The City of Turlock is one step closer to renaming Centennial Park – and accepting a controversial donation to construct a dog park at the site.
A split Parks, Recreation, and Community Programs Commission recommended the park be renamed “Centennial-Swanson Park,” and that the city accept a $35,000 donation from the Swanson family. That donation would be used to construct Turlock's second dog play area in the park alongside Countryside Drive.
The decision comes two months after the commission initially rejected the Swanson family's donation, and their proposal to rename Centennial Park to “Swanson Park.”
Commissioners balked at the renaming, as Centennial Park is a historic park constructed to honor Turlock's 100th anniversary. The park features 100 trees, donated by many members of the community.
The compromise name, initially proposed as “Swanson Centennial Park,” still didn't make commissioners happy. Commissioner Bella Daniels said that Centennial Park should retain its name, and that the dog park should be named Swanson Dog Park at Centennial Park.
But the Swanson family's representative Eric Gonsalves, an employee for their many businesses, said that would not be acceptable to the family. The longstanding Turlock family, which owns many businesses including Pet Extreme, believed they deserved more recognition for their donation.
“They felt it was appropriate for the contributions they made,” Gonsalves said. “… We'd like to move forward with what is proposed to you tonight.”
Daniels disagreed that the renaming was appropriate, arguing the name change would “demean the park” and “disrespect” those who donated to the original Centennial Park.
“I'd agree if it was a brand-new park and we were looking for names to put a brand-new name on it,” Daniels said. “… To rename an established park, especially Centennial Park, then it becomes Swanson Centennial Park when in reality it is Turlock's Centennial Park.”
Daniels suggested the commission abandon the Swanson donation, and instead go out to the community to seek other donations.
“I don't see any good, valid, fair reason to change the name without giving the opportunity to other people who want to donate,” Daniels said.
Other Donations Ignored
And there have been other proposed donations, which were brought up by Turlocker Donna Vierra.
“I understand that there have been other donations,” Vierra said “… I'm just wondering why those haven't been considered.”
Turlock Veterinarian Rob Santos, owner of Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital, offered to donate approximately $33,000 toward the new dog park in August 2011, and to fundraise any further needed funds through a nonprofit. In exchange, he asked that a sign bearing the name of his practice be placed at the dog park, with no renaming.
Santos says that the City of Turlock rejected his donation and broke off contact with him.
A second veterinarian, the 91-year-old Irene Bohlender, better known as Dr. Irene, also came forward offering a larger donation than Swanson. Bohlender offered a $40,000 donation, and asked that only the dog park be named “Dr. Irene Dog Park,” with no name change to Centennial Park.
Her donation was never fully considered, as the Swansons' donation offer was received first. The City of Turlock opted to continue negotiations with the Swanson family rather than accept Bohlender's larger donation, with fewer strings attached.
Those prior donations were not discussed Wednesday evening, however. Acting Commission Chair Barney Gordon halted discussion of other donors, stating that the commission was there to discuss only the Swanson donation.
Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Manager Allison Van Guilder later stated that there have been “no formal donations or offers of donation” other than the Swansons' since the site was approved in August 2011. That's despite being advertised as a donation opportunity in the thrice-yearly Turlock Activity Guide, she said, which is mailed to 13,000 households.
However, Santos's proposed donation was discussed and publicly offered during at least two Parks Commission meetings. And numerous e-mails were sent between Santos, Gordon, Van Guilder, and former Parks Commissioner and current City Councilmember Steven Nascimento discussing the donation.
“Centennial-Swanson Park” Compromise Reached
Commissioner Jeremy Rocha proposed the hyphenated name Centennial-Swanson Park as a compromise to appease both the Swanson family and on-the-fence commissioners.
The hyphen, he said, implies shared ownership. It's intended to denote both the community's role in creating Centennial Park, and the Swanson family's role in creating the dog park.
“That way we keep everybody's contributions recognized,” Rocha said.
The hyphenated name was ultimately approved by a 4-1 vote, with Daniels dissenting. Commissioner Brent Bohlender was not allowed to participate in the discussion or vote due to a conflict of interest; Irene Bohlender is his mother.
The Parks, Recreation, and Community Programs Commission vote is non-binding. The Turlock City Council will have the last word on the park renaming, and could opt to further tweak the park's name – or abandon the Swanson donation altogether.
“They make the final decision,”Gordon said. “We just simply make a recommendation.”