Planada residents united Friday morning, sharing hugs and snacks as they watched a Merced County Sheriff's Department substation project, nearly two years in the making, realized.
"I was shocked when I heard the news," said Alicia Rodriguez, 47. "I felt that it was a milestone for Planada, and I was very happy to see it in my lifetime."
Rodriguez along with a team of community volunteers began cleaning and caring for Houlihan Park on Stanford Avenue and Sutter Street two years ago, when the idea emerged to move the sheriff's substation, currently on the outskirts of Highway 140, into an office at the park's community center.
The move will bring the sheriff's substation to the center of town, which officials say will improve public safety and foster community involvement.
The Planada community watched proudly on Friday as Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and Supervisor John Pedrozo cut the red ribbon, entered the key code and walked through the building.
"It's something that small towns need," Rodriguez said. "It opens communications for the Sheriff's Department and the community."
Pazin said deputies can begin working out of the substation as soon as tomorrow and that it'll bring them back to the basics of "community oriented policing."
"It improves accessibility to the community because of its locale in the park," Pazin said. "I think people will be more comfortable with the officers that work that area consistently,"
Mary Bass, 48, a 12-year business owner in Planada, said the move will improve public safety because the park's location experiences heavy foot traffic each day.
"I think a presence here is good and it's a much better location for the community," Bass said. "It's about being part of the community, and having the sheriff as a partner to the community is great."
Officials said the substation move is just one step in Planada's plan to become a safer community. Next up is the Planada Pedestrian Project, which will improve safety around Planada Elementary school.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.