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Costa Mesa officials celebrate 2 new Lions Park facilities, a promise kept to city’s Westside

Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens cuts the ribbon as he is joined by elected officials.
Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens cuts the ribbon as he is joined by elected officials during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Norma Hertzog Community Center on Saturday in Costa Mesa.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa’s Lions Park, a once-thriving Westside community hub that suffered from years of neglect, is undergoing a local renaissance as the city completes a series of building projects designed to reinvigorate a neighborhood that has historically lacked crucial amenities.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, city officials celebrated the opening of a brand-new Norma Hertzog Community Center, named after Costa Mesa’s first female councilwoman and mayor, as well as a newly renovated Lions Park playground.

Arlis Reynolds, Costa Mesa 5th District council member 5, speaks.
Arlis Reynolds, Costa Mesa 5th District council member, speaks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In addition to a completely repainted Korean War-era Grumman F9F Panther jet on the playground — which gives the park its local nickname “Airplane Park,” several new play areas, pieces of equipment and a padded surface will inspire countless hours of play.

City officials committed $1.78 million to the renovation, with additional assistance from state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).

4th District City Councilman Manuel Chavez recalled growing up on the city’s Westside and said the area was an important center of activity for him and his family.

“Every Saturday, my mom would walk me to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal, then we’d walk to Lions Park to play and get books from the library,” he recalled in an interview earlier this week. “That really was my park.”

But in subsequent years, as the park became a congregation point for the city’s homeless residents, families discontinued their use of the area and, in 2017, the playground in the park was closed altogether, while work on the surrounding buildings began.

Attendees wave to Norma Hertzog, Costa Mesa's first female City Council member and mayor.
Attendees wave to Norma Hertzog, Costa Mesa’s first female City Council member and mayor, via Zoom as the event is recorded live on a smartphone.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“There really is a lost generation of residents who never had a chance to play at Lions Park,” Chavez said. “Now, we’re bringing back that community space. In my opinion, it’s really an investment into a part of town that has felt forgotten.”

The two projects are part of a $36.5-million renovation effort that also included the construction of a new Costa Mesa-Donald Dungan Library on the site of an old community center, completed in 2019. The new Hertzog Center, meanwhile, was a renovation of what formerly served as the park’s library.

Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, who represents Costa Mesa’s 5th District, said Thursday Lions Park used to serve as a downtown area on the Westside and was central to the lives of the residents there. Restoring the area is an important step in regaining the trust of the community.

“I feel like this is sort of a launch of what we’ve been calling out Westside restoration effort,” Reynolds said of Saturday’s celebration. “It’s an important follow through on a lot of conversations we’ve been having over the years. [And] it’s long overdue.”

Orange County Board of Supervisors member Katrina Foley, the former Costa Mesa mayor, speaks during the ceremony.
Orange County Board of Supervisors member Katrina Foley, the former Costa Mesa mayor, speaks during the ceremony.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

For as much that’s been done, however, Reynolds said she hopes to be part of a grassroots effort to continue making Lions Park better, including possibly installing a small coffee shop, improving Davis Field and collaborating to bring community programming to the library and nearby center.

“The best way we can build trust is to follow through on our promises and to take people’s ideas and implement them,” she added.

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