The future of Chico’s parks

A member of the Chico City Council

As the Chico City Council considers adding growth areas to meet long-term housing needs, another critical discussion will start on Nov. 20, when the council’s Finance Committee tackles the funding of our parks. We must not settle for growth without quality, and an important indicator of quality is our investment in a top-notch park system.

The city’s General Plan envisions five acres of parks per 1,000 people. City analysis indicates that even if park impact fees on new development were almost doubled, they would account for only 49 percent of the $63 million required to implement the plan.

Currently the city divides parks into three classifications: neighborhood parks (Oak Way Park); community parks (20th Street Park); and creekside greenway (Humboldt Park). Park funding can also be divided into stages: land acquisition; park development; and park maintenance. To pay for land acquisition and public improvements, the city has traditionally relied on funds generated from park development fees. These provide revenue for two separate city funds: a community park fund, including creekside greenways; and a neighborhood park fund.

The city had the foresight to use neighborhood park funds to acquire sites, for example on Baroni and East First/Verbena, for future parks. The city has encouraged neighborhoods to assess themselves in order to pay for development and maintenance; however, Oak Way Park’s is the only neighborhood that has agreed to do this in recent years. The challenge for the City Council and our community is to determine what sources of funding are available to develop and maintain our parks.

The fundamental questions are: What is the current and projected inventory of park sites? What are the costs of implementation? What is the appropriate proportional contribution from current and future residents? What revenue sources should be considered: general fund (primarily for police, fire and general services), a sales tax, redevelopment funds, developer reimbursements, increased park impact fees, a bond or other sources?

Here are a few considerations. First, we need to revive regular meetings among decision-makers representing the City Council, the county Board of Supervisors, the CARD and CUSD boards and the public to discuss common goals, shared funding opportunities, and priorities related to parks and recreation.

Second, should the city eliminate the distinction between neighborhood and community parks and adopt new park classifications? Chico is still small enough for residents throughout the community to benefit from using different “neighborhood parks.” Let’s view parks as community-wide assets, not just provincial parks that only some of us pay for.

Third, we should recognize that quality costs money. Park impact fees should increase to account for increased land acquisition and park development costs, but they alone are not enough. It is important to recognize that current residents need to pay our fair share to maintain the quality of life we desire.

Everyone desires parks in our community. The questions remain: Is our community willing to pay for them? If so, how?