With three of five seats governing Calwa Park in southeast Fresno up for grabs, some candidates in the Nov. 5 election are hoping for a new majority.
Governance has grown contentious, with infighting and bitter allegations from community factions, who've aired concerns about how money is being spent. Some of the sore spots are an empty swimming pool, and a contract signed with Donaghy Sales, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, that allowed alcohol sales at the park.
Many of the six candidates -- two incumbents -- running for the board of directors for the Calwa Recreation and Park District have vowed to push for a more child-friendly park if elected.
Things weren't always so controversial. In the district's 58-year history, it wasn't until 2011 that an election was held for its board. Previously, members were appointed by Fresno County supervisors, or chosen by other sitting board members.
The district covers about about seven square miles and has close to 5,000 voters. It's responsible for looking after a 20-acre park with a relatively small annual budget of about $350,000, mostly from property taxes and service fees for groups who use the park.
Candidate Cindy Caldwell said Calwa Park has become an "adult park" rampant with people drinking alcohol. If elected, she plans to bolster fundraising to make it "safe" again for children, including her eight grandchildren.
Caldwell, 51, who's lived in Calwa most of her life, said she's also running because of the rumors of mismanagement of park money.
"We get tax dollars from the neighborhoods; where's all this money gone?" Caldwell asked. "Why has Calwa Park gone this bad?"
Sandra Celedon, who's lived in Calwa more than 20 years, said the park's governance is "riddled with a history of mismanagement, corruption and unaccountability" that she wants to change.
If elected, her plans to restore the park to "family-friendly" and oversee its planning and management include creating a "board of guardians" that would provide additional citizen oversight.
Preschool teacher Felicia Salcido, who's also lived in Calwa for more than 20 years, said she feels it's her "responsibility to be an advocate for our children."
"It should be a place where our children can safely play and engage in positive activities," she said of the park. "As a Calwa board member, I will be the voice of our children and families. My goal is to make sure that Calwa Park is a positive place where our children can play and learn."
To help make it a safer place, candidate Tomas Soto, who's lived in Calwa more than 50 years, has been volunteering at a new, small library in Calwa Park. The library has two computers and is open from 3 p.m. to about 5 p.m. Monday through Friday so children have a safe place to go after school, Soto said.
Along with collecting books, Soto helped start ceramics classes at the library, movie showings, and Zumba dance classes. If elected, he plans to do more fundraising and find sponsors to make the park safer for children, including his 14 grandchildren.
Incumbent Timothy Tauvar, who's lived in Calwa for almost 30 years, said there's been "lots of mud slinging," but that he's served on the board for the past 15 years to help make the park a better place -- including for his 16 grandchildren -- and to represent residents.
He has a dream of helping build a large building at the park that could draw in more visitors for large events, like in north Fresno, he said.
Incumbent Raul Guerra did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
The Calwa Park and Recreation District candidates
Cindy Caldwell Age: 51 Occupation: Cafeteria worker at Ewing Elementary School and substitute for Fresno Unified School District Other work: Support services for mentally ill; former volunteer at Marjaree Mason Center for domestic violence victims
Sandra Celedon Age: 28 Occupation: Health program manager at Clinica Sierra Vista in Fresno Other work: Director of policy, advocacy, and communications for nonprofit Friends of Calwa; Fresno County at-large representative for San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's Environmental Justice Advisory Group
Felicia Salcido Age: 31 Occupation: Preschool teacher with Clovis Unified School District
Tomas Soto Age: 76 Occupation: Retired retail supervisor with Champion Auto Parts Other work: Volunteer for children's library in Calwa Park; volunteer with St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church; former neighborhood watch captain through Fresno Police Department
Tim Tauvar Incumbent: Served on the Calwa board for 15 years Age: 66 Occupation: Retired public notary and loan officer Other work: Board member for nonprofit Friends of Calwa; leads hymns at St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church
Raul Guerra Incumbent: Did not respond
Vote Nov. 5
Some voters in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties have the opportunity to participate in off-year general elections. The highest-profile November races are in Visalia, where City Council and school board seats are up for a vote. It's also an election year for many special districts around the central San Joaquin Valley — but there are only a handful of contested races; most have uncontested candidates and, in some cases, no candidates. Madera County doesn't have any general elections in this cycle.
Last day to register to vote: Monday
Last day to request a vote by mail ballot by mail: Oct. 29
Polls open: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5
2221 Kern St., Fresno
Details: fblinks.com/fcvote or (559) 600-VOTE (8683)
5951 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia
Details: fblinks.com/tcvote or (559) 624-7300
1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Hanford
Details: fblinks.com/kcvote or (559) 582-3211, ext. 4401
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.