An official ceremony at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, featured San Diego officials cutting the ribbon to welcome the public to Ruocco Park. Located at the intersection of West Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway, the park covers 3.3 acres and offers views of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island, and downtown San Diego.
Ruocco Park was funded jointly by the Port of San Diego, the San Diego Foundation, and the downtown Hyatt. The Port contributed $3.3 million and the Hyatt contributed $.5 million. The San Diego Foundation contributed $3.5 million, $1 million of which is reserved for funding future maintenance. The funds from the San Diego Foundation allowed for the installation of public art and upgrades to the park that would not have been possible with the Port and Hyatt funding alone. Ruocco Park is the 18th public park located on Port land and brings the total amount of land dedicated to parks to 153 acres.
The namesake of the park is Lloyd and Ilse Ruocco. Mr. Ruocco was a prominent modern architect in San Diego and designed many homes and buildings in the area including the Geophysics Building at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (1964), and the Civic Theatre (1965). Mrs. Ruocco was a professor of art at San Diego State University. The completion of Ruocco Park fulfills the wishes of the Ruoccos more than 25 years after they established a trust to create a public park in San Diego. This trust contained the funds contributed by the San Diego Foundation for the park.
The entrance to the park, at the north-east corner, invites visitors to enter through a public art installation, The Riparium by Roman de Salvo. This artwork features vertical cross-sections of eucalyptus trees which are suspended over the entrance to the park by steel cables attached to massive towers. The pattern of the branches of eucalyptus when looking skyward is evocative of a network of veins or water flowing. On the ground beneath the suspended wood are stones that are partially submerged beneath the level of the hardscape and look like buoys frozen in concrete time. I was happy to learn that the wood used in the installation was harvested from already dead trees in Sherman Heights and Ramona, giving the artwork and park another hidden connection to other communities in the county.
Once inside the park there is a sidewalk that loops around the exterior, framing a large grassy area in the middle. The north-west portion of the park features picnic tables and all around the park are attractive benches inviting visitors to sit and enjoy the breeze and views. There are also many trees planted along the sidewalk and near the benches to further increase the allure of a rest and respite from the Southern California sun. Public restrooms and water fountains have also been installed in the park, on the south side.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the park took place on a fittingly sunny day and the park looked marvelous. Considering that the bulk of the park is located where a parking lot previously stood, it is a clear upgrade and one that residents and visitors can enjoy for many years. However, there are a few features of the park that I would draw attention to.
Having rode my bicycle to the opening, I was happy to find bicycle parking included in the park amenities. There are two bicycle racks located in the park, with room for 6 bicycles on each rack. For vehicles there are over 66 metered parking spaces adjacent to the park. Vehicle parking allows for visitors from further afield to visit the park but on the heels of a mayoral debate on quality of life and walkability of our city I question if the ratio of bicycling to vehicle parking in this location is encouraging a healthier future for our city.
Funding source language
Signage adjacent to the park site during construction and on display at the opening touted the project as “another tax-free, public improvement by the Port of San Diego”. Technically this is correct – the Port didn’t impose a sales tax or other fee on residents to pay for the park. However, the Port of San Diego was given an incredibly valuable set of assets when it was created and the rents received from those assets are essentially public money. The funds the Port has for use on projects like Ruocco Park come from public assets the Port manages and describing this project as funded by anyone other than taxpayers is misleading in the extreme.
Seaport Village prohibition on bicycles
San Diego has an ideal climate for bicycling and there are many things going on in the city to make bicycling safer and easier including bicycle corrals and improvements to the Bayshore Bikeway, a bicycle path around the entirety of San Diego Bay I previously wrote about. In downtown the North Embarcadero project is ongoing and you can bike along the waterfront continuously from Point Loma all the way around the bay nearly to the Coronado Bridge. The lone exception to this is the quarter-mile stretch of bayfront surrounded by Seaport Village where visitors are greeted at either end by a sign prohibiting bicycles in the area. Although the prohibition on cycling through Seaport Village is widely ignored it would be nice to see the Port get involved to officially remove this ban.
Small quibbles aside, Ruocco Park is a gorgeous space in a great location and the artwork and park space are well executed. Today (Saturday) is the first day of fall and, although you won’t likely finding falling leaves or a chill in the air, getting outside with friends or family on a relaxing weekend sounds like a great way to mark the occassion.
All photos by John Anderson.