The tragedy of Oak Grove Regional Park

Stockton benefits from a handful of good parks. Weber Point, American Legion, and Oak Park are some that come to mind. But the best park in my opinion is also be the city’s most isolated. With roughly 180 acres of bucolic scenery, meandering trails, hundred-year-old oaks, and abundant wildlife, Oak Grove Regional Park is one of Stockton’s hidden gems. The park has picnic areas, a nature center and even lakes, making it the perfect centerpiece of a community. Or, at least it should have been. Despite its assets, the park remains barricaded from nearly all sides as would-be patrons can enter only from a single access point along a busy stretch of Eight Mile Road. The remaining perimeter of Oak Grove is cordoned off by an eight-foot high masonry wall, effectively keeping hundreds of households oblivious of the oasis in a dessert of stucco homes that sits next door.

An aerial view of Oak Grove park

An aerial view of Oak Grove park

In most cities, a great park such as Oak Grove would be prominently featured and accessible from all areas. But county officials thought it would be best to wall Oak Grove Park from encroaching development, and developers didn’t mind. As a result, Stockton’s best park is basically only accessible by car, even for people who live right against its boundaries.

As you can see, Oak Grove is surrounded by residential development. But instead of making the park accessible to the neighborhood, the surrounding homes are sealed off with an 8 foot cinder block wall. Because of this design, many residents who physically live just a block or two from the park have to walk over a mile to reach the park’s Eight Mile Road entrance. And even then, pedestrians are forced to walk alongside an arterial road with cars traveling at 55 miles per hour or more. That small stretch of the journey can be quite stressful, effectively deterring neighborhood residents from walking to Oak Grove.

Nothing can realistically be done to reconnect Oak Grove Park with the surrounding community. Instead, the question is, how did such a great park become a liability and not an asset?

Homes surround two thirds of Oak Grove, but the park is not accessible by foot unless you want to walk a long Eight Mile Road

Homes surround two thirds of Oak Grove, but the park is not accessible by foot unless you want to walk a long Eight Mile Road

The park has a history of being marginalized by developers and municipal officials alike. In 1997, when the Spanos Development Company was expanding their empire toward Eight Mile Road, it became clear that something had to be done to address the development’s encroachment on to Oak Grove Park. But instead of incorporating the park and its grand oak trees into their plans (which could have been achieved by including a road around the perimeter with houses facing the park), the company sought permits to cut down 18 trees near Oak Grove’s border, some of which were over 100 years old. Environmentalists called the act a “wholesale destruction.” The county parks department was not pleased, and decided it was in the park’s best interest to have developers to construct a wall around the park to keep the public out of the natural oak habitat.

In 2003, Oak Grove lost out to sprawl interests once again. To make room for the anticipated increase in traffic generated by planned development, county officials agreed to remove nearly two acres and 17 trees from the park. By shaving off 27 feet from Oak Grove’s northern end, officials cleared the way to widen Eight Mile Road (sidenote: the growth that was predicted never took place, and as a result it appears that the road widening was never really needed).

Today, we are left with a park that is nearly inaccessible by foot despite being in a census tract with over 10,000 people. Sadly, nothing can be realistically done to remedy these poor planning decisions. Instead, we are stuck with a wonderful park that is underused and underappreciated. A grim reminder of how our region’s lust for suburban development creates communities where genuine public spaces are treated as an obstacle instead of an asset.

There is only one entrance to Oak Grove Park.

There is only one entrance to Oak Grove Park.

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Categories: Community Commentary, Smart Growth

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia founded SCL in March of 2012. He holds degrees from UCLA as well as Johns Hopkins University and currently works as the Chief Operating Officer at Ten Space in Downtown Stockton, and previously worked as a researcher/analyst for a congressional agency in Washington DC. The views expressed here are solely of the author.

7 Comments on “The tragedy of Oak Grove Regional Park”

  1. Jon Seisa
    April 16, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    What a tragedy. And how totally visionless. Smart, those homes up against the park’s periphery are the backyards of the homes. I guess those residents can try climbing over their fences to enter the park.

    Well, one solution might be to just flat out buy up several of the adjacent homes in strategic locations or at the end of cul-de-sacs, bulldoze them off the map and convert the sites into neighborhood gateway entries to the park. I cannot think of any other practical solution.

