M. Terry / SFVS

LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, resident Loresel Franco, LA Parks and Recreation representative AP Diaz and California Home Builders CEO Shawn Evanhaim officially open a new pocket park in Sylmar.

A housing development in Sylmar that began construction in 2015 is not quite completely finished yet, although some families have already moved in.

But another part of the project that opened on Monday, Aug. 27, is available for the residents there as well as the general public.

It’s a small park, a “pocket park,” that is positioned in front of the Cabrillo Collection housing development and faces the street on 12395 W. Aragon Way, near San Fernando Road. The park features a children’s playground and a fitness station, a pair of picnic tables, and is landscaped with drought-resistant vegetation all fenced in on 10,500 square feet of concrete.

The facility has been named San Fernando Park. It is owned and will be operated by the city of Los Angeles.  

“This park is unique because its built in conjunction with a brand new development,” said A.P. Diaz, executive officer for the Los Angeles City Department of Parks and Recreation. “There’s a lot of houses going up here, and there was real work to get the developer to buy into the fact they needed to forego just building property and making money, and providing some open space and park amenities for the residents moving in as well as the existing residents.”

Diaz said the cost of building a park is factored into “developer fees” charged by the city. The fee is either based on a specific formula depending on the size of the project, or else money must be put aside for the development of a park. 

“This is a public park…it’s what we call a ‘pocket park.’ It’s a smaller park so you have to be creative in the use of the type of plants you put in, and the type of equipment,” Diaz said. “There is a focus on ‘playground,’ but there is also fitness equipment. And it will certainly serve the new residents. If they have families or just want to enjoy the park they will be able to quickly access the area.”

The City of San Fernando has a much larger park area known to longtime residents as San Fernando Recreation Park (although it is officially listed in the city’s directory as simply Recreation Park). But Julian Venegas, San Fernando’s director of recreation and community services, does not view the name for the new Sylmar park as a conflict.

“Any jurisdiction can name their park whatever they want,” Venegas said. “It was most likely named that because it is [near] San Fernando Road. It’s not an issue…If there is a confusion, we’ll say our park is in the City of San Fernando.”

“Pocket parks” have been gaining favor in cities and urban areas worldwide because they don’t require as much space as traditional parks, yet still provide some greenery and a place for children to gather and play instead of in streets or other, less safe locales.

In cities like Los Angeles where both housing and green space in badly needed, conditions to include green space are imposed on developers.   Cities are adding fees to incorporate these kind of additions onto large housing development projects.

Resident Loresel Franco, who said hers was the first family to move into the development, offered enthusiastic support for the new park.

“This park is not only a great addition to our community, but it also has beneficial functions,” Franco said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday. “This park will provide us a place to be physically active, and it is a vital green space where our kids can play safely, a gathering place for families and community, and a place where we can reinvigorate ourselves.”

Shawn Evenhaim, founder and CEO of the Valley-based development company California Home Builders, is the Cabrillo Collection developer. His company, through its additional fees, bought the land for the park, donated it back to Los Angeles, and built the park.

He said the trend of “pocket parks” is one that should continue.

“I know the (LA Parks and Recreation) department has the funds to build parks, but is looking for land. If we can find land for large parks, that’s great. But we need to do more (smaller) parks, conserve the local community, and as you can see this is very functional,” Evenhaim said.

“You have activities here, you have the playground, you have some landscape. I think it’s definitely a trend. You see it a lot in the East Coast, in the more urban cities.”

Los Angeles City Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, said other “pocket parks” for the north and east Valley are in the works.

“We have one park that was part of a community development that we secured funding for in Sylmar as well,” Rodriguez said. “The monies were just secured from the state for that, and it’s probably a year-and-a-half out. We have another pocket park we’re doing in North Hills right by Sepulveda Middle School on a previously owned city lot. We’re trying to do pocket parks utilizing and creating as much green space as we can where it’s available. And we’ll continue to look for opportunities to do that.”