Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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Sara Rubin here, focusing on the hyper-local instead of biting my nails in anticipation of today’s gubernatorial recall election. Instead, I’m celebrating a unanimous vote tonight from Salinas City Council, making a years-long dream official tonight with approvals to transform Carr Lake into a park.

Carr Lake is a gem in the middle of the city. Really, the city and its agricultural economy grew up around Carr Lake, making it a hidden gem. A century ago, before the wetlands of the Salinas Valley were drained to make way for farmland, Carr Lake was the largest of a seven-lake system, which flowed into Elkhorn Slough, then out into Monterey Bay. In the 1920s, a century ago, the lake was converted into 480 acres of farmland. 

It’s a sight to behold today, dark brown and green fields flanked by East Laurel Drive and Highway 101. It’s a green oasis in the middle of a city. 

And for at least 40 years, there have been discussions underway about transforming at least some of Carr Lake into a park. That dream was in a holding pattern for years, until 2016 when the Big Sur Land Trust acquired 73 acres of Carr Lake for $4 million. 

That set into motion another years-long process of transformation, but one that’s likely to be a lot faster. Between 2016 and now, property owner BSLT has participated in dozens of meetings with more than 1,000 Salinas residents to craft a vision for what this property could be. Specifically, what they envision is six acres that will look like a traditional park—think picnic areas, play structures, a dog run area, a skatepark area—plus 67 acres set aside for habitat, critical flood control and accessible with public trails. 

Tonight, Salinas City Council voted to approve critical rezoning and amendments to the city’s general plan, allowing the nonprofit to move forward with the work ahead to make this transformation reality. 

This project is important in a few ways. There are the obvious benefits—more recreational facilities, better flood control in a site that catches more than 90 percent of stormwater runoff in Salinas and improved wildlife habitat. “It is the quintessential multi-benefit project,” says Rachel Saunders, BSLT’s director of conservation. 

I think there’s also the sometimes overlooked benefit of bringing natural beauty to an urban landscape. Then there’s the remarkable power of ingenuity, not just to drain a wetland to make it more suitable for human use, but to bring back the ecosystems we’ve destroyed. Full circle. 

And there’s an equity dimension. We live in a region of great natural beauty and vast swaths of wilderness. And yet, according to a report by the Coastal Conservancy, Salinas lacks parkland, with just 2.9 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. That’s well below Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have 9.3 and 6.8 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, respectively.

A quintessential multi-benefit project, indeed. 

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