Napa Junction Elementary School backview

Napa Junction Elementary School is expected to move to a new location, creating an opportunity for the city of American Canyon to turn the property into a public park. 

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

American Canyon’s plan to reshape its Broadway District — the area along Highway 29 from Napa Junction Road to American Canyon Road — may include new public parks and recreational opportunities to go along with the plan’s goals of creating more housing and businesses.

One possibility is to turn the Napa Junction Elementary School campus into a park. The Napa Valley Unified School District is planning to relocate the school because it sits on an earthquake fault.

With about 30 empty parcels dotting the Broadway District, plus other lands expected to become available in the near future, American Canyon doesn’t lack for options to create new parks in this part of the city.

City staff looked at more than a dozen locations, and eventually whittled the list down to four possibilities, including the transformation of the Napa Junction Elementary School site into a park.

“These would be the top 4 to 0 in on and take a look at,” said Community Development Director Brent Cooper on July 18. He added the four were “for discussion purposes to get the ball rolling,” and weren’t considered “set in stone.”

That was just as well since some locations for new parks were embraced by the City Council, while others ran into opposition from private property owners and sympathetic council members.

There seemed unanimous support for transforming Napa Junction Elementary School — which is slated to be moved to another location because it sits atop an earthquake fault — into a new park, possibly one with a sports complex.

Because the West Napa Fault runs through the 6.6-acre campus, turning Napa Junction Elementary into a park is an ideal choice since no one would want to build homes or commercial real estate in a seismic zone, said Cooper.

Councilmember Mark Joseph agreed, saying, “Napa junction is the ideal site” and the “best thing we’ve got going” among the four options.

City Manager Dana Shigley said she expects the city to get a “good rate” for the property once the Napa Valley Unified School District relocates Napa Junction Elementary and is ready to sell.

The city sees the land being used to help expand the neighboring Little League complex. Some of it could also be used for adult baseball and softball. Community leaders say American Canyon might attract sports tournaments if the property is developed into a recreational complex.

“There’s a lot to like about it,” said Cooper about the site.

Just down the street from the school, off Theresa Avenue, is another parkland option. Cooper envisioned building a trail that would run up Oat Hill, which has “excellent views,” he said. From there, people could enjoy views of the Napa Valley, the wetlands, “and on a clear day even San Francisco.”

Council members like the idea of making the top of Oat Hill a vista point. But Mayor Leon Garcia questioned whether getting to it from Theresa Avenue would be practical because of the steep grade on that side of the hill. He said creating a pathway from Eucalyptus Drive would make for a more gradual slope.

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Cooper also suggested expanding Melvin Park, which consists of only public tennis courts right now, and creating a new five-acre park just south of Rancho Del Mar as the other two options. The latter idea produced the most opposition of the four choices for new park space.

Parks and Recreation Director Creighton Wright pointed out that the Rancho Del Mar subdivision is the “most underserved community” in American Canyon when it comes to parks. The neighborhood, one of the oldest in the city, has no local park of its own.

But creating the park would require the city to purchase some privately owned land near the highway. Cooper said he broached this idea with the landowner, Les Lawson, who wasn’t open to the idea.

“We don’t want to sell it,” said Lawson. “We don’t want a park there. I told Mr. Cooper that, and if there’s anyway to stop it, I’ll try to stop it anyway I can.”

Joseph was sympathetic to Lawson’s objections, as was Councilmember Mariam Aboudamous. Joseph also said there might be “a cost factor” requiring millions of dollars from the city to buy the land and develop it into a new park.

Cooper said he would incorporate the council’s feedback into the Broadway Specific Plan, which is still being written, along with the project’s environmental impact report.

He informed the council that the draft environmental report was “60 percent completed,” with the all-important traffic study still to come. Cooper hopes to complete the environmental report this fall and release it for public review early next year.