News that the expanse of dirt next to the sidewalk where Andy Lopez, 13, was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy on Oct. 22 was supposed to be a neighborhood park compounds what is already a heart-rending tragedy.
But as many have already pointed out, it also opens the door to an appropriate response to this sad chapter in local history — the construction of a park at Moorland and West Robles avenues in memory of Andy.
As Sunday's story by Staff Writer Martin Espinoza ("A park for Andy") noted, neighbors already are working on a make-shift park on that spot. A playhouse, a small slide and a rocking horse are among the playground features that have been added near the growing 19-foot-long shrine to Lopez.
But the neighborhood and the community as a whole needs something far more significant.
As was noted in Sunday's story, for 24 years the parcel had been targeted for construction of a park but to no avail.
Back in 1989, a developer set aside a portion of a 10-acre property in the area for a park. Later, another developer, Sutter Investment, took over and submitted a revised plan calling for 73 housing units and a 2-acre park in that same area. But that plan was rejected by the Board of Supervisors, and investment group reduced its plan to 44 units — and took out the park.
Records show the development was transferred to the Olson Investment Group, headed by former Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner David Poulsen, who eventually proposed subdividing the remaining lots and building a 1-acre park. That, too, went nowhere.
In each case, the plans were undone by conflicts with the county general plan over housing density, conflicts over protection of potential tiger salamander habitat or merely conflicts with the economy.
But that has not stopped neighborhood children from making it into a play area anyway. For years, children have used the corner areas — especially when the grass grows high in the winter and spring — for playing hide-and-seek. They also used it as a play area for paintball guns and airsoft BB guns, the kind that Lopez was carrying when he was killed by a deputy who mistook the rifle for a real AK-47.
How a permanent park would be built on the site is not clear. No one should expect the current owner merely to donate it. Even if that did occur, it's not clear where the county would get the money to develop the area. But where there's a will, this community finds a way.
Such was the case with the death 15 years ago of Patrick Scott, an Elsie Allen High student who was hit and killed while walking along the edge of Bellevue Avenue. A sidewalk was supposed to have been built, but construction had been delayed because of heavy rains and planning hang-ups.
Parents, students and volunteers came together to build a makeshift walkway in the area. After that, public agencies coordinated efforts and more than two dozen contractors, including the Homebuilders Association and the Engineering Contractors Association, donated materials and labor to build a 1,400-foot permanent walkway.
Sonoma County has changed significantly in recent years, but it has not lost the capability to create such an enduring legacy once again.