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Shrubs for park debated by council
A drawing of the Marie Neel Park improvements. A dog park will be built in the northwestern section while a childrens play area will be at the northeastern fringe near Sam Vaughn Elementary School. - photo by Courtesy of the city of Ceres

Additions to Neel Park on Ceres' east side - worth $1.3 million - were approved by the Ceres City Council but not without controversy about whether or not landscaping should be included.

The park is located east of Boothe Road and is split by Helen Perry Road.

The council voted 3-1 to award a bid to Sinclair General Engineering Construction, Inc., to build a dog park, children's play area, shade, seating walls and ornamental fencing within Neel Park. The dog park will go in the triangle part of the park next to Boothe Road while the children's play area will be located south of Helen Perry Road near Sam Vaughn Elementary School.

Councilmember Linda Ryno cast the lone "no" vote, saying the city shouldn't be including shrubs and other landscaping in light of recent conversations that the city doesn't have enough parks maintenance personnel to care for existing parks. Ryno has been a vocal critic of the appearance of Ceres' parks, particularly the park named for her husband, retired Ceres Police Sgt. Sam Ryno who was wounded in an attack on police in 2005.

The contract includes 557 one-gallon shrubs for $6,127, 471 five-gallon shrubs costing $11,304, which Ryno said "will all look wonderful for a very short time and then when we won't have personnel to maintain it, it's going to look just as bad as Ryno Park does and our medians and our right of ways."

"So why would we spend that kind of money when we don't have personnel to maintain it?" asked Ryno on Monday. She suggested turf instead.

At a June meeting Ryno took the city to task Monday evening for what she called embarrassing upkeep of city parks. She was told by Public Works Director Jeremy Damas that the landscaping problem is attributed to the loss and damage of sprinkler heads caused by mostly children. City Manager Toby Wells also noted that the city has only three parks maintenance workers "when we previously had nine."

"When kids come along and break the sprinklers or we don't have the people to go out and maintain it, how are we going to replace it?" she asked on Monday.

Wells said the maintenance costs for the new addition to Neel are not expected to hit the current fiscal year since construction will take five months and the contractor has a 120-day maintenance period. "So our expectation is we would have additional staffing to provide the maintenance for this park next year," said Wells.

He said the council had the option to reject the bids and change the design or award the contract with a change order to change plant material to grass.

"This is how we've done similar parks in the past but if you the council wants to change that policy and direction we look for your direction."

Mayor Chris Vierra seemed irritated in an exchange with Ryno when he offered to let her meet with city staff to alter the landscaping plan and she at first refused.

"I don't think we should have even gone out to bid with landscaping," said Ryno.

"Well, how can they read our mind?" retorted Vierra.

Ryno replied, "Well, they, meaning staff should know we don't have anyone that can maintain it."

Wells suggested that the bid was a good one and under the engineer's estimate. He opined that changing the landscaping was not a major change if the city wants to reduce or eliminate plants.

"It is far easier to award the contract and make the changes from a timing perspective," said Wells. He added that the city could control changing the contract but not necessarily any bottom line savings.

The matter went to a vote, which came out with Ryno still opposed. Councilman Bret Durossette was absent.

Ryno also questioned why the city was adding shade sails to the park when ones at Ryno Park on Ceres' west side were vandalized and not replaced. Wells said the Ryno Park sail was the easy mark of a vandal who found it within reach and cut it. The new park sails will be farther from public reach.