Put up or shut up

City Council needs to fund park maintenance if opening the space is a priority

We’ve heard repeated complaints about the gates to Bidwell Park being locked. On the surface, keeping them shut seems ridiculous. After all, people continue to use the park despite access being denied to vehicular traffic. Pedestrians and bicyclists walk and ride on in, and those who use motorized transportation simply park on adjacent streets, such as Centennial and Vallombrosa avenues, annoying residents of those areas.

The thought by many in the general public, and echoed at the City Council dais in recent weeks, is that there’s no reason to keep the gates locked.

To that, we say: It’s not that simple.

That was clear during the council’s last meeting, when a city maintenance worker outlined the scope of her and two of her co-workers’ duties at the park. The three employees, she noted, were responsible for the upkeep of six reservation areas, 36 picnic areas, seven buildings that house 25 restroom stalls, 10 porta-potties, three shower facilities, numerous lighting systems, 10 miles of roadways and bike paths, many more miles of trails, and Sycamore Pool. That doesn’t account for maintenance of greenways outside of the park.

In short, the gates have been closed because the city has not been able to adequately maintain such amenities since the Park Division was gutted during the sweeping layoffs of 2013.

Certain city leaders have made it clear that they want the gates open. But instead of voting on the matter, they’ve simply put pressure on city employees to make that happen. This week, city staff acquiesced. A press release from the Parks, Open Spaces, Greenways and Preserves Division announced that several of the gates to Lower Park and South Five-Mile will now be open daily. However, the restrooms are still closed, it noted. Only the porta-potties are available. That’s not going to cut it for all users of the park, namely the disabled. That’s a problem.

When the city opens the gates, there is an expectation that it will provide amenities for the public. This wasn’t communicated during the City Council’s recent discussions on the matter, but it’s an elementary concept to us.

So, what’s the answer? To be blunt, it’s money. The council needs to allocate funding for additional staff to adequately maintain the park. The panel will have a chance to do that at its next meeting, a special budget session on Tuesday (June 16). If opening Bidwell Park’s gates permanently is what city leaders desire, they can make it happen. It’s long past time to put up or shut up.