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Debriefer: July 23, 2014 

Napa County awarded grant for citizenship; County to build park for Andy Lopez

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PATH TO CITIZENSHIP

Among entries on a long list of the $2.4 million in 2014 Napa Valley Community Foundation grants, one figure stands out: a $295,000 grant for a Napa County citizenship program established by the foundation.

"This is the largest discretionary grant we made this year," says Terence Mulligan, president of the foundation.

The grant will help 2,000 legal permanent residents in Napa County apply for citizenship.

The foundation commissioned a study in 2012 from the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., which reported that immigration to Napa County had sharply dropped in recent years.

The report found that that 24 percent of Napa County residents were born outside the country (California as a whole is 27 percent), and that the 9,000 legal permanent residents added about $1 billion to the annual economy.

There is an influx of Filipino immigrants to American Canyon, the reported noted, but Mexicans remain the dominant immigrant group, and the backbone of the ag economy. Seventy percent of that workforce comes from Mexico.

The Migration Policy Institute found that Napa County Latino men are overrepresented in the workforce, which is to say that unemployment rates are low among working age Mexican men.

Those immigrants have tried to step up the economic ladder only to find the citizenship ceiling. The study found that "many immigrants in Napa County are eligible to become citizens, but they haven't done so nearly as frequently as their peers around the state."

Enter the citizenship initiative. Last year the foundation distributed approximately $285,000 for this same purpose, says Mulligan.

Mulligan says in its first year the program has helped more than 500 residents with legal assistance or classroom help. One hundred and sixty-five people have submitted citizenship applications.

"Sixty-five people have actually become U.S. citizens," he says. —Tom Gogola

LOPEZ PARK?

Nine months after 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot at the corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues, just south of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County officials have announced receipt of a state $471,000 grant to turn the site into a county park.

The park might be completed by early 2016, says county parks deputy director Jim Nantell. Sonoma County officials will rely on community input for guidance on what to build, he says.

"We figure there would be some kind of multi-use field; we anticipate a playground, some various picnic areas," he says.

The site is currently home to a makeshift memorial for Lopez, whose killer, Sonoma County sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus, was exonerated by Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch earlier this month. The county hopes to transform a one-acre parcel and a larger lot across the street for this underserved part of the county. The nearest park is two miles away.

The land hasn't been purchased yet, but county spokesman Peter Rumble says the state grant shows that "we're not just paying lip service to this."

County officials need at least another $1 million to finance the park, and a round of property appraisals, public meetings and approval from the board of supervisors are on the agenda before any construction begins. —Nicolas Grizzle

  • Napa County awarded grant for citizenship; County to build park for Andy Lopez

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