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Fuji Park: Let the people vote

Guy W. Farmer

Will Mayor Ray Masayko and the Carson City Board of Supervisors decide to sell off Fuji Park and/or the fairgrounds for “upscale” (whatever that means) commercial development? If they do, they’ll prove that they don’t give a damn about public opinion. But if they don’t, I’ll admire them for saying no to the developers.

This is a classic conflict between development and open space, and the choice is clear; however, some of our civic leaders seem to be unable or unwilling to recognize that local public opinion clearly favors retaining the park and fairgrounds, and improving them with funds derived from the questionable Costco land sale across the street. I say “questionable” because Mayor Masayko objected to utilizing the city’s redevelopment ordinance to sell parklands. He was right then, but he’s wrong now.

I attended the Aug. 2 public hearing on the Fuji Park/fairgrounds issue at the Community Center and was impressed by the civility demonstrated on both sides of the argument. There were several well-organized factual presentations and shouting and name-calling were at a minimum. Out of more than 100 local citizens who attended the hearing, only two – the manager of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce and the president of the Builders Association – favored selling the park and/or fairgrounds to developers. And it should be noted that Chamber Manager Larry Osborne also sits on the Parks and Recreation Commission in an apparent conflict of interest on this issue.

Despite massive public opposition to the proposed land sale, Masayko and three supervisors voted to give city staff 90 days to locate a suitable site for new fairgrounds; only Supervisor Richard Staub opposed the measure. Although the mayor said he wanted Fuji Park to remain where it is, spokesmen for the Concerned Citizens to Save Fuji Park and Fairgrounds and the Fuji Park Users Coalition argued that the park would become an island in a sea of development if the fairgrounds property is sold.

“The park has been saved, and that’s good, but we’re not done,” Susan Hoffman of Concerned Citizens said last week. “Our goal all along was the preservation of the park and fairgrounds, and we’re continuing to work toward that goal.”

My friend Bill Goni, who was chairman of the Ormsby County Commission when Fuji Park was created in 1966, told me the park and fairgrounds were always considered as a single, unified recreational area for the capital city. “We built the rodeo grounds and horse arena with volunteer labor,” he continued. “It would be a betrayal of the public trust to sell the fairgrounds.” Masayko and the supervisors should listen to Goni, one of our most respected civic elders.

Which brings me back to Supervisor Staub, a close friend of the developers who finance election campaigns around here. “The gravity of this issue has led me to one conclusion: Let the people vote!” Staub declared at the Aug. 2 meeting, adding that he wants to hear from an alleged “silent majority” at the polls. Richard Nixon was the last politician who relied on a silent majority, and look what happened to him.

After attending public meetings of the Board of Supervisors and the Parks and Recreation Commission, and talking to many people around town, I’m convinced that a substantial majority of Carson City voters favors retaining Fuji Park and the fairgrounds right where they are, and spending the $2.3 million the city collected from Costco to improve the facilities.

Forget the flawed phone survey that asked the question, “Would you rather sell Fuji Park or suffer a huge property tax increase?” It isn’t an either/or choice. Many of us voted for the Quality of Life Initiative in 1996 because of promised enhancements to city parks. “We want city staff to get started on the improvements that were promised for Fuji Park,” said Mayor Masayko, and I believe him. So let’s get started.

Some of the Save the Park folks have branded City Manager John Berkich as the villain of the piece, but I beg to differ. Berkich is just following orders; the Board of Supervisors obviously told him to go out and solicit offers on the park and/or fairgrounds, and he did. That’s where these mysterious commercial “pressures” came from. But, as someone said at the Aug. 2 meeting, there’s one sure way to make those pressures go away. Just say no, it’s not for sale. And that’s that.

But if supervisors insist on selling off the fairgrounds, I applaud the Appeal editorial urging a public process. As the Aug. 5 editorial said, “We expect to be invited to a public open house . . . to view the developers’ proposals and decide whether any of them is worth a trade for the fairgrounds.” Fair enough. That shouldn’t happen, however, until Carson City voters approve such a sale, as recommended by Supervisor Staub.

Appeal Publisher Jeff Ackerman last Tuesday wrote that “there are some at City Hall who seem willing to sell just about anything for the right price,” and I tend to agree. And a rival daily noted last week that “parks are meant to be permanent features of the community, oases where people can go to get away from the asphalt and concrete . . . The whole idea of a park is to protect the land from development.”

Yes, that is the idea behind Fuji Park, and the sooner our elected officials accept that premise, the better. To them I say, Do the public’s business in public and let the people vote!

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.