Opening arguments

Park commission anticipates ongoing public discussion on potential parking fees

Chico State students Nick Cornett and Anna Poulin enjoy a hike in Upper Park on Monday (Jan. 29).

Chico State students Nick Cornett and Anna Poulin enjoy a hike in Upper Park on Monday (Jan. 29).

Photo by Ken Smith

Chico attorney James Petelin told the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission Monday night (Jan. 29) that he’d already settled in front of the TV earlier that evening when a segment on the nightly news coaxed him off the couch. Upon hearing the panel would be discussing a possible parking fee for Upper Park users that night, he was compelled to head to the meeting to weigh in on the matter.

“I rushed down here to voice my early and vigorous opposition to any fee to get into any part of Bidwell Park,” Petelin said.

“This idea communicates what I think is a lack of any type of [public] ownership of the park,” he continued, referencing the park’s beginnings on land granted to the city by Annie Bidwell. “I think I speak for a lot of people who couldn’t make it tonight when I say it goes against the very principles of why Bidwell Park was given to us. Any fee is exclusionary.”

The idea to impose a $1-per-vehicle, per-day parking fee on Upper Park visitors was first discussed publicly at last November’s BPPC meeting, and sent over to its Policy Advisory Committee to gather more information. Linda Herman, administration manager of the city’s Public Works Department, presented those findings at Monday’s meeting, and offered more clarification by phone Tuesday (Jan. 30).

Park policy changes are guaranteed to spur lively public discussion, as evidenced by last year’s months-long deliberation over the upcoming transition of city park rangers to armed employees of the Chico Police Department. Herman acknowledged that citizens are passionate about park issues and emphasized that such a fee is merely a possibility the city is exploring.

“We want to make sure that we vet this with the public as much as possible,” she said. “This would be a big change for the community. We understand that, but we’re also given the charge to look at ways to be able to do things in the park with the money we have, and to remain sustainable as a department as well.”

Herman said all fees collected would go to the city’s park fund to be used for badly needed maintenance and upgrades, like repairing the road through Upper Park.

She said offering annual passes—$50 is the price currently proposed—is a possibility, and that seniors, vehicles with disabled person parking placards and regular employees or members of Upper Park facilities like the observatory, golf course and Chico Rod & Gun Club could be exempted. Enforcement likely would be overseen by rangers, though she said it’s possible that downtown parking enforcement workers might be used.

Herman reported that a traffic counter installed on Wildwood Avenue detected 413,756 vehicles entering Upper Park in 2017. The staff report states a fee of $1 per vehicle “could result in more than $400,000 in additional revenue” for park improvements, but that the number likely would be less depending on the amount of exempted drivers and number of annual permits purchased. It also notes that constructing a parking kiosk would cost about $10,000 and there would be annual maintenance expenses (estimated at 13 cents for cash and 2.5 percent for credit card transactions).

Herman suggested—and the BPPC agreed—that no further action be taken until a public survey is conducted. She said she hopes to have that questionnaire online by Feb. 1 and that it will stay up for at least 30 days, and city staff will also present in-person surveys at the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market and other venues.

Including Petelin, three members of the public spoke at the meeting, with one favoring the fee. That was Tom Barrett, who said the BPPC considered a similar “use fee” when he sat on the panel in the 1990s. Barrett said he feels the fee should be more than $1, with no exemptions.

Herman said Tuesday that there is no current timeline to impose the fee, as discussion likely will continue for several months.

“Our park users are very passionate, vocal and involved,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll be talking about this for a while, and I think that’s great.”