The northwestern corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues used to be home to a grassy lot containing little more than some makeshift park equipment and a temporary memorial to Andy Lopez, the 13-year old Santa Rosa teenager fatally shot nearby by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy four years ago.
These days, it’s an active construction site, fenced off and undergoing a transformation into official public park, which residents and county officials have worked to create in an effort to help the community heal and deliver a long-promised amenity to the neighborhood.
In the weeks since construction began in August, crews have done underground work, laid walkways, erected a permanent restroom and made other improvements to the land they are turning into Andy’s Unity Park. Eventually, the 4.2-acre site will feature a wide range of amenities, including a community garden, basketball court and permanent memorial to Lopez.
“The park is coming along very nicely,” said Victor Roldan, one of the neighborhood residents who worked with the county to create the public space. “The area has been left by itself for a long time. It was about time to get something done for our neighborhood.”
Roldan singled out the garden as an exciting prospect for the neighborhood, providing an educational experience for local children — including his own daughter and son — who could be taught how to grow their own food there. But he likes every aspect of the park, which he hopes will provide a unifying experience for the community.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors moved the project forward in a big way in March, awarding a more than $3 million construction contract for the project. At the time, supervisors only approved the minimum level of development, including open turf, trees and a memorial.
But they completed the picture in June, when as part of their annual budget hearings they allocated an additional $500,000 to build out the remaining amenities, including the basketball court and garden.
“This community should have had a community park decades ago, and it felt like if we’re going to do this thing, we need to do it right,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area. “It’s also important to honor the memory of Andy Lopez, and for many people this is the first step in a very long journey of community healing. To me, it just wasn’t an option to give the community a half-baked park. That wasn’t really what they had hoped and what they had envisioned it to be.”
Most recently, supervisors in September finalized more than $1 million in grant funding from the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to the Regional Parks department. Funds came through the district’s matching grant program, and were previously approved by district officials largely to reimburse the parks department for costs of developing the Andy’s Unity Park land.
“It’s a great project,” said Bill Keene, the open space district’s general manager. “Given what’s happened at that site and the lack of really strong recreational facilities that provide a multiplicity of amenities, it’s great for us to be able to participate in a project that really benefits a community that’s largely underserved.”
The park was initially slated for a mid-November debut, but supervisors’ decision this summer to fund additional improvements at the site has extended the timeline, county officials said. Work is now on track for completion in late February, according to Bert Whitaker, the county parks director.