Decision on parks hits the mark

We’re not convinced closing them early would affect public safety—but it would affect homeless people

The Bidwell Park and Playground Commission got it right Monday night when it decided to forward discussion of closing Chico’s parks and greenways at 11 p.m. (an hour early in most cases) to its policy committee. We think the members of the public who took to the podium on the matter got it right, too—this was not about park safety; this was about homelessness.

The suggestion that one hour will make a difference when it comes to cutting back on the criminal elements that lurk in our parks is ridiculous. Commissioner Elaina McReynolds, a longtime participant in the volunteer Park Watch program, said it best in response to the assertion that this would provide law enforcement with a valuable tool: “The current closed hours are 12-5 a.m. [at most parks]. The police have always had a tool—it’s not like they’re getting a new one.”

Indeed, the police can address existing problems at any time by patrolling Chico’s green spaces more regularly.

Clearly, Chico’s parks face problems. Some of them include criminal activity. And yes, many of them are related to homeless encampments. At the same meeting, but separate from the park closure discussion, Erik Gustafson, the city’s public works director-operations and maintenance, offered a department update. Chico’s park rangers, he said, spend a majority of their time cleaning up debris.

“It’s important to discuss this, the resource drain that this is on existing staff,” he said. We agree. But we don’t think that closing the parks an hour earlier each night will have much, if any, effect on the amount of trash that gets left behind there. That’s because it does nothing to address the root issue, which is a serious lack of affordable housing.

As Commissioner Alberto Hernandez pointed out, the city attorney has been asked to present the City Council with a snapshot of what declaring a shelter crisis would look like for Chico. We share his eagerness to see the results. We know that the Chico Housing Action Team has a proposal in place for Simplicity Village, a transitional housing facility made up of tiny homes. In order for it to be approved, it needs two key things: a location and, more important, the declaration of a shelter crisis.

Do the parks need attention? Absolutely. Will adjusting their closing hours make a difference? We’re not convinced, but we look forward to seeing what the policy committee recommends.