Costa Mesa council OKs $1.78-million bid to complete Lions Park, names new pocket park after resident

Lions Park in Costa Mesa
Costa Mesa City Council members approved Tuesday a $1.78-million bid to build a new playground area and restroom at Lions Park. Construction should be completed next spring.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

New restrooms and play spaces at Costa Mesa’s Lions Park — the final pieces in a years-long series of renovations on the 10-acre complex — could be completed by spring, after City Council members Tuesday approved a $1.78-million bid for construction.

The work is scheduled to begin next month and will include two age-specific play areas, several new pieces of playground equipment and a sand pit. An old Korean War-era Grumman F9F Panther jet installed in Lions Park in 1960, known to be a popular feature of the park, will also be refurbished.

New hardscaping and utility improvements will be made on the site, on the northeast corner of 18th Street and Park Avenue. The playground area will be resurfaced and a new prefabricated restroom building with hand-washing station will replace the current structure.

Awarded to San Diego County-based contractor Handy Industrial, the $1.78-million bid (which comes with an $89,000 contingency fee) is a scaled-back version of plans being considered in March, before the coronavirus pandemic closed facilities and impacted the city’s budget. At that time, bids ranged from $3.18 million to $4.1 million.

Council members made the tough call in May to shrink the scope of work, giving up two picnic shelters, enhanced landscaping and some shade structures, according to Raja Sethuraman, the public services director.

“There was also an entry monument sign that was a little bit fancier with an airplane on top of it — we took that out,” he said. “[But] we wanted to keep all the play places and the playground surfacing, because that’s the main focus of this, and the restroom building.”

Funded by a $9,600 Southern California Assn. of Governments grant and installed by the Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets, the temporary roundabouts encourage drivers to slow down.

Lions Park has been the scene of several changes in recent years. In May 2019, the city celebrated the opening of the new 23,355-square-foot Donald Dungan Library, built on the site of the erstwhile Neighborhood Community Center.

A new community center — converted from the former library and named after Norma Hertzog, the city’s first female City Council member and mayor — could be completed as soon as next month. Both projects have been estimated to cost $36.5 million.

“I’m really excited; this is a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds. “When this park was open there were birthday parties, baby showers and picnics there every day of the week. It’s a really important gathering place for residents in this area.”

Councilwoman Sandy Genis said she remembered playing as a girl on the old plane, which gave the site its unofficial moniker, “Airplane Park.”

“It was really, really fun,” Genis said. “I’m looking forward to kids in the future having just as much fun playing at this facility and playing on the lawn.”

East side pocket park gets a namesake

A rendering of a pocket park at University Drive and Santa Ana Avenue in Costa Mesa.
A pocket park being planned at University Drive and Santa Ana Avenue in Costa Mesa will be named Perez Park, after longtime resident Rachel Perez Hamilton.
(Courtesy of the City of Costa Mesa)

Council members also roundly approved naming a pocket park planned for the corner of University Drive and Santa Ana Avenue in honor of Rachel Perez Hamilton, a prominent Costa Mesan known for making significant contributions to the community through her work and volunteerism.

Perez Hamilton graduated from Newport Harbor High School in 1956 and from Orange Coast College in 1958. She later worked for the Coast Community College District from 1976 to 1993, first in the athletic department and then for Coastline Community College’s vice president of instruction.

In 2008, she was inducted into the Orange Coast College Alumni and Athletic Halls of Fame. Upon her retirement in 1993, she was honored with the Coastline College Humanitarian Award.

Rachel Perez Hamilton
(Courtesy of the city of Costa Mesa)

Perez Hamilton’s service to the community includes being a board member of the Costa Mesa Historical Society from 2009 to 2013 and volunteer efforts on behalf of the nonprofit Share Our Selves, OCC Friends of the Library and the Mexican American National Assn., an organization that focused on equal rights for Latinas.

She was also actively involved in St. Joachim’s Catholic Church, where she was a lector.

Mayor Katrina Foley said the county, which operates the land the park is planned for, asked the city for naming recommendations. Perez Hamilton was the first person she thought of.

The wife of Costa Mesa High School football coach Jimmy Nolan, Taran, and their children, Daisy and Jimmy, are still hospitalized after surviving a crash that killed two people in South Carolina last week.

“It’s perfectly fitting to name this park Perez Park after Rachel Perez Hamilton,” she added. “Not only was she an amazing volunteer in our community on the east side … her husband was also a veteran, and they have family that have deep roots here in Costa Mesa.”

The council agreed to waive a portion of its normal naming policy, which requires nominations be reviewed by the city’s Parks, Arts and Community Commission. Since the panel has halted meetings during the pandemic, City Council members decided to forego the usual nomination process.

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