A long-suffering neighborhood in southeast Fresno finally will get its promised greenspace.
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $2.33 million contract to build Martin Ray Reilly Park at Chestnut Avenue and Highway 180.
"We're ready to go," said Council Member Clint Olivier, who represents the area and has been fighting for three years to get the park built.
The park is slated to have a basketball/volleyball court, multi-use field, splash park, playground and walking path on 3.4 acres. American Paving Co. of Fresno won the contract. Construction is expected to finish in November.
Funding will come from a $3.17 million state grant. The park's genesis dates back to when Henry T. Perea (now an Assembly member) represented the area on the City Council.
The council's decision appeared simple. Fresno is notorious among American cities for its dearth of parks. Citywide, Fresno averages three acres of greenspace per 1,000 residents. The Chestnut/180 area averages less than an acre per 1,000.
The state already has awarded more than enough money. Saying yes to Martin Ray Reilly Park (named for a now-deceased neighborhood resident who donated land for the park) seemed a no-brainer.
But nothing is simple at City Hall these days when it comes to money and politics. Several Martin Ray Reilly Park issues offer proof:
Maintenance: A staff report estimates the park's annual maintenance/replacement costs at $55,000 to $177,000. City Manager Bruce Rudd, who doubles as parks director, is hesitant to build anything until guaranteed maintenance funding, ideally unconnected to the general fund, has been identified.
Wal-Mart recently donated $10,000 for the park's upkeep. Olivier has pledged some of his district office's discretionary funds. But maintenance funding remains uncertain.
Olivier said he's convinced something will turn up. Council Member Lee Brand suggested the answer could be found when district office budgets are hammered out during spring budget hearings.
Universally Accessible Park: Council Member Blong Xiong, whose district includes a big portion of recent development west of Highway 99, scratched his head over Rudd's softening of the apparently sacred "no maintenance funding, no construction" edict.
Xiong said he's been trying for seven years to get UAP, a regional park in his district designed primarily for the disabled, beyond the planning stage. UAP also has a big state construction grant in the bag, Xiong said. The park even has a small army of advocates for the disabled willing to help with maintenance duties and costs.
UAP's maintenance-funding hurdle is closer to being cleared than the hurdle at Martin Ray Reilly, Xiong said. Why, he asked, won't the administration of Mayor Ashley Swearengin give the construction green light to UAP?
Rudd said he wants UAP to become a reality as much as Xiong. Rudd said new bids for UAP's construction may come in low enough to start the work.
Election: No one said as much, but it was hard not to sense the specter of the June primary as council members and Rudd debated park funding.
Olivier and Swearengin don't see eye to eye on everything. For example, Olivier opposes Bus Rapid Transit, something dear to the mayor's heart.
But Olivier switched sides in 2011 to help Swearengin successfully privatize the city's commercial trash service. He stood by Swearengin in the civil war that grew from the mayor's unsuccessful attempt to privatize home trash service in 2012-2013.
Olivier is up for reelection this year. Several city union leaders, angry with Olivier's stance on privatization, have vowed make him a one-termer.
The June primary is less than five months away. Olivier is confident. It's not clear whether a well-known, well-funded opponent will challenge him. But it can't hurt Olivier's chances to have construction of Martin Ray Reilly Park underway when District 7 voters go to the polls.
In other action, the council:
-- Elected District 2 Council Member Steve Brandau as council president and District 3 Council Member Oliver Baines as acting president. They will serve one-year terms.
-- Congratulated Olivier on the birth of his son, Carsten Jack Olivier, on Jan. 2 in Fresno. The boy weighed eight pounds, nine ounces. Olivier said his wife, Alisha, and their son are doing well. Olivier passed out cigars to his council colleagues.
-- Approved a contract for $259,613 with Jim Crawford Construction of Clovis for the Herndon Multi-Purpose Trail between Valentine and Marks Avenues Project.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.