18 Oct Q&A: Park Director Says There Are ‘More Things to Be Done’ in Bay Point
“While all the communities around Bay Point have been able to progress into the 21st century, we’re still stuck,” said park director and lifelong Bay Point resident Eduardo Torres. (Photo by Joe Dallman)
Interview, Malcolm Marshall
Editor’s Note: Lifelong Bay Point resident Eduardo Torres, 45, is a director on the board of the Ambrose Recreation and Park District. He spoke with the Pulse recently about improvements to Ambrose and Anuta parks — including Bay Point’s upcoming first disability-friendly playground — and the importance of civic engagement. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Richmond Pulse: Restoring Ambrose Park has been important to you since you were elected in 2020. Where are we with that effort?
Eduardo Torres: We opened new bathrooms at Ambrose Park after years of activism by local groups and getting the pool reopened. There are still more things to be done there.
That park used to be thriving. It had baseball fields and used to be filled to the brim with picnics and barbecues. It was the hub of the community for many, many decades. My goal is to revitalize that park to have sports and family gatherings. It’s a beautiful park beautifully situated in an area with a lot of trees, a lot of green. Definitely needs a lot of TLC.
We approved a new irrigation system. That means we’re going to get a new lawn. The basketball courts are in bad shape. We don’t have a baseball field, and we need that. There are opportunities to add a soccer field, baseball fields, basketball courts. Those are things that will draw the community there on top of having a swimming pool. The pool is seasonal. We need something that will draw people there year-round.
Being a small district, there’s been financial challenges. But there’s also a lot of opportunities to partner up with the city of Pittsburg because the city has influence over that park. They have the ability to invest in that park. But that really needs to be led by us here in the Bay Point community and not so much putting it back on the city of Pittsburg to take initiative when we have to take initiative to make those partnerships happen and these projects happen.
RP: Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with magnificent natural treasures. Still, many Black and Brown youth never experience them. How can the district heighten awareness and appreciation of the parks and open spaces in Bay Point?
ET: Ambrose Park is situated on a natural creek, so there’s an opportunity to revitalize some of the park and bring in some of the native plants there. It creates opportunities for outdoor learning experiences about native plants and stuff. That’s something I’d like to see at that park. There’s a community garden that Jasmine Cisneros is a leader on that has been a great tool for Black and Brown people in this community to learn how to work the land, how to really appreciate plants and vegetation.
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There used to be a part of Pacifica Park behind Riverview Middle School. That land used to be part of the district. Mount Diablo Unified School District owns that land now. I envision that we partner up with them and create a park there. That land sits on an area where there’s a natural creek, there are native plants and a lot of native wildlife.
I see those as opportunities for real-life experiences with nature and the native plants and stuff that exist here. This area is basically the gateway to the delta. This was an area profound with wildlife before colonizers arrived here.
Remembering that and looking around to see where that still kind of exists, we have to create access to that. That access could look like revitalizing these parks with educational components. And making sure we have access to other pieces of land here in Bay Point [so] that people can go and experience the delta.
RP: What is the status of usable soccer fields in Bay Point?
ET: We don’t have any dedicated soccer fields. I’m a huge advocate for soccer fields. In Bay Point, demographics have changed. I mentioned baseball earlier, because when I was a kid, that was the biggest sport here. Everyone played baseball. Baseball fields everywhere. When I was a kid, in the early ’80s, the Latino population was very small. Now, 70%, 80% of the children in this community are Latino.
So we don’t have any soccer fields. That’s a huge sport within our communities. Recently, we had a community input session at Anuta Park here in Bay Point on a new [Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant] playground that we are going to install. We invited the community, and a handful came out. What they came to talk about was, we use this park for soccer. We play soccer here all the time. We have this team called the Aztecs, a little league soccer team. They were asking how we could provide them with goalposts and basically a soccer field. I’m all in favor.
Almost every night, I see people playing soccer there. If we have that space being used frequently by people who want to play soccer, then let’s figure out a way to provide those accommodations. It’s not only great for the community, it’s also an opportunity for us to make revenue. I envision at least having at least two or three soccer fields. It’d be nice to at least have two that are dedicated, and Anuta is prime for it, and it is a perfect place for it. It’s on Willow Pass Road. It’s accessible by freeway. It’s close to shops and restaurants.
