A tough proposition
It’s parks versus veterans as Butte County supervisors consider best way to spend Prop. 12 funds
Last March voters approved by a 21 margin Proposition 12, the Safe Neighborhood, Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act. The bond raised, in part, $388 million, with $2.56 million going to Butte County. That money was distributed to the county’s cities and four park districts in Chico, Paradise, Durham and the south county, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Feather River Recreation and Park District (FRRPD).
The county’s share is about $750,000, and on Tuesday, April 24, county supervisors were faced with how best to spend that money. They could either vote to pass it on to the park districts or, as recommended by county staff, use it to fix up five of the county’s six aging and deteriorating veterans’ memorial halls. The supes, acting as government bodies often do when faced with ticklish issues, decided to form a sub-committee to study the matter further.
In the meantime, Laurie Anderson, who described herself as a “taxpaying citizen of Butte County” and favors funding the parks, served the supervisors a request for a funding freeze as well as a request that the state “investigate allegations of violations of the Brown Act [which governs the conduct and content of an agency’s closed meetings] and the Public Information Act in the application of Proposition 12 funds” by county staff.
The question raised by people like Anderson and the park districts, particularly the cash strapped FRRPD, is whether staff’s recommendation is an appropriate use of the money: Do veteran halls qualify as park facilities under Prop. 12? Do they meet the spirit and intent of the law?
County Administrator John Blacklock says they do. He contacted Keith Steinhart, the state grants administration supervisor, who assured him the halls met the requirements.
“Renovation of veterans’ memorial halls is an eligible use of bond funds provided the grant applicant either owns or has the right by means of a lease, joint powers agreement or similar document to operate the facilities for public use,” Steinhart told Blacklock in a Feb. 15 letter.
The text of Prop. 12, also called the Villaraigosa-Keely Act, says, “Responding to the recreational and open-space needs of a growing population and expanding urban communities, this act will revive state stewardship of natural resources by investing in neighborhood parks and state parks, clean water protection, and coastal beaches and scenic areas.”
Some folks, like FRRPD Superintendent Bob Sharkey, charge that over the years the county has allowed the halls, which were built in the 1920s to honor World War I vets, to slip into disrepair by failing to allocate money to maintain them. Now that three-quarters of a million dollars looks tempting to a county administration under increasing pressure from the state and the county grand jury to renovate the halls.
Both sides agree the halls are important and falling apart. Lenora Stevenson, the auxiliary president of the Oroville Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, spoke of the neglect of the halls and how they serve as community recreational centers for such things as bingo, weddings, dances and holiday parties.
Anderson, the woman who issued the freeze order, said she had found “22,000 grant [sources on the Internet] that could be construed to fit the halls’ needs.”
Scott Lawrence, manager of the FRRPD, said it was a shame things had reached this point where the veterans’ halls were up against local parks for a relatively small pot of money. “We’re fighting over a bone, and there’s not much left but bones,” he said.
Others noted that veterans’ functions at the halls always take priority over public functions. Tim Tokuno, arguing on behalf putting the money toward the halls, sort of damaged his case when he noted the “halls are not meant to be used by the public.”
Some vets, including Dick Coughlin, came out in favor of the parks.
“When I voted for Prop. 12, I was voting for parks,” he said. “And when I fought in a jungle years ago and miles away from here, I was protecting the right of the people who vote. Nobody comes to our county, walks in and asks, ‘How are the veterans’ halls?’ They want to know about schools and hospitals and recreation.”
After a brief discussion, board Chairman Curt Josiassen moved that a subcommittee be formed to see if a compromise can be worked out. The park district officials offered to split the money with the veterans’ halls 50-50, but county staff rejected that compromise. The county will also contact State Parks Director Rusty Areias’ office for further clarification.
As for the supervisors, it would appear that 1st District Supervisor Bob Beeler, who made fixing up the veterans’ halls a campaign promise, is clearly on the side of the halls, as is 5th District Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi, who noted his office in Paradise looks out over the hall there and he sees plenty of community activity taking place. It is not clear how Supervisors Jane Dolan, Mary Anne Houx and Josiassen come down on the matter. The supervisors could determine how to spend the money within their own districts, meaning Beeler could fund the hall in his district, and Josiassen, who has three halls in his district, could put the money toward parks. Only Houx has a district without a hall.