Nov. 21, saw a small but eager crowd forming in the small town of Santa Nella where county officials and residents alike were eagerly heralding the coming of the community’s first local park.
While gathering at the future site of a park may seem to some more than a little dull, this was more than just a formality of local government: it was a victory cry.
At first glance, the future site of Santa Nella Park looks to be little more than a barren patch of weeds and soil sitting placidly on the corner of Vera Cruz Drive and Luis Avenue, but this unassuming plot of land has a twist.
Originally designed to be an area reserved for commercial use, the land sat dormant for years, and even as ownership passed from one district to another, no one seemed to be in any hurry to turn the handful of acres into anything more than another line on the California horizon.
However, as public demand for more recreational space rose, local activists and officials turned their attention to the seemingly unclaimed territory.
Lifelong activist Patricia Ramos-Anderson, who lobbied hard to implement the land into the community, knew something had to be done thanks to her 10 years of experience in the Parks and Recreation Department.
“There have to be parks,” Ramos-Anderson emphasizes, “[The community] knew we’d have to have services for the neighborhoods and families here.”
Early on in the park project, community members like Ramos-Anderson attended the many house meetings that State Senator Anna Caballero held as a way to gauge community interest.
As both a resident of the Central Valley and a lifelong advocate for more community resources, she stressed to her and her fellow Californians that “it’s about public access: working with [the residents], because these are their neighborhoods.”
Scott Silveira, Merced County Supervisor District 5 and Los Banos native, also played a key role in the park’s development when he noticed early on in his political career that Santa Nella severely lacked any kind of outdoor recreational activities.
“I was at a community event near Gustine one day,” Silveira recalls, “and I met a man who had just moved to town with his family. He asked if I knew of any parks in the area, and, honestly, I didn’t realize until that moment that, no, there were no parks in Santa Nella.”
Seizing this opportunity to meet a community need, Silveira focused on the unused three-acre plot of land on the corner of Vera Cruz Drive and Luis Avenue and tried to use his position to lobby for its purchase.
The trouble was that Santa Nella is not a city, and it wasn’t easy tracking down who owned the plot of land. Silveira reached out to then-Assembly Member Adam Gray in an attempt to uncover the true owner of the space.
It turns out Gray’s staff discovered the land, to Silveira’s surprise, was owned by Merced County. There was no need to contact a private owner of the land, and there was no need for the county to purchase the land.
With the mystery of ownership solved all that was left was the ever-present issue of funding, in this case for the development of the park.
The groundwork that individuals like Silveira and Ramos-Anderson laid came to fruition this year, and both stood proudly in attendance during Santa Nella Park’s announcement ceremony.
Moved by the advocacy of community members as well as the glaring need for community spaces in a post-COVID world, State Senator Anna Caballero secured $310,000 in state funding for park development to finally turn the empty space from a piece of land stuck in limbo to a flourishing center of community and recreation. According to Silveira, it will take additional funds to complete the park but he says the state funding is a great start.
Much like the growth and development of our own Los Banos, the journey of Santa Nella Park is a testament to what can be accomplished with time, patience and local advocacy. As the young park begins to thrive, so too will its community.