Oroville Vets frustrated by memorial park delays

Man with Mission <br>Stu Shaner, who co-founded the Oroville Veterans Park Committee, stands in front of the Oroville vets hall holding plans for the park he hopes will be built there.

Man with Mission
Stu Shaner, who co-founded the Oroville Veterans Park Committee, stands in front of the Oroville vets hall holding plans for the park he hopes will be built there.

Photo By Josh Indar

When the Oroville Veterans Committee packed the Butte County Board of Supervisors Chamber to show support for their proposed veterans’ memorial park, it seemed at the time like a done deal. The supes came on board with $328,000 in state parks grants, the Feather River Parks and Receration District ponied up $88,000 and the city of Oroville pledged $141,000 in RDA funds. That was two years ago.

Today, some on the committee say they are frustrated by the slow progress the city of Oroville has made toward getting the park built. After all, they say, a lot the vets involved with the project are getting old, and they’re not going to live forever.

“We are a determined group,” said the project’s main proponent, retired Oroville iron worker Stu Shaner, who has been pushing for the project for five years now. “We’ve lost two members since we started, and there are couple more that may not see the end of it. But this memorial is so dear to me. I work for it in some fashion seven days a week.”

Shaner, 65, though not a vet himself, said he wants Oroville vets to have a place of honor, a place that “shows the world Oroville doesn’t forget its vets.”

Oroville City Councilman Bob Sharkey, who has fought for the project since its inception, said he too sees the importance of honoring the vets. But more than that, he said, the project is key to the city’s plan to revitalize downtown.

The current plan for the park calls for a new street to be built behind the existing vets’ memorial hall on Montgomery Avenue, creating a scenic drive and bike trail that would tie the project to Riverbend park and provide parking for the hall and better public access to the Feather River. It would also bring the hall into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and create a trailhead for a series of riverside trails.

“In terms of infrastructure for the city and the revitalization of downtown this project is critical,” Sharkey said. “How many cities are there that have riverfront property that is undeveloped? We have an opportunity here to put in a park where people can sit and think, enjoy the river and enjoy their thoughts of the vets.”

The park would include monuments to fallen vets from Oroville who served in all of America’s modern conflicts, including the cold war. The idea seems to have popular support, but not everyone thinks a new park is needed.

The family who owns two of the properties the city needs to buy in order to make room for the park says it’s not interested in selling. One family member, interviewed in front of a house on one of the two adjoining properties, said the city doesn’t need another park and has no business trying to push them off their property. She would not give her name, she said, for fear of public reprisal. Her mother, who runs Granny’s Closet dress shop out of one of the Montgomery Street houses, bought the two riverfront parcels 15 years ago. Six family members now reside there.

“We’ve been told a lot of things by the city,” the woman said. “If they want us out of here they have to pay us to relocate. It’s nice living by the river. Where are they going to find riverfront property to relocate us to?”

The city has offered to move the two large, farm-style houses to nearby properties, Sharkey said. But negotiations with the family have been strained. While the properties were for put up for sale less than five years ago at a much lower price, the family took them off the market before the city could acquire them. Now they say it would take a cool million to get them to move.

“They came and told us they had put a million dollars into drawing up plans,” the one family member willing to talk to the CN&R said. “We said, well then, we’ll sell you the property for a million. We feel like they’re going to do what they’re going to do, but we just hope they don’t.”

The family is not the only obstacle to getting the park built, Shaner said. While city and county leaders have showed public support for the project, there is a feeling among some on the committee that it has not been made a high priority. At a public meeting of the city’s Redevelopment Association next Tuesday, Shaner said the committee will show up in force to lobby for the project, which at this point looks like it might cost more than $1.2 million—a far cry from the original estimate of $300,000.

Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly, who has also lobbied for the project, said he hopes the RDA commission will cough up the rest of the money and get moving on the project before costs rise even higher.

“All the money we’ve raised is getting eaten up in inflation and land appreciation,” he said. “Every day it’s delayed the price goes up.”