By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The estimated cost of building a park where 13-year-old Andy Lopez died last October could be between $2 million and $3 million, according to Sonoma County officials.
Add to that an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 a year it would cost to maintain and operate the park, and another $500,000 for environmental mitigation of possible tiger salamander habitat.
These are among the initial findings in a report that outlines progress being made by county officials in the ongoing effort to create a park in the Moorland Avenue neighborhood where Lopez was shot and killed. The report will be presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
“It’s there; the money is there,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “We obviously have to do whatever we can to help the community heal.”
Zane said the money could come out of $7 million in Open Space District tax sales the board initially put into a reserve fund to kick-start recreational access. The money is now in the Open Space District’s general revenue fund and could be used for acquisitions, including land purchased in fee or conservation easements.
The report states that the desired location among those who want to build a park as a memorial to Lopez is 3399 Moorland Avenue. The address is an empty grass lot near where Lopez died on Oct. 22 after he was shot by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus. Gelhaus told investigators he mistook the airsoft BB gun the boy was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle.
“Although other sites exist in the area, there is strong community interest to secure at least the 1-acre property,” the report states. “The current hope is that funding could be secured to purchase both pieces of property which total 4.18 acres. Various acquisition options are being evaluated by staff, and will be presented to the Board as they become more fully developed.”
The properties in question are owned by real estate agent David Poulsen, who county officials said is willing to sell the properties for the creation of a park. The two adjacent lots are bounded by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad to the west, Moorland Avenue to the east, West Robles Avenue to the south and the Parkview subdivision on the north.
The nearby Parkview subdivision was originally designed to extend into the empty lot where Lopez died and also include a 2-acre park. County supervisors however rejected that proposal because of housing density restrictions. The subdivision was dramatically reduced in size and the park component of the development was eliminated.
In 2005, Poulsen proposed to develop the two parcels with a 1-acre park. That plan, however, fell victim to the ensuing economic recession and housing crisis.
Poulsen could not be reached for comment Friday. Local political consultant Herb Williams, who Poulsen has designated his spokesman, said Poulsen is willing to sell both properties “if the price is right.”
“There’s been several inquiries but no concrete proposal,” Williams said.
On Tuesday, the county’s regional parks department will request that the board give the green light for staff to seek funds from the state’s Housing-Related Parks program to help cover the cost of acquiring and developing the park. County officials said that $25 million in such funds is available, with the share available to the county estimated at $450,000.
In the report, county staff also raised the possibility of setting up a “highly successful” fundraising campaign that could “conceivably secure enough to set up an operations trust fund to address ongoing maintenance and operations.”
The report also states that “community input” is a key element of the eventual development of the park. To that end, the county hopes to enlist the nonprofit Community Action Partnership to help with fundraising efforts and seeking community input.
Activists who have been calling for the construction of a park in Lopez’s name have stressed the importance of involving the local community in the park campaign.
“It would be a big mistake for the park to be a top-down process,” said Jonathan Melrod, a Sebastopol resident and organizer with the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. “It does no healing if you don’t involve people.”
While Melrod applauded the county’s efforts to build a park in Lopez’s name, he said more is needed to address the “open wound” caused by Lopez’s death.
“It’s a great thing that they’re looking at putting a park there,” Melrod said. “But it doesn’t absolve Gelhaus for shooting Andy.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)