More than 100 citizens poured into The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Monday afternoon to express concerns about the Brackenridge Park Master Plan during the fourth of six public meetings this summer hosted by the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. Some citizens provided input to help develop the vision for the proposed park plan, but many citizens told master plan designers that the proposed changes aren’t wanted or needed.

More green space, increased visibility, preservation of historic buildings, and the stripping of invasive plant species are some of the landmark goals of the new master plan. In addition, the plan aims to close down roads that wind through the park to make way for more green space, incorporate a 10-acre Grand Lawn in the place of a parking lot, and include some kind of tram system to transport people to the park’s main destinations. The goal is to increase use of a historic park that is, save for major holidays and events, largely underutilized.

To read the detailed master plan, click here.

But many people that attended the meeting in the Westside Monday night were worried that the essence of the park would be lost if the master plan elements were implemented and shared their discontent regarding the proposed parking garages on the outskirts of the park and street closures. They were afraid that the plan will allow the City to charge fees for parking and park use, because many families drive to the park for Easter, birthdays, fiestas, and picnics.

San Antonio Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia said that was incorrect. Urrutia assured audience members that “nothing is finalized” and reminded them that the master plan “is just a vision,” and no fees or programming for the park are in the plan as of yet.

“The vision is to restore, preserve, and protect,” he said, highlighting the importance of keeping with “ecological, historic, and cultural features.”

Improving water quality from the San Antonio River, reducing vehicular traffic, and increased neighborhood connectivity, are other goals of the plan Urrutia discussed. It’s possible that streets could be closed down only during certain events or seasons.

The master plan and input collected during the public meetings will be presented to City Council before it votes on the plan later this summer.

The new plan is being led by the City, the Brackenridge Park Conservancy and a consultant team, with Rialto Studio Principal and Landscape Architect James W. Gray, Jr. at the helm. Other firms are also involved in the plain aimed at reducing traffic and creating a more bike and pedestrian friendly park. While the plan does not specifically call for a fee structure for parking or park use, it has been discussed by park neighbors and stewards when considering how to best manage the park.

(Read More: Easter Campers Leave Piles of Trash in Brackenridge Park – Again)

Urrutia moderated the discussion on Monday and Councilwoman Shirley Gonzalez (D5) and Lynn Bobbitt, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, were also in attendance and gave brief remarks encouraging the audience to participate in the discussion.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speaks with community members before the public meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) speaks with community members before the public meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Citizens were invited to examine master plan visuals showcased on easels in the back of the room and to place dots on elements of the draft master plan that people like, are neutral about, or flat out don’t like. Several individuals refused to participate.

This planning exercise reminded attendee Anna Ramirez of the Spanish term “patronismo,” which translates to “we know what’s best for you.”

“I’m just a simple mother of four” said Belinda Glover, a mother in the community who says that many other citizens are just like her, and earn a minimum wage. “All we can do is go to the park.”

“It needs to be accessible and affordable for all of us,” said Victor Azios, a representative of AARP.

Several citizens said they disagreed with the proposed “people mover” trams because it would inhibit the seamless act of bringing belongings and set-up material that people easily haul from the trunks of their cars for use in the park. The overarching fear of those who voiced opinions on the microphone on Monday was stripping the park of its current accessibility to people from all walks of life.

Bill Glasscock, a senior citizen, wants the park to remain the same as do others who echoed his signature quote of the night: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

While some rejected all change, other participants said they wanted something to happen at the park, but said the draft master plan doesn’t reflect the needs of the city’s majority Hispanic population. Representatives of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and members of AARP echoed these concerns. Many participants stressed the importance of maintaining their traditions, especially Easter weekend celebrations in the park.

“It’s a tradition in the park” for people to bring their things for picnics and Easter Sunday celebrations said María Berriozábal, 75, a former San Antonio council member.

When she shows people in the park copies of the master plan, she said they tell her “Nos están echando señora.” (“They are kicking us out ma’am.”)

Others sneered at “The Grand Lawn,” concept. Berriozábal said the park needs more trees, not open lawns.

“We’re used to plazas and patios, and parques, a place of conviviality, a place where people come to make a sense of who they are as a community,” said community member Tómas Ibarra. “To limit access to this is to tear us under.”

Gray, the lead designer of the plan, stood up an introduced himself to the audience. He explained that one of the many priorities of the plan is to listen to community input.

“I’m very sympathetic to what I’m hearing tonight. I want you all to know that we’re listening,” he said “One of the hallmarks of our firm is that we listen, and we’re gonna do the right thing for San Antonio.”

The next two-hour public meetings, all at 6 p.m., are scheduled for:

For more information visit the Parks and Recreation website.

Top image: Community member and former school teacher Gloria Ramirez has been visiting Brackenridge Park for years and is against many proposals put forth by the master plan.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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