By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Momentum continues to grow for the construction of a memorial park in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood where 13-year-old Andy Lopez grew up and was shot dead.
The Sonoma County Supervisors are expected to vote Tuesday on a number of possible actions in response to the shooting, including exploring the creation of a park in Lopez’s name.
Meanwhile, his supporters continue to stake their claim to the site where on Oct. 22 Lopez was shot by Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus after the veteran law enforcement officer reportedly mistook the boy’s airsoft BB gun for an AK-47 assault rifle. In the most recent action, Lopez supporters have planted a young oak tree near at the site, which also hosts small playground toys and a large wooden memorial decked in flowers.
“I think it’s a great step forward in the healing process for our community that our local politicians are taking an active interest in trying to build a park,” said Brian Bushon, a resident of the subdivision just north of the empty lot where Lopez died.
Bushon, who has supplied several playground toys at the site, has been lobbying county supervisors to make the park a reality. “A good community has a good park within walking distance,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to direct county officials to “report back in 60 days with plan and financing recommendations to create a park in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood dedicated to Andy Lopez.”
The park-related action is part of a larger agenda item of possible board actions that stem from a Nov. 5 public hearing on the shooting. Proposed actions include creating a community and local law enforcement task force; supporting state and federal legislation on gun and replica weapon control; exploring law enforcement training for alternatives to lethal force.
Other actions include exploring the cost and feasibility of providing law enforcement officials with lapel cameras and conducting town hall meetings next year to discuss such topics as neighborhood violence, social equity and justice, and law enforcement tactics in different communities.
The idea of building a park in the neighborhood is not new. Both the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County general plans call for one to be built in the area.
In fact, the original plans for the 10-acre residential subdivision that sits just north of the site where Lopez died included a two-acre park. But the proposed subdivision, known as Parkview, called for 73 housing units, which exceeded the county general plan’s density restrictions for that area.
The plan was scaled back to 44 units and the park was deleted from the development. The Parkview subdivision was constructed on the northern portion of the site.
The developer, Poulsen, Olson Investment Group, headed by real estate agent and former Santa Rosa planning commissioner David Poulsen, proposed in 2005 to develop the rest of the property and build a one-acre park. The project fell victim to economic downturns.
Supervisor Susan Gorin said southwest Santa Rosa has been “under-parked” for many years and the recent events in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood have brought renewed attention to the need for park facilities.
“In light of the tragedy, it is totally appropriate that we look at what kind of funding might be available” for acquiring the property, Gorin said.
When county supervisors approved the Parkview subdivision in 1994, they put in place several conditions on future development of the remaining property. One was that further development on the remaining two lots must include a park. In addition, development can not happen until the lot is annexed to the city of Santa Rosa.
Annexation would require approval by the Local Agency Formation Commission, a county-based panel consisting primarily of county, city and special district officials.
Gorin and Supervisor Efren Carrillo are on the commission, which has long encouraged Santa Rosa to halt its annexation practices that have formed “islands” of unincorporated county. One familiar example is the county’s sprawling Roseland neighborhood, which has become surrounded by city property. The Moorland area, though technically not an island, is unincorporated county that sits just outside the city limits.
Some local activists who for weeks have been protesting the Lopez shooting have called for the construction of a park at the site where the boy died. Some also have called for the city to annex the Moorland area.
Gorin said the shooting has put “added pressure” on the city and county to figure out how they can quickly address annexation issues in southwest Santa Rosa. “There are not a lot of expedited ways to work on annexation,” she said, adding that the process requires a vote from local residents and environmental and fiscal review.
“I think we could work on the park separate from annexation,” Gorin said, adding that the current development conditions on the property likely would have to be altered.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane agreed.
“We can put any conditions we want to put,” Zane said. “The wisest thing to do is pursue this as two different things, contingent but parallel.”
Carrillo, whose west county district includes the Moorland area, said the process of creating a park, with strong input from the local community, could help rebuild trust between area residents and local governments.
(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com)