Almanac

News - February 23, 2011

Sports field to serve as memorial to slain officer

by Sue Dremann

The "field of dreams" the family of slain East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May has hoped to build in the city since his death on Jan. 7, 2006, can move forward, the East Palo Alto City Council decided Feb. 8.

The field, located at Bay Road near St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, would be a memorial to Officer May, said his stepfather, Frank Merrill of Atherton.

The family wanted to build a safe, state-of-the-art playing field to provide a healthy outlet for youths so they wouldn't engage in crime and end up like Mr. May's killer, Alberto Alvarez, Mr. Merrill said.

Mr. Alvarez, 23, was a drug dealer and former gang member who was convicted of first-degree murder on Dec. 22, 2009. He shot Officer May while trying to run away, after the officer stopped to question him about a fight at a nearby taqueria.

The proposed playing field is not without its critics. Council members split 3 to 2 in favor of granting a building permit, and former mayor Sharifa Wilson has said the council is not following proper protocol because it has not conducted an environmental study of the potential impacts of the field.

Councilman A. Peter Evans, who voted against the permit, said he was against strangers coming into the city to build the field. Mr. May was an employee who did not have any allegiance to the city, Mr. Evans said at the meeting.

Councilman David Woods, who also voted against the permit, said he had the opposite view of Mr. May but felt the study of potential impacts should be done prior to granting the permit.

Mayor Carlos Romero, Vice Mayor Laura Martinez and Councilman Ruben Abrica voted in favor of the permit.

Tami McMillan, Mr. May's sister and also a resident of Atherton, said the family was thrilled with the decision.

"I think this will be a great thing and a sense of pride for young athletes of every sport in East Palo Alto. I can't even be more ecstatic than I am," she said.

Ms. Wilson, who is president of the Ravenswood City School District board, said Thursday that she wanted to be clear that her opposition had nothing to do with her connection with Ravenswood, past or present. But she was speaking in her capacity as a homeowner who lives a half block from the field site.

"I'm disappointed the council did not make its priority safety and concern for the quality of life of residents," she said.

The project is bigger than she expected and goes beyond the scope of just the kids, she said.

"Everyone could accept a soccer field for the kids — I was not against a soccer field. But now it's much, much larger. Kids could bike and walk to a soccer field, but an adult rugby field has other impacts," she said.

"Whenever there's a project, (the council) is obligated to do a negative declaration to evaluate if there is a need for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). They did absolutely nothing.

"They decided it's already an existing use. But my contention is it never had 60-foot lights or was open until 9:30. Those things would trigger the need for an EIR," she said.

In the past, Ms. Wilson has threatened lawsuits if a study was not done. On Thursday she said she is giving herself time to reflect.

Ms. McMillan said field proponents don't want to do anything that would upset residents. Getting the permit was key to getting donations, some of which can be used to fund the study.

"That's been the tightrope all along," she said.

The impact study would be done prior to any groundbreaking, she said.

When the council voted affirmatively, Ms. McMillan said the contentiousness of the meeting disappeared.

"I was almost numb. I thought I would be mad at Evans. But when I saw how many youth came out and how many speakers were in favor of the field, I thought, 'Let's just move forward and make this happen.'"

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