Lake and other parts of the Monument,” said Vice Mayor Dominic Aliano. “And I am happy to know that the actual voices of these residents were heard and recorded during this process.”
Residents of the Monument corridor have long fought for better protections against sharp rent increases and unjust evictions.
The City Council, in turn, has taken steps to address the issue, including approving a rent registry program last month that will require landlords to post rent increases and reasons for eviction online.
Some residents say they were eager to give their input on the best possible upgrades for Ellis Lake Park, a $6.7 million project that would come out of a $4 billion pool of public works grants that California voters approved in 2018.
But the speakers at Tuesday’s meeting warned the council not to leap at the sight of cash without first safeguarding for potential consequences.
“It’s important that we acknowledge that the terms ‘revitalization’ and ‘new development’ and the impacts that follow them have often been dog whistles for gentrification and accelerated displacement throughout the Bay Area of longtime communities of color,” said Concord resident Hector Malvido. “We can’t let history repeat itself. We have to better than that.”