East San Jose lake finally receives funding for restoration
Lake Cunningham in San Jose. The state recently allocated $1.5 million to help start restoration efforts. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    After failed attempts to restore the much-neglected Lake Cunningham, San Jose has found a way to kickstart the lake’s revival.

    The state budget allocated $1.5 million to improving the East San Jose lake last week, which for years has suffered under the weight of faulty infrastructure and poor water quality. San Jose Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who pushed for the funding in the state budget, said the money will mostly go toward restoring the wetlands in hopes of further improving the water quality in the lake.

    “I understand how important Lake Cunningham is for my district and the city,” Kalra told San José Spotlight. “The restoration process is critical, not only for the enjoyment of the public, but in order for us to reestablish the wetlands in what is otherwise a highly developed area.”

    Lake Cunningham is a man-made lake near Tully Road that was used by residents to go fishing and boating. But several years ago, it was deemed unsafe due to pollution from feces and fungi after decades of neglect. East San Jose is historically a lower-income community of color that has faced decreasing access to green, open spaces and has coped with environmental issues.

    “The water quality at Lake Cunningham is an absolute issue,” San Jose Councilmember Domingo Candelas, who represents the area where the lake is located, told San José Spotlight. “A greater chunk of money is needed to holistically complete the projects. This is going to help us improve the water quality… and get it to a better place.”

    A recent city study found cleaning up the lake would cost anywhere from $3 million to $20 million, considering the level of infrastructure restoration needed. Candelas said the money from the state is just a catalyst for more funding opportunities.

    “This is just the down payment on what’s really necessary,” he said.

    The state funding comes after the San Jose City Council argued in March over using funds from Measure T, a $650 million disaster preparedness bond approved by voters in 2018, to restore the lake, resulting in the proposed funds being diverted. A previous iteration of the council in 2021 allocated $3.2 million in Measure T funds to improve Lake Cunningham’s water quality.

    The proponents of diverting the money away from Lake Cunningham said it would be a misuse of Measure T funds, including Councilmember David Cohen who said in March that most of the conversations focused on restoring Coyote Valley, not the lake.

    “I consider the Lake Cunningham environmental project a priority that needs to get handled, it’s obviously difficult and very expensive for the city to fund it,” Cohen told San José Spotlight. “It’s great that (lawmakers have) been able to get (funding) so quickly to get going.”

    Robert Reese, who chairs a land use committee in East San Jose, praised the state funding to help the lake. He said he believes city officials like Candelas will keep pushing for even more state and federal funding to continue revamping it.

    “It’s going to be one step at a time,” Reese told San José Spotlight. “I think that the east side councilmembers are going to keep their foot to the pedal…(and stick with it) on almost a day to day basis to make sure that progress is made.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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