Mission Beach resident remembered in new Bonita Cove playground

Sarah Mattinson (Area 6 Mission Beach Town Council rep), Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Andy Field (Parks and Rec Department assistant director), William Gardner (husband to the late Maruta Gardner) and Cordelia Mendoza (president of Mission Beach Women's Club) each shovel sand in the Bonita Cove Playground Groundbreaking Ceremony.
(Savanah Duffy)

Members of the Mission Beach Town Council, the Mission Beach Women’s Club and other civic leaders gathered at Bonita Cove, 1100 W. Mission Bay Drive on Nov. 12 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the playground being built in honor of beloved Mission Beach resident, Maruta Gardner, who was tragically struck and killed by an impaired driver three years ago while she was painting out graffiti in South Mission Beach.

The playground will be called “Maruta Gardner Playground at Bonita Cove West,” and is expected to be completed by Fall 2020, according to Tim Graham, media contact for the San Diego Parks & Rec Department.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer addressed the audience — many of whom had donned red clothing or accessories in homage to Gardner’s favorite color — and expressed both anticipation for upgrades that dozens of playgrounds, comfort stations, regional parks, parking lots and recreation facilities would be receiving, as well as appreciation for all those who made certain the new playground would become a reality.

The park and facility upgrades are included in the more than $40 million in projects planned for Mission Bay Park, funded, in part, by two voter-approved measures last year.

The Bonita Cove Playground will receive a $3.4 million upgrade, said Faulconer, including renovating the half acre of play space, replacing the comfort station, installing a new shade structure and new security lighting, as well as upgrading the sidewalks to be ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Parks & Rec Director Andy Field announced the new playground will feature a rope course, based on the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Belmont Park, just across the street. The new restrooms will be unisex, with stalls available to any gender and the sinks located outside.

Field added that Bonita Cove playground is just the first of seven to eight playground replacements/improvement projects that will be implemented in Mission Bay Park.

Gardner is credited with making the initial push for the playground upgrades.

“I say this first hand,” began the Mayor, “as somebody who had the real privilege and pleasure to work with Maruta: Her sense of energy, her caring about this community and always wanting to do the right thing — she was a real beacon for involvement, for volunteerism and for giving back to our City. We miss her. We miss her every day.”

Applause rang out as he continued: “Her legacy lives on — and her will lives on — in this park and this playground that has been re-designed with everybody here’s help and support.”

Cordelia Mendoza, president of Mission Beach Women’s Club and friend to Gardner, recalled all the times people doubted the new playground would ever happen.

“But here we all are,” she said. “For our Women’s Club to have had a small part in this happening is an honor. People may not have known Maruta, but now they’ll all know her name. And her energy will forever be present here. They will be Maruta-rized, just like all of us have been.”

Gardner was a former principal of Mission Bay High School, executive director of the San Diego County Office of Education’s juvenile court education program, and she served on the Mission Beach Town Council. She first proposed the new playground in January 2015.

“She literally lived and died for her belief in the community, and for cleaning up and making this a better place,” said Mission Beach Town Council president Matthew Gardner. “Even in her passing, nobody is able to stop her continuing to do that. We’re happy that this area is a moniker for that.”