By Sandra Celedon
In May, the Trust for Public Land released its annual ParkScore index, which analyzes how well the 50 largest cities across the nation are meeting the need for parks. To no one’s surprise, Fresno’s parks ranked last. One notable example of the current status of our parks is in the south Fresno community of Calwa, which has its own independent recreation and park district—the Calwa Recreation and Park District (Calwa Park).
Calwa Park is a self-governed, self-administered park system. It is a special independent district formed under Fresno County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). It is governed by a five-member Board of Directors elected by the voters of the district and primarily funded by property taxes. Calwa Park is failing to provide adequate recreational opportunities and faces a number of challenges not addressed in the ParkScore index that have led to the park’s demise and current status of gross neglect.
The reasons for the neglected status of Calwa Park are purely related to political corruption and gross mismanagement. Calwa Park offers no recreational activities for children of the district. The Board has effectively banned and/or removed anyone who was having any positive impact at the park. Last November, the Board took action to fire the district administrator, who was attempting to establish a system of transparency in the operations of the district, during a secret meeting and appointed a previously laid-off employee to serve as the interim district administrator and gave her a 15% pay raise. The public was never informed about any of these actions.
The same four board members took action to ban a nonprofit from providing free recreational services for children at the park and actually attempted to charge the nonprofit $1,200 to hold a free Easter event in the two picnic areas. Since then, the Polynesian dance club, the boxing club and all other recreational clubs have deserted the park.
The Board of Directors also refuses to repair and maintain the park facilities. They refuse to repair and open the Olympic-sized swimming pool. The facilities are dilapidated and improperly maintained; the grounds are littered with garbage. Two of the three bathroom facilities at the park are closed.
And to top it all, last year the Board of Directors entered into a contract with a local beer distributor. In exchange for a $100,000 donation to the park, the park allowed the beer distributor to place massive Bud Light signage throughout the park and allows the distributor to hold beer events at the park.
The Board of Directors has effectively cut the public out of the decision-making process by meeting in secret, holding meetings at 9 p.m., having security present at meetings and instructing them to remove members of the public who voice their indignation, and preventing members of the public from making comments during meetings.
For the past three years, the park has failed to maintain adequate financial and meeting records. The Board members refuse to adhere to California’s transparency laws and refuse to complete the required ethics training. The Board chair stated, during a public meeting, that the Brown Act “is too thick to read.”
That is why the community in Calwa has formed the Calwa Political Action Committee (PAC). The Calwa PAC is diligently working to organize members of the community to take back the park. We strive to have an accessible park with robust recreational activities that promote better mental, physical and societal health.
Sandra Celedon is the president of the Calwa PAC. Contact her at email@example.com.