Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers

(l) Yasiel Puig

One of the City of San Fernando’s most underused parks may be getting a million-dollar renovation thanks to the generosity of Los Angeles Dodgers’ star outfielder Yasiel Puig.  

City council members agreed at their April 16 meeting to partner with Puig’s Wild Horse Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit charity, to renovate Pioneer Park and add to its facilities.   

The foundation is looking to spend between $750,000 to $1 million to refurbish the fields and facilities, including a community center that would provide social services and family support.

Puig is scheduled to appear at Pioneer Park in San Fernando on Thursday, April 19, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at an event open to the public to announce the project. 

“When he put me to task to find this field,” said Lisette Carnet, the foundation’s executive director, at Monday’s meeting, “he told me, ‘I want to have a place where children can go to play any sport, not just baseball, or soccer, they can play any sport, they can go for music, where they can feel safe, where they can do homework after school, where they can find counseling if they need to, or medical if they need to. They can have meals after school if they don’t have it at home.

“He wanted to provide the kids with what he wasn’t provided when he was growing up.”

Puig was born in Cuba and defected in 2012. In 2013, he signed a $42 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

The council, eager for the partnership, voted 4-0 to move forward with the project. Councilmember Jaime Soto abstained from the vote after Carnet would not entertain his idea of potentially redistributing the money to other parks “where we might we have a preview and understanding that would have a lot more urgency than Pioneer Park.”   

Carnet responded by saying she had personally scouted the parks, and  presented Pioneer Park to Puig because it is exactly what he was looking for.

“Pioneer Park was chosen because it was just like a ring to the finger — it was exactly what he was looking for from A to Z,” she said.  “The house is a little shining gem that we saw, and we said ‘this is the reason why, and this is where we have to be.’” 

The foundation hopes to convert an abandoned house once used by the Boy Scouts into a center where children and their families can obtain medical and psychological assistance, academic and tutoring services financial literacy, parental education, and family nutrition classes. It also hopes to bring the park’s snack bar up to code so that it may function again and provide healthy foods.  

Carnet said the area’s demographics, where many households are eligible for CalFresh yet are not enrolled, was “a big factor” in choosing this park.  

Interestingly, the city council had recently discussed Pioneer Park’s poor condition and low utilization, and even Soto expressed concern about the effect the park’s equipment might have on children’s health when the body adopted the Recreation and Community Services’ Park and Recreation Master Plan in February. 

Councilmember Robert Gonzales said Puig’s vision “lines up perfectly” with what the council has been working on for the last couple of years: healthy living.   

Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez called the partnership an “exceptional idea.”  

“An organization to come into the City of San Fernando and partner up with us is something we have not seen for a very long time,” he said, “especially with the dedication of bringing so many funds into the community. That’s something we can’t pass.”  

Lopez said he liked the idea of focusing on just one park, especially Pioneer Park because it does not have much programming like the city’s other parks.  

Mayor Sylvia Ballin said she, too, embraced the partnership.

“Like you said, it’s like he found a perfect ring with that park. I am looking forward to seeing the diamond on that ring, and I know that you can make it happen,” Ballin said.

In other business, San Fernando voters will be asked to extend Measure A — a half-cent sales tax approved in 2013 to save the city from bankruptcy  — in the November general election.

The city reports that the tax has generated $8.12 million in revenue since its approval in October 2013, which has been used to pay off debt and keep city services running. It is expected to generate $7 million more before the tax expires in October 2020. 

“I would like to protect the workers, I would like to continue the infrastructure work here in the city, with the sewers, with the water, and I don’t see that happening at all if Measure A is not passed,” Ballin said.  

Recreation and Community Services Director Julian Venegas provided updates regarding the Las Palmas Senior Citizen’s Club and Santa Rosa Baseball and Softball league.

Venegas informed the council that he discussed operations with the senior club’s general membership and explained the change of pricing for activities; he said the meeting ended on a positive note.  

As for the Santa Rosa Baseball and Softball league, Venegas said they are in danger of losing use of the field since the organization has not met the requirements to function as a non-profit, including having a full board and audits every year; the league has not had an audit for 3 years and currently one person sits on the board, due to a lack of volunteers, according to Venegas.

League parents are trying to come up with all the necessary requirements and documents to keep their league going, Venegas said.  

League officials and parents met Tuesday at the Las Palmas Park, Venegas said, and have decided to reorganize the governing board. They will have two weeks to create an election committee, and poll their membership for candidates who will agree to serve. 

After the reorganization is finished, Venegas said the new board will meet with San Fernando City officials, who will then decide whether to continue the relationship with the league.