Timothy Kwa, left, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, and Sara Petrisello, an English Ph.D. candidate, serve up a tasty dessert at an ice cream social Feb. 23 for Solano Park residents on the UC Davis campus. Waiting his turn is Rowan Schact, 2, right. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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A community losing its roots: Solano Park

By Summer Stewart

Knock. Knock.

“Hey, Avery!” screams Ana, a redheaded toddler, knocking her hand against my front door. She ran from her house, 300 feet away to play with my toddler, Avery.

They are best friends, and we are residents of Solano Park family housing complex.

The door is unlocked. If she could reach the handle, she would storm through without knocking. However, she can’t, so I open the door and she falls in because she was pressing her face against it. She will stay for hours, until her father, Chris, another single parent, comes to fetch her for dinner.

“All right girls, do you want to paint?” I ask.

Avery runs to the sliding glass door screaming, “Yes,” and Ana quickly follows her.

On warm days, the girls strip down to their underwear and paint the concrete while I work in the adjacent vegetable garden. Within minutes, splotches of crimson cover the concrete, but not nearly as much as on the girls’ bellies.

Every day the girls play together, much like the other children who live here with their parents. At the complex, children freely ride bicycles, play tag or hang out at the jungle gym as their moms and dads study or enjoy the company of fellow neighbors.

This is Solano Park Family Housing on UC Davis’ campus and there isn’t a better place for student families to live in the city of Davis. It is the last non-privatized student housing complex on campus. If you did not know it was a university-owned complex, you may think it’s a tight-knit community in a rural region.

Everyone talks as though we’ve known each other for years. And some of us have. Some of us have known each other for nearly a decade as we complete our dissertations or degrees.

The Magaña family has lived here for eight years. Cesar Magaña, one of three on-site resident advisers, said, “(My wife, Dalia, and myself) had two children here. Our lives are here and it will be hard to move when Dalia’s done this year.”

Dalia will finish her dissertation this spring and they will relocate to her new teaching position in Omaha, Neb. All Solano Park residents come here for school, but we all leave with an extended family.

As student families, we bring family traditions from all around the world and share our experiences together in order to give our children (and ourselves) the best transitional living experience possible.

The complex provides weekly activities for the children and parents. In February, we held a Valentines’ Day potluck and all of the children made cards for their friends. Families bring dishes of their own cultures to share with everybody.

We have summertime barbecues that bring together hundreds of families to share our histories through conversation, food and games.

50-plus years of history

Solano Park has its own history, too. The complex has been around for more than 50 years. Chris Stover, father of two lived here as a child with his parents.

“There’s nowhere safer,” he said “I can let Lucas out to the park by himself and check on him through the window. And well, Ana is always at Avery’s house, so she’s safe, too.”

Being on-campus gives Solano Park residents direct access to the UC Davis Police Department in case of any crimes. Here, child safety is the No. 1 priority. Adie Lee, mother of three said, “If I see anybody I don’t recognize, (then) I call the cops.”

Lee, like many other stay-at-home moms, is the eyes and ears of the complex. Luckily, she doesn’t have to make that call very often — Solano Park is virtually crime-free.

The warm environment makes Solano Park a complex that people do not just move in and out of — the complex builds connections, provides affordability, safety and proximity to campus.

Solano Park is one of two family complexes on UCD’s campus and student parents prefer to live here. The waiting list is more than six months long.

Those on the waiting list come 2016 will be moving into remodeled housing. The current Solano Park will be torn down and reconstructed in a new form in conjunction with the Davis-University Gateway District plan. Its sister complex, Orchard Park, is slated to undergo reconstruction in 2014. The housing will be for individuals connected with the campus; the cost of living in the remodeled area has not been released.

Currently, Solano Park offers some of the most affordable rent in the city of Davis. Rent ranges between $750 and $850 for one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rent covers all utilities — including Internet and cable — except electric. The apartments are cozy with back yards that feature a fenced in patio and garden plot.

Other campus properties that have switched to private managers have seen rent increases.

Solano Park residents worry that the possible increase will affect their close-knit bonds are individuals take on extra work to pay rent and utilities.

Sara Petrosillo, Ph.D. candidate and mother of two said, “(My husband) Vincenzo is going to have to go to work and I will have to lighten my course load.” Her husband, Vincenzo, is Italian and doesn’t speak English — he has stayed home with the children while Sara finishes her degree.

A delicate balance

The current Solano Park layout is conducive to maintaining the delicate balance of family life, school and work.

And with 83 percent of the apartments at Solano Park being occupied by families, that’s a lot of children in the balance.

Families have made the shared parks the heart of the community. Moms and dads spread out blankets and snacks for all of the children to share. We watch and play with our tots while studying and chatting on the grass.

The close-knit community is something all Solano Park residents enjoy every day. Hillary Hayes-Leonard, mom of two children, said, “These people are my family. I can walk outside and talk to anybody.” Her husband, Matt is completing his Ph.D. in philosophy.

The beauty of Solano Park is that nobody ever feels alone. The adults connect over education and children; the children connect over zombies, Barbies and who has the snazzier bike. Everybody knows each other’s names and the names of the children.

Residents of Solano Park also enjoy the closeness to campus. Individuals can get to the heart of campus within eight minutes on foot — on a bicycle, to the other side of campus in 10 minutes.

At night, in Solano Park, the neighborhood falls silent about 8 p.m. as children nestle into their beds and parents stay up preparing for the next day. The doors aren’t locked up until the lights go out and parents are fast asleep.

It’s all quiet until the next morning, when a toddler comes rapping at the door.

— Summer Stewart recently completed her English degree at UC Davis and is pursuing a master of fine arts degree in poetry. Summer and her daughter were Solano Park residents for two years before they moved off campus.

Special to The Enterprise

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