A familiar face has stepped in as the new operator of Pinto Lake City Park.
Jesus Madrigal, president of the Watsonville Farmers Market, was recently named concessionaire for the city’s share of Pinto Lake. His company’s vision for the 78-acre park—70 of which are water acres—received unanimous approval from the Watsonville City Council at its March 23 meeting.
Madrigal will be in charge of creating programs for the park that has for the most part been an untapped city resource for several years.
“I feel that Pinto Lake has a great potential,” he said during the late-March meeting. “I also feel that it’s the corner [of the city] that is forgotten a little bit.”
Pinto Lake City Park has been in the city’s portfolio since 1968. It has mostly served as a quiet getaway for residents, anglers, birders and RV campers near and far.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Madrigal said he plans to increase the resources for fishers, birders and boaters, while also bringing in new offerings such as a farmers market and food truck festivals. He also hopes start to more kid- and family-friendly activities such as outdoor film screenings, rentable foot pedal boats and annual seasonal events.
“I really feel that we can, little by little, start working to bring more attractions to the park and have a place for people to socialize and fish and just be happy and explore the beautiful nature out there,” he said.
The city took over operations of the park when previous concessionaire Pat McQuade died in 2017. But Watsonville Parks and Community Services Department Director Nick Calubaquib said the park’s high administrative oversight costs and low revenue stream was not allowing operations to pencil out.
The city put out a request for proposals last year.
Madrigal’s company, Main St. Enterprises Inc., was the lone applicant.
Main St. Enterprises Inc. will pocket all fees assessed to campers, boaters, picnickers and organizations that use the park’s various amenities—which include a youth baseball diamond, several picnic areas with tables and barbecue pits and 28 electrical hookups for overnight RV stays. In return, the company will pay the city an escalating fee of its gross revenues, tapping out at 14% this year. It will also pay the city $800 per month to run the park, and rent the night keeper’s house from the city for $500 a month.
Because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, Calubaquib conservatively predicted the city would make about $29,000 in the initial year of the two-year deal. For reference, from February 2019 to February 2020, the city collected $228,278 in fees.
The City Council was expected to update its fee schedule last year but it delayed those talks because of the pandemic. Calubaquib said those discussions will resume when local Covid-19 case rates subside and the economy stabilizes.
The city will still be in charge of maintaining the park.
Madrigal officially took over on Monday.
The park is home to 133 species of birds, including great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, great-tailed grackles, ospreys and a rare visit by a bald eagle. It also features dozens of fish and other animals. But it has also been plagued by naturally occurring toxic cyanobacteria, so much so that officials have closed the lake on several occasions. At other times, boaters have been warned to avoid contact with the water.
In 2017, the city successfully used a $750,000 grant from the State Water Resources Control Board to treat the lake with aluminum hydroxide, a chemical that bound onto the phosphates that feed the bacteria.
Last year it was determined by the Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment that the fish in the lake are safe for human consumption based on levels of mercury alone.
Last year it was determined by the Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment that the fish in the lake are safe for human consumption based on levels of mercury alone, but the water is still monitored for toxicity levels and people are discouraged from entering the lake.
Recent tests showed the water is within the required public health goal, says Jackie McCloud, the city’s environmental sustainability manager.
Councilwoman Ari Parker said the park is one of Watsonville’s hidden gems.
“There’s so much to do, and so many people don’t know about it,” she said. “Jesus, if you’re going to activate [the park] and keep the charm of the park, and keep everybody safe, I’m super excited about this.”
Councilman Francisco “Paco” Estrada said he hopes the city can work with Madrigal to apply for some grant funding that would help bring a healthy food market to the park. That area of South County is considered a “food desert,” defined as an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, by the USDA.
“It’s a great park space as everyone has mentioned,” he said, “but being able to add that other service would be just amazing for the people living around there.”