Sonoma County’s supervisors are set to vote today on whether to authorize a construction contract for a much-awaited park at the lot southwest of Santa Rosa where 13-year old Andy Lopez was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy four years ago.
The Board of Supervisors will consider awarding the more than $3 million contract to a firm that plans to transform the 4.22-acre site on the corner of Moorland and West Robles Avenues into Andy’s Unity Park. Lopez’s shooting in 2013 sparked weeks of protests amid widespread community uproar, and the site has long been eyed as a park location.
If built to include the maximum envisioned range of amenities indicated by the plans, the currently-undeveloped land could include features such as a community garden, play area, open turf space, picnic tables and grills, a basketball court and a memorial area honoring Lopez. Construction would begin in May, with the opening of the park expected later this year.
“It’s just really meaningful given, obviously, the tragedy that the community went through, and I think it’s an important part of the healing process,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the park site. “Quite frankly, it’s long overdue. This has been an under-served community for decades. The families who live in this area very much deserve to have a park.”
Supervisors approved plans for the park last March and initially solicited bids from construction companies in October. They had intended to award the contract in December but confusion on the part of one construction firm prompted the board to rebid the project.
“This is the moment of truth right now,” said Caryl Hart, the county’s Regional Parks Director, of Tuesday’s board vote. “It’s really exciting. ... This is the moment that the park becomes reality.”
The board will consider county staff’s recommendation to award the contract to Argonaut Constructors of Santa Rosa, which submitted the lowest of the four bids received in the second round. Argonaut Constructors has proposed a base cost of about $3.03 million, with another $564,500 to fund additional elements like the basketball court, a skate spot and the community garden.
County staff is recommending supervisors initially approve the park at the base cost level, which would require the county to allocate an additional $698,500 in funding. Regional Parks officials would then work to find ways of funding the additional elements.
Hopkins said she wanted the board find a way to fund the full project.
“I really believe that it’s important to finish the job,” she said. “My concern is that without the additive elements, we have a half-finished park.”
On Oct. 22, 2013, Lopez was walking down a Moorland Avenue sidewalk carrying an airsoft BB gun designed to resemble an assault rifle that then-Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus mistook for a real weapon.
When Gelhaus ordered Lopez to drop it, the deputy said the boy instead turned around and the barrel of his airsoft gun rose in the air. Gelhaus fired his weapon and struck Lopez seven times, killing him.
An investigation later cleared Gelhaus of wrongdoing. He was promoted to sergeant in May 2016.
Jeff Bodwin, a longtime resident of the area who was on the steering committee that helped design the park, said awarding of the construction contract would be a “huge” step, not only as a permanent memorial to Lopez but also to bring a sorely-needed park to the neighborhood, which he described as having been “neglected” in the past.