Above: Emily, 5, and Ivan, 9, Izar enjoy an afternoon playing at the Oasis soccer field. (Image: Paulina Rojas/ Coachella Unincorporated)
By Paulina Rojas
OASIS, Calif. — As soon as the sun starts to set in Oasis, a rural community in the eastern Coachella Valley, locals flock to the community’s first park, a simple soccer field with a gravel track around its perimeter that opened just a few months ago.
Children run about as mothers chat and teenagers hang out with their headphones on. Others bring snacks to share. This would be considered a normal scene in many other communities, but in this area it borders on revolutionary.
“A lot of cars pass by here and all the mothers would worry that something could happen to their children, since [before the park] there were no safe places to play,” said Rosalba De La Cruz-Olivarez, an Oasis resident and community leader with Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC).
Speaking in Spanish, De La Cruz-Olivarez said the park has not only created positive change among the children in her community but among adults as well.
“I have noticed a big difference in how the people here feel, everyone seems a lot happier because there is finally a place for us to go sit for a little while, outside of our homes,” Olivarez said.
Before the opening of the park, residents of Oasis would have to drive about 20 miles west to Coachella to get to the nearest outdoor public space. Which presents an obstacle for the many residents here who don’t own cars, in an area where access to public transportation is extremely limited.
While there are a number of parks in Coachella today, there was a time not too long ago when that wasn’t the case.
“You drive by the parks in Coachella and there is always a ton of people and then some,” said Assemblyman and former mayor of Coachella, Eduardo Garcia. “We are at a point where there is a park in just about every segment of the city and it is how a well planned city should be.”
When Garcia initially took office one of the first things he noticed was the lack of park space, and so he started to ask questions.
“I learned as mayor of Coachella in 2006 and when I was elected to the city council, two years prior that the population of the city had grown based on the development, but that the park space had not grown along with it,” he said. “I began to ask why that was.”
Now, 10 years later Garcia takes note of the positive impact parks have had on his city, and he is now using that to push for statewide legislation that would help bring similar benefits to more communities.
“We made the case that the investment of a $3.2 million dollar park bond will have a return on investment and address issues of quality of life and the health and wellbeing of people” he said.
The park bond – AB-2444 – is currently stalled in the state senate. But that does not mean Garcia has halted his efforts.
“We start with the park discussions for next year, this year already,” he said. “We’re going to have a couple of park hearings in our district and throughout the state to begin generating additional support.”
That support and community buy-in from all stakeholders is what led to the Oasis park being built.
“(What made the park a success was) the creativity and willingness of different sectors –government, non-profit, residents – to work together with a ‘can-do’ attitude,” said Silvia Paz, vice president of Desert Recreation District.
“Open space has a tremendous impact on community well being; having access to parks and recreation has been associated with improved mental and physical health, and it also offers youth a safe place to convene.”
Paz added that the park in Oasis is one of three being planned for the Eastern Coachella Valley. Funding is still being secured for completion of the park, which will include a basketball court and a play area with swings.
Back in Oasis, De La Cruz-Olivarez shared the details of the first birthday party that was held at the park a few weeks ago. A neighbor wanted to do something special for her son and everyone showed up.
“It was very beautiful to see everyone there together,” she said.
About the author:
Paulina Rojas joined Coachella Uninc. as a beat reporter in February 2016 after working as a city reporter in the eastern Coachella Valley for more than a year. Although born and raised in New York City, Paulina feels right at home in the eastern Coachella Valley. She loves the warmth of the people and buying fresh bread from her favorite bakery in downtown Coachella. Paulina is a graduate of the University of Houston, and her work has appeared in The Las Vegas Review – Journal, The Houston Chronicle, HelloGiggles and Vivala. View her author page here.