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Santa Monica's Virginia Avenue Park Flourishing After First Decade, Director Says
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 15, 2016 -- Virginia Avenue Park, 9.5 acres in Santa Monica’s poorest neighborhood, is flourishing after a total redesign ushered in more activities for the young and a construction of a campus-like hub that offers community services to the Pico area, its director said Tuesday.

Eleven years after a $13 million reconstruction, Virginia Avenue Park has evolved into a “unique” public space that is better matching the needs of Pico residents, said Carla Fantozzi, the park’s director.

Today the park is a community gathering spot, one “that invites people to discover and learn new things, to connect and to celebrate,” Fantozzi told the City Council in a brief update at its regular Tuesday meeting.

Last year alone, the park provided more than 7,000 hours of recreational or other City programming to almost 800 people between six and 24 years of age, Fantozzi said.

She said about 70 percent were Santa Monica residents, and 60 percent of those were from the Pico Neighborhood.

Those numbers do not include all visitors, such as casual visitors or those who attend special events, patrons of the new branch library there or shoppers at the Saturday farmers market, she said.

Meanwhile, 2.9 acres refurbished into a “vibrant” hub includes buildings that provide community programs, such as a teen center and meeting space, or help with social services.

After decades of debate, the park last year also became home to the Pico Branch Library, one of the most popular of the four branches of the Main Library downtown, she said.

Virginia Avenue Park had long been the source complaints from the neighborhood, which is the most diverse in Santa Monica but also suffers problems not usually associated with the well-heeled city, such as gangs, some serious criminal activity and poverty.

After two years of reconstruction, the City’s fourth-largest park re-opened in 2005 –- 15 years after planning started –- and now offers a wide array of features.

The park now includes a walking loop; two lit regulation-size basketball courts; the “Splash Pad,” open from Memorial Day to Labor Day; “The Patio,” for children’s parties; two playgrounds; picnic tables, and barbecue grills.

Its reconstructed buildings feature a recording studio, a computer lab, community meeting space, a police substation and space to help residents with social service needs. It offers assistance with such government programs as CalFresh and applications for the Affordable Health Care Act.

Tutoring, help with homework, a Latino senior citizens club, Santa Monica College Emeritus classes and a trade intern program are also at the park.

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