  2. April 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    Agreed.
    Stockton has really lost it’s ‘urban vibe’ with much of the development beginning with the the past housing boom…or earlier? It’s sad that among many of the cities in the Valley, Stockton boasts some of the most beautiful historic buildings and neighborhoods (downtown is full of great architecture and neighborhoods like Miracle Mile and Magnolia District, both quite urban).

    There are some really beautiful homes in many of the newer suburban developments on the north side, but in my opinion they immediately lose charm by the common practice of raising fortified walls that really send a message: GO AWAY or KEEP OUT! I HATE MY CITY BUT LOVE MY NEIGHBORHOOD. WE ARE NOT ASSOCIATED WITH OUR SURROUNDINGS. But above the psychological first impressions their are the in your face wall fortifications. Those hot and pedestrian unfriendly sidewalks lined with stretches of blandness and conformity, noting interesting or unique to speak of until you jump the other side of the wall. Sad, sad, sad.

    And David you hit the nail on the head when you speak of what in essence was the loss of Stockton’s great park, Oak Grove RP, to stubborn developers, poor land management, and bad city planning/design. It just makes me think if any…any, of the people who run Stockton have stepped outside of the Valley, visited a truly urban city or taken a trip to a European city to see how things are done. Stockton is so forgettable and it’s because no one running the place has imagination or the true willpower to change the status quo.

    I won’t even mention how soon, the city will be completely walled off from travelers along it’s freeways due to sound wall construction minus the landscaping.

  3. Jon Seisa
    April 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

    One really has to seriously wonder why they bothered at all to install the one and only entry at Oak Grove Park. Perhaps their original vision was to construct an electrified behemoth fortress wall (like in the King Kong movie) around the whole park with a wide encompassing moat fully stocked with starving alligators, piranha and vipers, and then visitors to the park were to be parachuted in, while departing visitors were to be catapulted out over the walls. Obviously, that visionary plan was cost-reduced.

    Of course, I’m speaking silliness here to illustrate the silliness of the lack of good planning that should have foreseen eventual community integration and convenient access. Which, by the way, is such a rudimentary concept. How they overlooked this is beyond human comprehension.

    • Ron Perocho
      April 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      Here’s a few things about Oak Grove RP. I do believe that the land was donated to the county with a stipulation that greater and 50% of the park would stay “natural”. This is the term, “Regional Park”. Roughly, about 35% is under irrigation. This parks theme are all about the natural stand of oak trees there. There is a reason for the wall. Stop encroachment of specified “natural” areas. Being a regional park, this is also a learning park for future generations. Thats why we have the nature center. The docents are volunteers. Another reason for the wall is that it was one of the first things built. None of this was overlooked. Everything’s there for a reason. Believe me, nothing was overlooked.

      • Jon Seisa
        April 18, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

        I think those issues of a regional park and preserving its natural attributes are pretty much understood. Unfortunately, in an effort to prevent encroachment by walling off the park’s south and east flanks from development created its current handicap of isolationism and lack of community integration and access. You can have both protection and access through good planning as current sustainable nature parks are proving, which invite the human factor to engage in the park experience and respect the natural environment.

        Here is an example of an excellent regional park plan that invites an adjacent vast residential community to participate in the park experience via designated accessible trails and trail heads, rather than severing the park totally away from the adjacent community with an impenetrable 8-foot tall wall… this is the Fairfax County, Virginia, Sully Woodlands Regional Master Plan:

        http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/downloads/hickory-forest.pdf

        SOURCE: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/sullywoodlands.htm

  4. Darrel
    July 17, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    It is a “smart” move to control who comes into the park, this keeps the unsavory people from overwhelming the park and making it unsafe for everyone else (i.e. Dads Point/Pixie Woods).
    This a Family oriented park where you feel safe even during the evening hours. The only unsavory aspect is the illegal fisherman that fish with out purchasing the $5 ticket (probably do not have a license to fish anyway). I enjoy the park as it is.

  5. September 25, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    I do not doubt that park safety wins the day, with Stockton’s highly mobile “street people” not being easily able to access the park.
    Along with these hordes of miscreants, Stockton’s legion of juvenile offenders is also discouraged from ruining an otherwise peaceful visit to this oasis from the mega-ghetto not far south.
    This is a COUNTY park… not everyone in the county is keen to rub shoulders (or get stabbed in them) with Stockton’s “great unwashed”.

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