RP: You played a big part in pushing for board meetings to switch from being over the phone to taking place via Zoom. Has that improved anything, particularly access for the community?
ET: It’s improved a lot of things. Presentations and budgets, those things were being presented over a conference line. That wasn’t good enough for the community, and the community asked for the meetings to be switched over to Zoom. I advocated for that. It’s actually made it very accessible for the community, mainly because the technology hasn’t failed us. With the conference line, that technology was failing us on a regular basis. Switching over to Zoom, we haven’t had any technical hiccups, which was one of the biggest gripes that the community brought forth.
During the pandemic, school, work, and a lot of things that we do have been happening through Zoom. It’s improved how people participate, when they show up, because they’re able to see budgets, they’re able to see presentations, we’re able to invite people to do presentations, and in a manner that we can all visually be present for. There was some pushback about how going to Zoom could stop accessibility. It was the opposite. It’s actually improved accessibility.
RP: Since no one filed before the deadline, there will not be an election for the three directors whose seats are at the end of their term, meaning they will automatically keep their positions for another four years. Can you talk about any pros and cons you see to this situation?
ET: It saves the district money not having an election. That’s the only pro I see. The cons are the fact that we are not bringing new people to the board, and the community isn’t as engaged as it could be. This community has way too many gatekeepers. Because of that, there’s a huge disconnect around things that we need to address. Housing is still an issue here. Education is still a huge issue in this community, safety, pollution, all these things are still big issues in this community. When we don’t have people who are connected to the community in positions of power, we get stuck doing the same thing we’ve been doing for decades, which is nothing.
While all the communities around Bay Point have been able to progress into the 21st century, we’re still stuck and we’re still thinking like it’s 1970s or 1960s. That’s very sad, because so much has changed. When people are not engaged in these decision-making opportunities, this is what happens: We get stuck with the same people over and over and over again, and nothing changes — because people aren’t stepping up to challenge those in positions of power.
I invite anyone to be part of this process, come to the meetings, ask us questions, tell us what’s wrong, tell us what’s not working, tell us what is working. I want to hear it all. And when people aren’t engaged, we get stuck with the same, what I like to call the SOS: the same old stuff.
RP: What do you think the future holds for Bay Point’s parks?
ET: My vision is safe, equitable, clean parks that are welcoming to everyone, no matter their race, gender or class. I envision parks that bring the communities together. I envision opportunities for the communities to grow and opportunities for the community to empower themselves to participate in sports and become leaders themselves through those sports and programs that we offer. I envision more programs for the youth, more programs for seniors, things that we could do to lift up the houseless population.
I envision the parks to be a place where everyone is welcome and that we have something to offer everyone, no matter their abilities. We recently approved an ADA playground at Lynbrook Park. Last week, we approved a new design for another ADA playground at Anuta Park. We’ve never had an ADA playground in Bay Point, so that’s huge. People who have children [with disabilities] have had to go to other communities like Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill just to take their children to parks that are ADA-friendly.
I envision parks, they’re super inclusive for everyone and safe and clean and dignified. We are doing our best as a district to make sure that’s happening for everyone.
RP: Is there anything else you would like to add?
ET: People in West Pittsburg/Bay Point need to understand that without their civic engagement, things will never get done. I want to see so much more happen in this community, but it can’t all happen on my shoulders, or a few of us, for that matter. There’s a lot of opportunity to step up. People don’t realize the power that we have. We are the largest unincorporated community in Contra Costa County, and we don’t have a high school. We don’t have city services like other cities have. There’s a lot of problems with our education systems, and youth getting into drugs and crime. That’s been happening here for decades. We need a culture shift. That starts with the people in Bay Point stepping up, parents becoming leaders, youth becoming leaders. We need to start focusing on our youth to develop them to become leaders. So when they finish high school and go off to college, they come back and they give back.
People leave this community and don’t come back. They’re doing great work in other communities, but they’re not coming back and saying what can we do to help? What can we do now that I have all this experience working in these big cities and different regions? What can I do to bring those resources back to my community? So it’s not just a challenge for people in my community to step up. It’s also a challenge for those who have left the community and not given back. What it’s going to take to lift up this community is everyone chipping in, not just one person or a few of us doing it.