Second chances

Ceres neighbors want their park

CERES OF VOTES<br>Residents of the Ceres-Highland neighborhood, in northeast Chico, are trying once more to create an assessment district to fund maintenance of this proposed five-acre park. A vote earlier this year narrowly failed.

Residents of the Ceres-Highland neighborhood, in northeast Chico, are trying once more to create an assessment district to fund maintenance of this proposed five-acre park. A vote earlier this year narrowly failed.


When the McGivern family bought a house in northeast Chico, the departing family told them the five-acre patch of dirt along Ceres Avenue and Whitewood Way would someday be a park. Now, five years later, that patch of dirt is still there.

When the Ceres neighborhood was being built in the 1980s, its developers left a plot unimproved for a future neighborhood park. And the city has allotted funds to build the proposed Ceres-Highland Neighborhood Park—$815,545 to be exact, said Michelle McGivern, who chairs the group Friends of the Ceres-Highland Neighborhood Park.

But, while the city will fund construction, it won’t pay for maintenance, in accordance with a policy established in 1990. And it won’t build the park until homeowners in the area vote to create a maintenance assessment district and to accept a surcharge in their annual property tax to cover maintenance costs.

The neighbors voted on the district once, in June, and it failed by just 32 votes. Now the Friends group is working to create a second chance and is hopeful that this time neighbors will send in their ballots of approval.

Members of the group have been busy talking to neighbors and getting them to sign a petition for a revote. As of Monday, when the group met with city General Services Director Dennis Beardsley, they had collected enough signatures for the city to hear their petition.

On Nov. 6 the City Council will accept the petition and decide whether to authorize funds for a second ballot printing and distribution. If the council approves, the group hopes to mail out the ballots in March. Voters will have 45 days to return them, McGivern said.

The group believes the June vote failed largely because not enough people voted. Of the 1,400 ballots mailed out, only 500 were returned. Three main reasons are cited for why people may not have voted.

One has to do with a coincidence: At about the time ballots were mailed in May, the city was creating underground runoff retention areas around the intended park. Some neighbors have since said that they thought the construction on the park had already started and didn’t feel the need to vote, McGivern said.

Also, the wording on the ballot may have confused people about what they were voting for. They had to decide between a basic park with a $47 annual maintenance fee or an upgraded version that would have included a basketball court and bathrooms for a $52 annual maintenance fee.

Finally, a good number of homeowners in the area are Hispanics, and they may not have understood the ballot, which was printed in English.

To address these issues the new ballot will offer just one option, most likely the basic park plan. Upgrades and other accommodations can be added at a later time. The group is also considering printing the new ballots in English and Spanish, said Joan Spencer, one of the group’s founding members.

The support is there. People know that a neighborhood park not only provides a wonderful recreational area and community gathering place, but also increases home values far in excess of any maintenance fees collected. For some reason or another people just didn’t send in their ballots, Spencer said.

The city is openly talking to the group and area homeowners. Everything is up for discussion, and the group is facing a timeline of things it must do to get a revote, Beardsley said.

There is nothing unusual about asking people to pay for park maintenance, Beardsley said. The Oak Way Park near Emma Wilson School is funded by an assessment district created by neighboring homeowners, as is the Baroni Neighborhood Park along Bruce Road.

Most homeowners in the Ceres and Highland areas now aren’t the original homeowners who bought the houses new 20 years ago, when they had to pay development fees as part of the purchase cost, McGivern said. These days, most people just want to have the park.

Spencer notes that it’s only a buck a week—very little, really. “At this point we’re just looking at the present and not going backwards hashing on what’s been done,” she said. “That’s not going to get us anywhere.”