The future of our parks

Committee discusses transfer of community spaces to CARD

Among the neighborhood parks that could be transferred to CARD ownership is Depot Park, which runs along the train depot west of downtown and could be the site of a future dog park.

Among the neighborhood parks that could be transferred to CARD ownership is Depot Park, which runs along the train depot west of downtown and could be the site of a future dog park.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Back in 2009, the city and the Chico Area Recreation and Park District sat down and developed a plan to work together on a handful of neighborhood parks. Over the next year, three of those spaces—Hancock Park, Humboldt Skate Park and Wildwood Park, at the entrance to Upper Bidwell—were transferred from city ownership over to CARD.

Now, nearly nine years later, the two entities are once again discussing the future of the city’s parks. Including that of Chico’s crown jewel.

“It is a park, so it makes sense for it to be part of the discussion,” Ann Willmann, general manager of CARD, said in a phone interview. “It’s part of a much broader discussion about what the city and CARD are able to do collaboratively.”

If city staff has its way, however, CARD will take over the majority of Chico’s smaller, neighborhood parks, but Bidwell Park as well as Children’s Playground and Bidwell Bowl will stay under city oversight.

“We really want to maintain Bidwell Park,” said Erik Gustafson, director of public works-operations and maintenance for the city. “It’s the city of Chico’s responsibility. And Bidwell Bowl and Children’s Playground are really the start of Bidwell Park.”

The discussion has just begun, however, as an ad hoc committee made up of members of the City Council and the CARD board of directors was recently formed to discuss the memorandum of understanding between the two entities, including future arrangements for ownership, maintenance and funding for the city’s parks. The group convened last Friday (Nov. 3) and agreed to move forward with discussion of neighborhood parks in early 2018 and to hold a separate conversation about Bidwell Park later in the spring.

“We’re still really early on in the process—we’re reviewing expenses and costs to maintain the different parks,” Willmann said. “We’re looking at existing neighborhood parks, and what is the best use of resources—which ones make sense for CARD to maintain and for the city to maintain. We both utilize taxpayer dollars, so we want to ensure we’re as responsible with them as possible.”

At the heart of the issue are the limited resources the city has for maintaining its parks. The most visible evidence of that can be seen while walking or riding through Bidwell Park.

“Funding and resource priorities have been elsewhere, and that’s resulted in some deferred maintenance in the park—and everyone sees that,” Gustafson said. He said transferring maintenance of Bidwell Park would mean the loss of five positions in his department, a loss that would “cripple” the Public Works Department, which already is limited in staff and resources.

“Linda Herman was just moved over [to administration manager of the department]. We want the opportunity to improve things, to make creative and strategic decisions to make the improvements to the park that the citizens of Chico deserve,” he said.

Willmann was less inclined to take a position on the matter.

“CARD is very single-focused—we work with parks and recreation,” she said. “The city is tasked with caring for our entire community—so, parks, but also roads and trees and traffic. They have a much broader responsibility.

“I believe that the city is working extremely hard to do what they can with their limited resources,” she added.

That said, there are some opportunities, at least according to Gustafson and the ad hoc committee, for improvements through transferring ownership of Chico’s smaller parks to CARD. One in particular that was mentioned several times during Friday’s meeting was Depot Park, which spans two blocks on Cedar Street behind the railroad depot west of downtown. That park is currently known for attracting vandals and drug users.

“It’s off the beaten path, and we see the facilities there—the street lights, things like that—constantly vandalized,” Gustafson said. “There’s a lot of potential there—it’d be a great opportunity for a dog park.”

Willmann echoed him on that front. “There has been a request for additional dog park spaces in the community,” she said. “That is a lovely area and there are concentrated residents that could utilize it as a dog park. We’d be able to separate it into a big dogs area and a small dogs area.”