The Fresno Parks Department may end up getting something like a Parks Commission, after all. Only it would be more accurately called a “syndicate of consultants.”
That was my thought after listening (on video) to a brief and respectful exchange between Council Member Steve Brandau and Parks Director Parvin Neloms Jr. at the Dec. 13 council meeting.
Parks had asked the council to approve a $318,000 contract with Blair, Church and Flynn, a Clovis-based consulting firm, to prepare a comprehensive plan for irrigating Woodward Park and Roeding Park. Both are popular regional parks.
The item was on the consent calendar. Brandau pulled it for more discussion. Neloms represented the Administration at the public microphone.
Said Brandau by way of introduction:
“I think this is very necessary. In the public conversation about parks lately, we’ve been reminded how desperate some of our parks are. Woodward Park, that’s actually in Councilman Bredefeld’s district but borders my district; it’s the park that I go play Frisbee golf at and stuff like that. I’ve noticed that the lawn is essentially gone. It’s dead. I don’t go to Roeding Park as often, but I go by Roeding Park and I see it’s also troubled.”
Brandau asked Neloms for some of the proposed contract’s backstory and timelines for completion of work.
Neloms noted that the recent Parks Master Plan identified $112 million of deferred maintenance throughout the city’s system of green space. Of that figure, Neloms said, $48 million involves irrigation deficiencies. The Blair-Church-Flynn contract calls for creation over the next six to nine months of a plan to completely overhaul the irrigation systems at Woodward and Roeding. Construction would follow council approval of the plan.
“What are the true issues? What is actually going on with the irrigation?” Neloms said, referring to the consultant’s mission. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to do better. I think it’s an opportunity for us to see green. Having an irrigation consultant come in and assess what we have and what is actually going on is vital to the city of Fresno.”
Brandau said $318,000 “is a lot of money. At the same time, these aren’t two little pocket parks. They are big jewels.” He said the hiring of Blair-Church-Flynn will “get us what we need to know so that we can get the grass and the trees and the shrubbery in those parks back to a great condition.”
Brandau made the motion to approve. Council Member Oliver Baines, whose District 3 includes Roeding, made the second. The motion passed 6-0, with Council Member Clint Olivier absent.
As outlined in the staff report, the two parks face similar problems: Aging irrigation systems, overdue repairs, root damage, rodent infestation, Rude Goldberg-type fixes that only made things worse long term.
What struck me about the contract was Exhibit A as posted on the City Clerk’s website. This exhibit contained the scope of services to be provided by Blair-Church-Flynn. The list runs to two-and-a-half pages, single-spaced.
Here’s a taste of those services:
- Perform a topographic survey of the sites as needed for system assessment and design.
- Identify current and future water sources(s) and parameters and points-of-connection.
- Identify existing irrigation system management controls, equipment and components.
- Identify existing landscape hydro-zones, such as turf grass, mixed shrub/ground cover plantings and vegetative slopes.
- Work with city staff in developing standardized management and monitoring equipment and techniques that meet government mandates coming from CalGreen, EPA WaterSense and state/city water use efficiency standards.
- Determine the most efficient irrigation approach for each type of hydro-zone and/or special feature.
The list goes on and on. Each item deals with an important aspect of improving or protecting what one might view as the most important asset in a parks department – green space. Fresno’s Parks Department provides many services, and does so with skill, compassion and efficiency. But without green space – land and grass – the Parks Department is simply a social services agency.
How is it that the Parks Department, or the department teaming with other city departments such as Public Works and Public Utilities, doesn’t already have detailed responses to each item on the Blair-Church-Flynn scope of services? In other words, why doesn’t Parks/City Hall have the capacity to do in-house what it’s asking Blair-Church-Flynn to do?
An outsider like me assumes that keeping up to speed on the state of the system’s geography, even if it’s a seemingly futile exercise because of lack of money or Administration support, would be standard operating procedure at Parks.
This is no criticism of Parks Director Neloms and his staff. The challenge of maintenance of green space at Woodward and Roeding parks goes back years, if not decades. The twin droughts of water and money during the years of Mayor Ashley Swearengin merely turned disaster into apocalypse.
But the Blair-Church-Flynn scope of services does suggest that City Hall has decided Parks can’t do the analysis. The only solution (as Brandau noted) is the hiring of expensive consultants.
This, in turn, suggests a political challenge for Mayor Lee Brand and his Administration. The Mayor helped defeat Measure P in the November general election. The sales tax measure would have raised millions of dollars annually to totally reform the city’s parks system. A parks commission – advisory in principle, almost certainly very powerful in reality – was a key part of the measure.
Brand said Fresno needs to spend more on parks, but not at the expense of unmet public safety needs. He’s looking at a sales tax measure that would balance the interests of both sectors.
Since Measure P failed, we’ll never know how parks commissioners would have handled the complex issue of green space logistics throughout the Parks Department. Develop the expertise to do everything in-house? Or hire consultants to tell Fresno what to do every time something more complicated than emptying the trash bins pops up?
The new Parks Master Plan is very ambitious. Even a partial implementation of its recommendations will severely test elected officials. Parks advocates, smarting over Measure P’s demise, will be keeping a close eye on what City Hall does now.
Permit me to amend an earlier statement. The challenge falls not just on the Mayor and his Administration. It falls on the City Council, as well.