Caper Acres – four years later, nothing new

20 Mar

Closure of Chico’s Caper Acres is frustrating for city, parents

By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer

POSTED:   07/31/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT

Conrad Nystrom of Chico celebrates Father’s Day with his sons Sam and Roman at Caper Acres in…

CHICO — The public and the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission weighed in this week on the budget-prompted closure of Caper Acres playground in lower Bidwell Park.Several parents spoke to the commission Monday voicing “disappointment” and “frustration” in the surprisingly quiet way the closure came about, without public input or brainstorming.

And commissioners themselves, still noting Chico’s budget woes, hoped to talk over the matter more. The fact that there was no Park Commission meeting in June, when budget strategies were discussed by the City Council, was a sore point.

Early in July, the city announced Caper Acres would only be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because of staffing issues. A diminished city staff couldn’t handle cleaning bathrooms, mowing, safety repairs and other actions.

But last week, a local cleaning business called ServPro said it would take over other kinds of park maintenance for free so city staff could attend to the playground. It opened to a six-day operation Tuesday, with the traditional Monday closure continuing.

However, ServPro can only handle the free maintenance through Oct. 1, and a group of local volunteers has started to meet to figure out alternatives for keeping the playground open.

Mom Abigail Lopez, one of the organizers of Caper Acres Volunteers, said she hopes the city can embrace volunteers as do local organizations like the Humane Society.

From a meeting on Saturday that Lopez organized, other ideas surfaced, like a Bidwell Park summit to share ideas.

Acting Park Commission Chairman Richard Ober commended the volunteers on Monday, and asked the matter be placed on an upcoming agenda so “volunteers’ work could be supported.”

“I want to know why the Park Commission and public were not able to weigh in on the closure,” parent Liz Gardner told the commission. She also asked for budget specifics.

Later, Park and Natural Resources Manager Dan Efseaff said he had lost $500,000 from his budget, and has been exploring cutbacks, including ideas about abandoning lawns or pulling down old structures that need to be replaced. He emphasized that it was “an exercise” and not a plan.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” Efseaff said.

Chris Boshazy, representing Service Employees International Union, noted the work — especially tree work — still had to be done, and should be done by city employees, not private tree companies.

The city has set aside $100,000 for contract tree work.

“That $100,000 could hire back someone,” he told the commission. “This is city employee work.”

Boshazy also said the Park Commission had more power than it realizes, handing them copies of the municipal code and job duties.

“The last few months have been extremely frustrating, the way decisions were made and how cuts were made, and the lack of role of the community,” Ober said, asking for a discussion at a future meeting.

“We haven’t been asked as a community to dig deeper into our pockets,” Ober said.

Other topics that came up in regard to Caper Acres included a user tax, asking participants in large events in the park to donate a dollar to Caper Acres, and participating in the Annie Bs fundraising program.

Parents also wanted to find a way so that donations could go straight into a dedicated Caper Acres fund, rather than into the city’s General Fund.

Efseaff noted that Caper Acres has been on the Park Commission’s work plan for several years, with features desperately needing update and replacement.

Reach Laura Urseny at 896-7756,, or on Twitter @LauraUrseny.

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