East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero, San Mateo County Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson and Assemblyman Rich Gordon were among dozens of residents and community leaders who gathered at the project site to grab ceremonial shovels and break ground on Phase I of the project.
"This is a great day," Gordon said this afternoon. "We take what has been a wasteland and turn it into a parkland."
Phase I of the project includes cleaning up the topsoil of the property, which was contaminated with heavy metals and PCBs during the site's use as a San Mateo County dump from the 1930s until the 1960s, East Palo Alto project manager Shannon Alford said.
Piles of debris are still scattered around the property, which extends into the Bay and is sandwiched by the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve to the north and the Baylands Nature Preserve to the south.
Once the soil is rendered safe, crews will install a trail system around the property, and picnic tables and benches will be set up that will offer Bay views.
"This has been a dream of many people for a long, long, long time," city councilman Ruben Abrica said. "Pretty soon, in the next six months, we'll be able to come over here and have picnics."
The project will transform Cooley Landing into East Palo Alto's first public park on the edge of the Bay. If everything goes as planned, the park could be open to the public as early as summer 2012, Alford said.
Future phases of the park's development include construction of an outdoor classroom and a nature education facility, Alford said.
The preserved wetlands and marshland that surround Cooley Landing are recognized habitat of the California Clapper Rail and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, both of which are listed as federal and state endangered species.
Mayor Romero called the future park a "three-for-one" project that will bring economic development, environmental stewardship, and new parkland to the community.
When completed, Cooley Landing will increase East Palo Alto's existing 16 acres of parkland by nearly 72 percent.
The $4 million project is being paid for with a combination of public and private funding, which includes grants from the Packard Foundation, the EPA, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, San Francisco Bay Trail Project and the California Costal Conservancy.