Caper Acres? Highway 32? Who knows?

City Council re-divides on disc golf

Two hours into the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday night (April 21), Mayor Ann Schwab announced “the moment we’ve been waiting for”: deliberations over a suitable site to relocate the short disc-golf course from Upper Bidwell Park.

That moment wound up spanning 125 minutes, and it culminated in a way no one saw coming.

“Well, what happened there?” Lon Glazner, an organizer of the Chico Outsiders disc-golf group, mused as he headed to the exit.

A pair of decisions whose impact may be open to interpretation.

On a 4-3 vote—with Tom Nickell, Larry Wahl and Jim Walker dissenting—the council endorsed the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission’s recommendation of Caper Acres in Lower Park for a new short course. Three minutes later, on another 4-3 vote—Schwab, Mary Flynn and Andy Holcombe dissenting—the council opted to reconsider whether to move the course at all.

“Stay tuned for the next round, folks,” Wahl told the audience that filled the chamber and those viewing the proceedings on TV and streaming Internet. That will take place May 19.

From the outset, the matter was contentious, with Walker and Wahl immediately questioning the scope of the discussion. They believed the council should have been able to vote on the current site, along Highway 32; Schwab, Holcombe (her mayoral predecessor and a lawyer) and City Attorney Lori Barker disagreed, citing the wording of the disc-golf item on the agenda. In fact, when Wahl moved to keep the course along Highway 32, Holcombe interjected a point-of-order objection, and Schwab quashed the motion.

So the matter boiled down to three sites forwarded by the park commission: Caper Acres, 15 acres near the Chico airport and 16 acres in the Mendocino National Forest’s agricultural-research area south of town. Since the second is zoned industrial and the third belongs to the federal government, the focus quickly narrowed onto Lower Park.

Of the 25 citizens who addressed the council, a quarter expressed support for Caper Acres and two-thirds expressed opposition (others had different takes). The common thread of the concerns was size: how many holes and people the 11-acre site and nearby parking lot could accommodate.

The swing vote wound up belonging to Scott Gruendl, who said on the dais and said afterward that he was conflicted. The former mayor acknowledged that Caper Acres wouldn’t be adequate for a full 18-hole course and didn’t have buy-in from the organization of disc golfers who would be asked to help fund its development, but he voted for it anyway.

He also proved the tiebreaker in the subsequent vote, to reassess moving the course, as he and the rest of the council voted Jan. 6 should be done by mid-2010.

By phone Wednesday morning, he explained his votes as “relative to a strategy that started to emerge last night—the ultimate solution may require multiple sites. I’m not willing to say Caper Acres is the sole solution; it’s part of a bigger solution.”

That matches sentiments expressed by Flynn, the math teacher-turned-volunteerism director who called for flexible, open-minded approaches such as a cluster of sub-courses (e.g. nine holes at Caper Acres, five holes at Sherwood Forest and four in the Hooker Oak Recreation Area). “I look at this as a continuum, looking where we eventually want to be,” she said, also noting: “Whatever decision we make tonight, we’re not done.”

Prophetic words.

Schwab, by phone the next morning, summed up the matter thusly: “While we made the decision to accept the park commission’s recommendation, we haven’t allocated funds for either site, so that’s a decision we have to make. The message is we support disc golf; we want to see it at a place where many users have access to it. The decision [coming May 19] is to see if the park can support both sites.”

The mayor sees the votes as complementary rather than contradictory—“and complimentary to disc golf in the support of it.”

Holcombe concurred. “The vote to endorse the selection of Caper Acres as the most viable alternative at this time was appropriate and consistent with the council directive given to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission,” he said shortly after the end of the meeting, at 11:30 Tuesday night. “I do think it’s clear that the Caper Acres alternative doesn’t answer all the questions and meet all the needs, but it’s a good place to start.”

As for the following vote: “I think trying to retrace our steps back down the road to Highway 32 was the wrong decision.”

Nickell, the sitting vice mayor, disagrees on both points.

He called a course on Caper Acres—compact, bounded by trails and a playground—“a lawsuit waiting to happen” that probably couldn’t accommodate more than six holes anyway. He agreed with others who expect an environmental review will uncover obstacles to developing the site, “so why, if I were a nonprofit [i.e., the Outsiders’ offshoot], would I want to spend money on something that’s not going to work? It’s a bad investment.”

Meanwhile, on the Highway 32 reconsideration, “I feel we need to back up to move forward and finally put this thing to rest because we’ve got more important things to do.”

Dueling decisions
How each councilmember voted on disc golf Tuesday night:

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  Caper Acres Reconsider Hwy 32 Flynn Yes No Gruendl Yes Yes Holcombe Yes No Wahl No Yes Walker No Yes Nickell No Yes Schwab Yes No