After getting the thumbs-up last week from the Davis City Council, a committee of city workers and community members have launched a fundraising effort to create a park project dedicated to John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, two city parks employees who were tragically slain in December 1980.
Named the Warm Remembrance Family Play Area, the memorial project will renovate an existing play area in Redwood Park just south of the César Chávez Elementary School on Anderson Road. Originally built in 1963, Redwood Park was a favorite of Riggins’ while growing up in Davis, and Gonsalves worked there as a city recreation leader.
The City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission both have approved a conceptual plan for the play area, which will be funded with private donations. A website with information about the project and ways to donate toward its construction can be viewed at http://city-managers-office.cityofdavis.org/warm-remembrance-project.
“Now that the City Council has given the green light to the Warm Remembrance Family Play Area, we hope that the community and families everywhere can help us make this special place a reality. It will go a long way down the road to healing after what has been a 32-year long nightmare,” said Bob Bowen, Davis’ public relations manager and a member of the project’s steering committee. Other members include Davis Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Beth Gabor, public information officer for Yolo County and a cousin of Riggins.
Riggins and Gonsalves, both 18-year-old UC Davis freshmen, were kidnapped from Davis on the night of Dec. 20, 1980, after ushering a performance of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker” at the Veterans’ Memorial Theatre. Their bodies were found two days later in Sacramento County.
Their killer, Richard Joseph Hirschfield, was identified more than 20 years later through DNA evidence and tried for the murders last fall. He was sentenced in January to the death penalty.
Plans for the play area include memorial benches, an interpretive sign, play apparatus for young children, a picnic table, additional landscaping, pour-in-place surface for cushioning and accessibility, improved lighting and other amenities.
Organizers also hope to erect a miniature version of the original concrete “egg” structure that children once played on in the park, and which served as a meeting place for Riggins and his friends. It was removed about 30 years ago due to deterioration and safety concerns, Bowen said.
The initial project fundraising goal has been set at $80,000, with a grand-opening target of spring 2014. Due to city budget challenges, the project is designed to improve the play area at no cost to the city. Tax-exempt project donations are being handled through a regional nonprofit foundation.
Bowen said the project signs will describe the positive, life-affirming influences Riggins and Gonsalves had on local children, and the importance of the family-oriented Davis parks and recreation programs. The existing dinosaur play structure at the site will be relocated to another deserving Davis park play area.
Citizens interested in contributing to the project or finding more information, can visit the website, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the Davis City Manager’s Office at 530-757-5602.