(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)
Each year, several local schools participate in Walk & Roll to School Day to encourage students to develop healthy lifestyle habits, and some of them, including La Tercera Elementary School in the Old Adobe Union School District, have added their own particular twist.
?Many students and teachers at La Tercera walk together in pairs around the neighborhood, pretending to be a school bus,? said Meloni Courtway, a resident of the area.
The twist mirrors the social personality of the La Tercera neighborhood, which historically has gathered for garage sales, parties and holiday celebrations, as well as meetings to address compelling concerns.
And at the forefront of current worries is vandalism at La Tercera Park.
?When we first moved here in 1992, there wasn?t a high crime rate ? not at all,? said Michelle Giuliani, who has lived on Ivy Lane for the past 15 years. ?At that time, you wouldn?t give a second thought to going down to the park. Today, I don?t take my (4-year-old) daughter there. We go to other parks because I know through my own kids what happens at La Tercera.?
Concerned over the increasing vandalism, more than 100 neighborhood residents held a ?Take Back La Tercera Park? meeting there in February with city officials, as well as police and fire personnel. Since then, agencies have boosted their efforts to remove graffiti, condoms, alcohol and broken bottles from the park, and residents have initiated regular foot patrols of the area.
While vandalism and trash remain an ongoing issue, and many parents don?t allow their children to visit the park at night, several residents indicated that the meeting helped.
?Since the meeting, people have been working on the vandalism problem, and it?s gotten better,? said Ed Apelzin, who has lived with wife Doris onSt. Louis Court for the past 38 years.
Many residents credit Courtway, who organized the meeting along with her husband, Edgar, for the initiative she has shown since moving to the neighborhood in 2005.
?Meloni?s enthusiasm has paid off,? said Traci Long, who has lived on Peggy Lane since 1983. ?She?s been an inspiration to the neighborhood, and made it more cohesive.
?She?s woken it up.?
?Two years ago, this neighborhood was at the tipping point of being an undesirable place to live,? Courtway said. ?I wondered if people had resigned themselves to the way things were going.
?But a combination of new people here have made a positive difference. I?m not the only one.?
Now, after receiving unanimous approval from the Petaluma Parks & Recreation Commission, planning leader Suzi Stadelman, along with husband Bob and other residents, are collaborating with Petaluma Bounty, a local nonprofit group, to create a community garden in a previously vacant part of La Tercera Park. The garden will include a shaded rest and workshop area, children?s garden and 17 plots purchased by neighborhood families.
The plots cost $25 per year to cover the city?s cost for providing water, and residents will be able to grow plants, flowers and crops on them.
?A large group of people will have their hands in the garden. It will bring people together, and represents cultural development in the neighborhood,? Courtway said.