Chico’s ‘unprecedented’ memorial

Council puts cart before horse in siting statue of Gen. Vang Pao

Other than several memorial benches in Bidwell Park, there are only five memorials on public property in Chico, including the statue honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the East 20th Street/Community Park and the veterans’ memorial in City Plaza.

The number grew significantly last week, when two local agencies approved two new memorials.

One of them did it in a good way, but the other did not.

In the former case, the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board responded to a request from the family of Arron Ray Clark, the only Chico soldier killed in Iraq, to honor his sacrifice. Originally the family had asked for a 7-foot bronze battle cross—rifle, boots and helmet—to be placed in Community Park.

Despite hearing from about a dozen speakers in support of the large battle cross, the board decided instead to honor not only Clark, but also other veterans by placing a modest plaque on the outside wall of the park’s field house, with smaller, individual name plaques, beginning with Clark’s, below.

It also decided to name the field house after Clark and to name Field 1 at DeGarmo Community Park “Veterans Field,” in honor of all veterans.

It was a wise and sensitive compromise.

In contrast, the Chico City Council, at its meeting last week, voted to allow the placement of a statue of Gen. Vang Pao, the recently deceased leader of the Hmong people in America, on its building grounds, prominently facing Main Street. It will be the only memorial of its kind in the downtown municipal complex. Even John Bidwell, Chico’s founder, doesn’t have such a statue.

We appreciate the council’s desire to support the local Hmong community by honoring its placement request, but as council members acknowledged, their action was “unprecedented” and they lacked a policy on memorials. In fact, immediately after agreeing to place the statue they voted to develop a policy on memorials, thus putting the cart firmly in front of the horse.

That’s not a good way to make decisions. It will be interesting to see what kind of precedent this unprecedented action sets.