MOORPARK — Looking for a place to play, children from the Villa Campesina neighborhood have cut a well-worn path off Juarez Avenue to the empty lot that lies along the Arroyo Simi.
The land sandwiched between their small neighborhood of one-story homes and the creek has become a makeshift playground for the community's kids.
There's a tree for climbing, and a few spots to peddle a bike or practice throwing a ball around. But it's nothing like what was promised: a neighborhood park with a basketball court, a playing field for soccer and volleyball, and a picnic area.
Caught up in the debate over flood control along the Arroyo Simi's banks and a footbridge across the creek, plans for the park have languished for more than five years.
Now the 62 families who live in Moorpark's Villa Campesina neighborhood could finally get the park and playground built for their children.
Last week, the City Council decided to set aside $40,000 to match the money the residents have already contributed for the park's construction.
Although the money still falls short of the $130,000 the original planners wanted--and flood control officials have claimed a chunk of the land--residents say they have enough to work with.
"We're ready to go," said Vincent Lavizzo, who lives in the community with his young family. "We plan on doing a lot of the work ourselves, so I think we'll be able to do it with that much money."
As they have done in the past, the Villa Campesina residents got together last week and decided as a group what the park would look like and how they will work to build it.
The community was built much the same way.
Each of the working-class families built their own homes with the help of their neighbors--and from the Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., a Saticoy-based nonprofit group; the Catholic church; the federal government, and the city.
The so-called "sweat equity" housing project allowed the working poor and lower middle-class families to own their homes.
Work on the first home began around Thanksgiving in 1989, and the last home was finished in 1991.
The only thing left undone is the park, which the city had promised to help build within two years of the completion of the neighborhood.
For the young families who live there, the park is extremely important. The neighborhood is teeming with children, who wind up either playing in the empty field or the street.
Each family has already put in about $800 to build it, contributing a total of about $40,000.
But a lack of money and other delays have kept the park from being built.
The latest delay came last year after the Ventura County flood control district put the project on hold while it studies the land.
The district notified the city and Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. in July 1995 that it planned to take about 30% of the land set aside for the park for flood-control purposes, leaving just an acre to work with.
"We'll still be able to build a park; it's just going to have to be a simple one," said Melissa Harris, who lives in the community with her husband and five children.
Work on the park has also been tied in part into delayed action on a footbridge across the arroyo, near where an 11-year-old boy drowned in the rain-swollen river two months ago, Harris said.
When construction on the bridge begins, a line will be laid to pipe water to the park for irrigation. The planned bridge will also connect the Villa Campesina neighborhood to another park, the 60-acre Arroyo Vista Park, she said, giving the community access to more recreation services.
But for Harris and most of her neighbors, the bigger park at Arroyo Vista can't match having a park of their own.
"Just a place nearby where we don't have to worry about our children playing," she said.
Making phone calls and attending meetings, Harris has been working to get the park finished once and for all.
After the Moorpark City Council's pledge to set aside money for the park, Harris said the community may be able to begin work on the park this summer.
"I hope so," she said. "Everyone wants to get started as soon as possible; we're just waiting for the new plans to be drawn."
The redesigned park will no longer have a soccer field or a place for a volleyball court, but there will be enough room for a small basketball court and picnic tables, Harris said.
The new plans are being prepared by officials from Cabrillo Economic Development Corp., said Karen Flocks, who works with the nonprofit group.
"Actually, the smaller park makes it much more affordable," said Chris Adams, Moorpark's parks and recreation director. "With the residents planning to do a lot of the work themselves, I think they'll have enough money to make it work."