Fresno City Council Member Paul Caprioglio on Saturday kept an old promise when he returned to Vinland Park.
The District 4 representative didn’t come empty-handed to his home turf. He brought a bright blue ribbon and an outsized pair of ceremonial scissors. His purpose: Officially open the new Vinland Park splash pad.
Caprioglio was joined at the late morning celebration by Mayor Lee Brand and dozens of youngsters from the Vinland neighborhood, located about a half-mile south of Fresno State in east-central Fresno.
“This is a great day,” Caprioglio said as kids, parents, police officers and city officials jockeyed for position behind the ribbon. “There is so much excitement, with all these happy faces – children and adults. It’s an honor and a privilege to welcome all of you to today’s ribbon-cutting milestone – the journey of Vinland Park.”
The ribbon was cut. The applause drifted away. That’s when the splash pad got put through its first paces by District 4 constituents gearing up for a 107-degree day.
Caprioglio, casual clothes and all, joined them. He clearly enjoyed himself.
The atmosphere was considerably more subdued the first time I last watched Caprioglio and a mayor meet at Vinland to discuss parks in front of reporters.
It was May 2015, and City Hall was trying to shape the public narrative for parks policy. The Great Recession was over. Budget hearings were only a few weeks away. There would be more money to spend. There also would be more pent-up demands to be at least partially satisfied.
On top of that, city officials knew that spring was when the non-profit Trust for Public Land released its annual ranking of municipal park systems. The only time Fresno wasn’t alone in last place (mainly for its lack of green space compared to other big cities) was when it tied for the bottom.
Caprioglio, then-Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other top city officials gathered at Vinland to trumpet the 2015-2016 budget’s ramped-up spending for parks. I was there for The Bee.
Vinland, Swearengin said, “is a great example of the type of asset want to improve, renovate and rehabilitate.”
Added Caprioglio: “We’re going to restore the parks and we’re going to restore the older areas of Fresno.”
A lot has happened to Fresno’s parks system in the 26 months since that news conference. In a nutshell, City Hall has regained the initiative when it comes to bold government action. Saturday’s splash-pad opening was full of this self-confidence.
Police officers were there in force to cook hamburgers and hot dogs for the crowd. I saw some firefighters donating their time and labor, as well. Parks Department staff members kept the agenda moving briskly.
City Manager Bruce Rudd, who doubles as interim Parks Director, told me that the irrigation system for Vinland’s soccer field will soon be repaired. The brown grass will become green again, he promised.
Rudd pointed to the long chain link fence that separates Vinland Park from Vinland Elementary School and its vast playgrounds to the west. Rudd said he will propose to Fresno Unified officials that they remove the fence so neighborhood residents can have easy access to essentially double the green space.
There’s no harm in trying, Rudd told me. He’s right, of course.
Caprioglio on Saturday was followed to the public microphone by Mayor Brand, who succeeded Swearengin in January 2017.
Brand praised Caprioglio as “probably the best representative I’ve ever seen in District 4.”
Brand then got down to policy.
The Vinland splash pad “is a great amenity that will keep kids cool and safe in a supervised area,” Brand said. “It’s another great amenity in an underserved area. It’s part of a broader effort by the city of Fresno to improve our parks.”
Brand said that effort includes partnerships with Fresno Unified and Central Unified to open school green space to residents; a partnership with Fresno Unified to open “blue space” (school pools) to residents; and donor-funded swim lessons for any youngster with the desire to learn how to safely zip through that blue space.
Rudd described Caprioglio as a relentless advocate for District 4.
The Vinland splash pad “speaks of his devotion and commitment to all of you,” Rudd said. “It also speaks to our re-commitment to your neighborhood that you live in and, more importantly, to the children who live in this neighborhood…. Council Member, congratulations on a job well done. Kids, let’s all get wet!”
Rudd told me that the splash pad cost about $500,000. I forgot to ask about the sources of that money. According to Brand’s 2017-18 budget, the Vinland splash pad and other parks projects from the previous year’s budget cycle were funded with a combination of grants, federal Community Development Block Grant money, vendor match grants, Prop 1C, and donations from local community groups.
I made another visit to Vinland Park at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday. I wanted to see what was happening after all the officials and media cameras were gone.
The splash pad was quiet – apparently it has specific hours of operation. Otherwise, Vinland Park was hopping. About 25 people were playing a co-ed softball game – each side had a half-dozen outfielders. A man and a woman were playing paddle ball. There must have been at least 50 people enjoying what looked like a birthday party; a little one was taking mighty swings at a piñata.
The scene made me think of Caprioglio’s final words that morning.
Vinland Park with its new splash pad, Caprioglio said, “is a gathering place for members of the community. It not only adds pride to our city and our community, but, most importantly, it’s just straight-up fun for these kids.”