In the middle of a park-opening ceremony, before the ribbon was even cut, 1-year-old Alina Marin took the inaugural ride down the slide at San Fernando Road Park—the newest park in Sylmar, which opened Monday.

Officials said that this park represents a larger effort by the city of Los Angeles to increase the number of recreation areas in historically park-poor neighborhoods, like Sylmar.

“As we continue to build housing, we need to create the open space that allows families to come out and recreate, and have healthy lifestyles,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who represents the city’s 7th District.

From left to right: Loresal Franco, Community Member; Monica Rodriguez, Councilwoman, 7th District; Anthony-Paul Diaz, Chief of Staff, Department of Recreation and Parks; Shawn Evenhaim, Chief Executive Officer, California Home Builders. They celebrated the opening of San Fernando Road Park in Sylmar. (Photo by Bradley Bermont)

Measuring 10,500 square feet, officials are calling it a “pocket park.” Surrounded by brand-new single-family homes, the park is largely concrete and soft rubber, with a border of woodchips and drought-tolerant landscaping—dotted by a handful of small trees and patches of grass. It has a small play area for children, picnic tables, benches, and some fitness equipment.

While still under construction, the housing development around the park will eventually have 84 homes—all four-bedroom units and 1,500 square feet — that cost around $500,000 each. Shawn Evenhaim, chief executive officer of California Home Builders, is the project’s developer. He calls it “workforce-housing.”

“We keep talking about low-income housing, but it’s the workforce,” Evenhaim said. “That’s what we’re missing.”

The park sits at 12395 Aragon Way, in the heart of residential Sylmar—a couple miles from retail and restaurant space. Just on the other side of San Fernando Road, trains regularly pass with horns blaring. Still, the park is a draw for residents.

“That’s one of the reasons we got this house,” said Alina’s father, Julio Marin, who moved into the neighborhood last year. He’s been waiting for it to open. “The nearest park is about two miles away, all uphill,” he said.

Marin is one of about four-dozen residents living in this new development. In negotiations with the city, developers and officials at one point considered using the parcel for retail space, but opted for a park instead.

Anthony-Paul Diaz, chief of staff for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, lauded the move.

“We like development in the City of Angels,” he said. “But at the same time, we want to value our open space, which is precious and not abundant in the city of Los Angeles.”

In 2016, the County of Los Angeles released a study of residents’ access to parks. It found that 51% of the population did not have a park within a half-mile of their home. In Sylmar, 65% of the population lacks access to a park within a half-mile of their homes. The San Fernando Road Park, which opened today, is situated in one of the neighborhood’s highest-need areas, according to the study.

Tori Kjer, Los Angeles program director for the Trust for Public Land, has been an advocate for more parks in the northeast San Fernando Valley and the rest of Los Angeles County. She’s pleased with the city’s progress in recent years.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but some good groundwork has been laid,” she said, noting that the biggest challenge is securing the funding that will bring parks to the communities that need them most. But, on that front, the future is looking better and better.

The land used to build the San Fernando Road Park was donated by California Home Builders to the city. The city used fees, paid by the developer, to build the park for $317,000. Those fees were specifically earmarked to build new parks and improve old ones.

Since 2017, most housing development projects have had to pay these fees. It ensures that parks are getting incorporated into new pieces of the urban landscape, Kjer said. But that’s just one source of revenue that fuels her optimism.

In 2016, Los Angeles County passed Measure A with 75% of voters supporting the tax. In its first year, the measure generated $95.4 million in revenue for parks across the county. The Board of Supervisors has spent the past year deciding how those funds will be disbursed and they’re expected to vote on a final decision in the coming months.

Kjer is also optimistic about Proposition 68, which passed in June. It allocated $2 billion in the governor’s budget for park development.

“Everyone needs access to high-quality parks, but we want to make sure that the communities that don’t have access are prioritized,” she said. That seems to be a sentiment shared by officials.

City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez recently secured the funding to build another park in Sylmar and she’s aiming to build a third in North Hills.

But for young Alina Marin, none of those matter when she’s conquering the slide that’s right outside her front door.

“She loves being at the park,” her father said. “I’m really glad that it’s part of the community.”