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Saving Fuji Park better than a poke in the eye

Jeff Ackerman

Fuji Park was saved last week. At least as far as most of the trees, grass and creek are concerned.

And there is still a chance that the fairground will stay put as well, provided City Staff is unable to find a suitable replacement during the next 90 days or so and everyone does what they promised to do last week.

That’s as close to a “win-win” as the Save Fuji Park folks could have expected, considering there are some at City Hall who seem willing to sell just about anything for the right price.

I watched last week’s meeting from the safety of my living room. Not because I was afraid to face the supervisors or “City Staff,” mind you. I’m too old to worry about what they think and I’ve never been particularly impressed by suits.

I just wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing pajamas at the Community Center.

Thanks to the folks at Carson Access Television, though, I was able to see enough of the meeting to make a few observations.

For starters, City Staff (that’s what the board calls City Manager John Berkich and his management team) seem almost desperate to sell the fairgrounds, which makes one wonder if there hasn’t already been a deal hatched. If the city is sitting on prime real estate, what’s the hurry to sell? Won’t the value only increase?

The city manager did his best to convince supervisors that unless they sell something soon City Hall will need to start selling lemonade and apples in order to keep providing the quality of life we’re all accustomed to here in Carson City.

The city even commissioned a “scientific” survey of 400 registered voters, hoping to show supervisors that if they did, in fact, sell Fuji Park the voters would still love them. That survey found that most residents would rather sell a park than have their water shut off. They’d rather sell a park than have their sewer back up. And they’d rather sell a park than have their eyeballs eaten by ants.

Actually, there was nothing in the survey results indicating the majority of Carson City supported selling the park or fairground, a point Supervisor Richard Staub made in asking for a vote of the people.

In his overview of that scientific survey, Berkich indicated that, “preservation of the park is more important than the fairgrounds.”

That’s not exactly what the survey says. According to the survey I have in my hands, 51 percent of those polled opposed (either somewhat or strongly) relocating the fairground and replacing it with a regional shopping center even after being informed in that survey that the city may lose $1 million in sales tax revenues.

Berkich also forgot to remind supervisors that, according to the survey, nearly 50 percent of those polled believed that preserving the fairgrounds as they are enhanced the quality of life in Carson City.

The city manager, who used to mention Carson City in the same breath as Boulder, Colorado, seems to have allowed dollar signs to cloud his vision.

What concerns most Carson City residents most, according to the city survey, is traffic. Runner-up is growth. Further commercial development of that area south of Carson City will only make both worse. Especially since completion of the southern phase of the bypass is still at least 10 years away. Last I heard all the land needed for that second half of the bypass (and, no, there’s no such thing as half a bypass) hasn’t even been purchased yet.

Interestingly, only 3 percent of those surveyed ranked taxes as Carson City’s most pressing problem. That was only a percentage point ahead of “elected officials” being identified as the city’s most pressing problem.

No wonder Supervisor Staub wanted voters to have a say-so. He must have read the same survey.

That survey only cost the city three parks and a golf course, which was two parks less than what was budgeted.

The urgency to sell something was driven home by City Staff under the threat of higher taxes and reduced services. Staff says the city is facing huge budget problems and if we don’t do something soon it will be the end of life as we know it.

This is the same City Staff that eight hours earlier recommended spending $300,000 for construction management on a $3 million project without asking for competitive bids. And the same City Staff that recommended spending $1 million on $450,000 worth of Open Space (and has a full-time Open Space manager). And the same City Staff responsible for spending more money on a swimming pool (to build and rebuild) than some families earn in a lifetime.

Not the kind of spending you might expect from a city on the verge of economic collapse.

I thought Mayor Ray Masayko did a decent job conducting last week’s meeting and that he took extra steps to ensure it was kept civil. He gave everyone a say and seemed genuinely concerned.

In the end, he was adamant that the park portion of Fuji be saved and directed “staff” to start spending some of the money that was promised to maintain and upgrade the park. That park and fairground have obviously been neglected in what probably has been an effort to bolster the city staff argument. Just as Berkich was hoping a survey would.

The mayor was equally adamant in his determination to keep the exhibit hall and park together, something that Fuji Park advocates ought to keep an eye on over the next three months as behind-the-scenes efforts are hatched to move the exhibit hall and include that land in the fairground sale. The mayor was also clear that if a site that could house a “first-class” fairground could not be found during the next 90 days he would recommend keeping it where it is.

Supervisor Staub was the lone vote against the motion to relocate the fairground. He said after listening to testimony, reviewing the city’s voter survey and weighing his own opinions it was clear to him that the decision was too important to make without allowing voters to have a say.

“That’s not copping out. That’s the democratic process,” said Staub. “This is a profound issue and we need to let all citizens have a say.”

He said there was nothing that he saw in the city survey that told him voters favored selling Fuji.

Supervisor Pete Livermore seemed genuinely pained by the process. Livermore has been a champion for recreation in Carson City for many, many years and obviously took great steps in reviewing his options before siding with Masayko. He even spent three hours at a 4-H gathering at the fairgrounds the previous weekend.

Supervisors Robin Williamson and Jon Plank appeared to have had their minds made up (to relocate the fairground) some time ago and nothing at last week’s meeting changed their opinions.

Hopefully, those interested in what happens to both the park and the fairground will stay active during the next 90 days. The city has not demonstrated much in the way of credibility of late and there’s no telling what our City Fathers will do once backs are turned and the CAT-10 camera lights dimmed.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.