Supervisors move to acquire lots for Andy Lopez park
Absent a deal to purchase land for a park at the site where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed a year ago by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy, the Board of Supervisors took an unusual step Tuesday in seeking to buy two properties for $57,400 in back taxes.
The move is the first of a series of maneuvers the county could make to buy two connected parcels for far below market value from their owner, Santa Rosa real estate agent David Poulsen. The former Santa Rosa planning commissioner has been in tax default on the property for five years and still has time to resolve his debts.
Months of discussion about the sale of the properties between the two parties have gone nowhere, with representatives from both sides unable to agree even on the extent of the negotiations so far.
The two parcels the county is seeking to buy are at 405 Horizon Way and 3399 Moorland Ave. Lopez died on the Moorland Avenue property when he was shot Oct. 22, 2013, by Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who mistook an airsoft BB gun the boy was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle it was designed to resemble.
The 1-acre Moorland Avenue property, where community activists and local residents have erected a makeshift park and memorial to the boy, was assessed by the county at $117,331 on Jan. 1, according to the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s Office. The Horizon Way property was assessed at $358,764.
With the community input, county officials are hoping to convert both lots, which total 4.22 acres, into a large urban park for the Moorland neighborhood.
The move Tuesday essentially starts a clock ticking that gives Poulsen time to resolve his tax bill while negotiations with the county continue. The county does not become owner of the property until the agreement is effective, which could take several weeks or longer, officials said.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose 5th District includes the neighborhood of the southwest edge of Santa Rosa, said the action was taken Tuesday as part of a process that prevented the property from going up for public auction on Saturday. The previous day, Friday, Oct. 17, was the deadline for property owners to redeem properties that went into tax default in 2009.
“Had the county not acted, the property would have been offered for sale at public auction this past Saturday,” Carrillo said.
“In the meantime we’re still going to work with the property owner to seek some type of agreement,” he said.
The vacant lot has become a focal point for tangible change in a neighborhood that has felt neglected by city and county officials. While county officials have been negotiating the sale of the property for months, local community organizers have been regularly meeting at the site.
“We are very pleased to see the county moving forward and actively seeking strategies to make the park a reality,” said Becca Kennedy, a volunteer community organizer who has been working with a group of neighbors and supporters to create a memorial park for Lopez.
Kennedy said the creation of a park at the site where Lopez died could become a “truly healing process in the wake of such a tragedy.” She said that it is crucial for county officials to involve the community to a greater degree than the “normal park planning process.”