On board

Citizen-led project to improve Chico’s only skate park officially a go

Scott Bailey (front) and his posse, from left: Colin, Cedar and Clover.

Scott Bailey (front) and his posse, from left: Colin, Cedar and Clover.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Little did Scott Bailey know two years ago, when he posted a question on Facebook, that it would mark the beginning of an extraordinary, even unprecedented local grassroots campaign.

Why, Bailey innocently asked, does Oroville have a skateboarding park that’s so much better than Chico’s park?

At the time he figured that nobody would pay much attention to his question and it would quickly disappear into cyberspace. How wrong he was.

It turned out that a lot of Chicoans were asking the same question. As Bailey puts it, his Facebook post “got a huge reaction.” People wanted to know what they could do to improve Chico’s Humboldt Avenue park.

Bailey, heartened and challenged by the response, quickly went to work forming an advocacy group, Chico Skatepark Solutions (CSS). Before long it had a board of directors and a not-for-profit certification from the state of California.

This was the beginning of a remarkable organizational and fundraising effort that will culminate next Thursday, Oct. 19, when the board of directors of the Chico Area Recreation and Park District, which manages the park, holds its regular monthly meeting. Not only will the directors announce the company chosen to build the new park, they also will accept a check for $80,000 from Chico Skatepark Solutions to go toward the construction.

Current plans call for expanding the skate park into the grassy area on its east side. The bowl will be enlarged and made more challenging, and a new element designed for street-style skateboarding will be built along Humboldt. There will be a grassy area, but much smaller and accessible only by going through the skate park.

Altogether, CSS has raised $113,000; they’re hanging on to the extra $33,000 to pay for special events and other enhancements to the park.

As Bob Malowney, chairman of the CARD board, put it during a recent phone interview, “It’s probably one of the most significant civic projects I’ve ever seen.”

Scott Bailey, who lives in Chico but teaches at the county Juvenile Hall, in Oroville, is a soft-spoken man with long blond hair and a strawberry-blond beard. He says he didn’t start skating until he was 39 years old and did so because his older son had taken up the sport (He has three children, boys ages 14 and 11 and a daughter who’s 7. They all skate.)

Like many local skateboarders, Bailey would rather drive to skate parks in other cities than use the Humboldt Avenue park. The skating’s better elsewhere. For example, little Corning, population 8,000 or thereabouts, has a park that’s bigger and better than Oroville’s. It’s more complex, has a greater variety of challenges and is “10 times better” than Chico’s, Bailey said.

He was completely new to activism when he formed CSS. He said at the time that he’d give it a year, but at the end of that time frame he decided to keep pushing.

Malowney, impressed by Bailey’s enthusiasm and friendly manner, advised him to do two things: prove to the board that there was real community interest in an improved skateboard park, and attend the board meetings every month.

“He went out and did just that,” Malowney said. Not only did Bailey hold several profitable fundraisers, he also showed up at the CARD meetings. He was accompanied by increasingly large numbers of CSS supporters, and before long, three-fourths of the audience—adults and kids alike—had skateboards in hand.

One of the bigger fundraisers took place at the Sierra Nevada Big Room—music, dinner, silent auction, the works. The place sold out, and CSS netted $20,000.

“That kind of put us on the map,” Bailey said.

A later, similar Big Room event brought in another $20,000.

Then along came Lulu’s.

Lulu’s, a successful online women’s apparel store, has offices just down Humboldt from the skate park. Its mother-and-daughter co-owners, Debra Cannon and Colleen Winter, are well aware of the activities around the park, which is halfway between the Jesus Center and the City Plaza downtown.

Ann Willmann, general manager of CARD, diplomatically refers to the people who often hang out on the grassy area next to the skate park as “folks who don’t use the facility as intended. … We hope to increase the positive use of the park and decrease the negative use” in order to draw more families to the site.

Cannon and Winter got to know Bailey and liked him a lot. That’s when they got an idea. Like all retailers, Lulu’s often ends up with product it can’t sell for one reason or another. Heretofore it’s held outlet sales, temporary events featuring big price knock-downs.

But they’re a lot of work—the company has to find sites for the sales, organize and staff them—it’s almost not worth the effort.

So in 2016, Winter approached Bailey about doing an outlet sale. Bailey happily accepted the offer. He didn’t realize that it included a year’s worth of clothing, enough to fill two large storage units.

At their first sale, held over a weekend at the CARD center, they brought in $40,000. A subsequent weekend sale, at Chico Junior High School, brought in another $30,000, to bring the fundraising total to $113,000. “I can’t say enough about Lulu’s,” Bailey said. “They really took us under their wing and made it happen.”

“We were all for making the skate park better,” Cannon said.

Now he seems to be retraining his sights. He’d like to see another skateboard park in town, preferably on the north end. DeGarmo Park has been mentioned as a possible site. Will he stick around to push for it? We’ll see.