By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The owner of the empty lot where 13-year-old Andy Lopez died more than six weeks ago is in talks with people who want to turn it into a memorial park for the slain boy.
The property is owned by real estate agent David Poulsen, who has refused to be interviewed on the topic. However he has designated Herb Williams, a political consultant, as his spokesman. Williams said the talks regarding the property at 3399 Moorland Ave. are preliminary and no formal proposals are being considered.
But he said Poulsen, who for weeks has not returned repeated phone calls seeking interviews, is “very willing to do something.”
“He is open to several different options and we’re not going to discuss them until some sort of agreement has been reached,” Williams said, adding that he would not discuss who Poulsen is talking to about the property.
Reportedly, the discussions have been with private citizens and government officials.
Williams would say only that one of the options being discussed is an “out-and-out sale of the property.” He said Poulsen is willing to sell 1 acre of the 4.2 acres that he owns at the location. The property is made up of two lots, a 1-acre lot and a 3.2-acre lot.
Lopez died on the east edge of 1-acre lot after being shot seven times by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
The 24-year veteran told criminal investigators that he mistook the airsoft BB gun the boy was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle and that he feared for his life. Critics contend that Gelhaus reacted recklessly and didn’t give the boy enough time to figure out what was happening before Gelhaus fired his weapon.
Lopez’s death has sparked numerous protest rallies and marches in Santa Rosa with demonstrators making a number of demands, from the prosecution of Gelhaus to the formation of a civilian review board to the creation of a park in the vacant field where the boy died.
Activists welcomed Poulsen’s willingness to see the site turned into a park.
“I think it’s great. I’m glad that he’s willing to come to the table and make it a community effort,” said Michael Rothenberg, a west county activist and key member of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez.
Since Lopez’s death, some local residents and supporters of the Lopez family have staked an emotional claim to the property, setting up a flower-laden plywood memorial, play structures and lights. Activists say they are determined turn the property into a park.
Williams said he has not discussed with Poulsen his reaction to activities that have taken place on the property since Lopez died. Poulsen could not be reached directly Wednesday.
The original plans for a residential subdivision in the neighborhood called for a 2-acre park to accompany 8 acres of housing. But the proposed subdivision’s housing density exceeded county general plan restrictions for the area.
The plan was scaled back to about half the acreage and the park was deleted as a requirement from the development. The Parkview subdivision was built on a little more than half of what was originally a 10-acre site. The development is just north of the site where Lopez died.
A decade later, Poulsen submitted a proposal to develop the rest of the property and build a 1-acre park, but the project fell victim to economic downturns.
His vacant property currently carries two key development restrictions: any development must include the construction of a park and the lots cannot be developed until the area is annexed by the city of Santa Rosa.
County planning officials said that under the existing conditions for development, Poulsen likely would be responsible for building the park and then handing it over to whatever jurisdiction is responsible for park maintenance.
It was not immediately clear whether selling the property to someone who would build a park would satisfy the development requirement.
According to San Diego-based real estate information service DataQuick, the 1-acre property where Lopez died is assessed by the county at $114,511. The property was listed for sale three years ago for $389,000 and was on the market for 567 days before the listing expired, according to RealQuest.com.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose west county district includes the Moorland Avenue neighborhood, said the county took its first official step this week toward creating a park in that neighborhood. On Tuesday, supervisors directed the county staff to study the steps needed to create a park in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood dedicated to Andy Lopez. Thus far, the county has made no formal proposal to Poulsen, he said.
“I am pursuing all possibilities available to meet my responsibility to my constituents, which is to realize a park in the Moorland neighborhood,” Carrillo said.
Williams said that Poulsen will “choose what’s best for him and the community at the same time.”