Renaming River View Park in Buellton after late councilman Russ Hicks will not happen, but Hicks’s family and city officials still plan to undertake some kind of memorial at the park.

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Consequently, council members deferred on making a decision until Hick’s family members support a different option.

For months, council members have been mulling the idea of creating a monument at the park to honor the long-time councilman and former mayor’s extensive work in the community. Mayor Holly Sierra had proposed naming the barbecue area at the park after Hicks, who served the city from 1994 to 2011. Hicks was known for donating his time and talents at many community barbecue events.

In July, vice mayor Dave King broached the idea of renaming the park after the late councilman because he thought doing anything less would diminish Hicks’s other achievements outside of the park.

Matt Hicks, the late councilman’s son and speaking on behalf of the family, told the council that renaming the park was their first choice in honoring Hicks. “My father had such an impact on this community,” he said. “That needs to be brought to the community in a way in which everybody is going to know about that impact.”

Matt Hicks said the family wanted the city to pursue an alternative to renaming the park, because Jake and Jeanette Willemsen had donated several acres to the city for the park on the condition that it would not be named after an individual.

“As a family, we’d like to honor that,” Hicks said. “We appreciate that they even donated that land for the park.”

Instead, he requested that council members table a decision on how to memorialize Hicks – which they did – and give the family more time to consider what options would best honor him.

Two options are a large boulder with an engraved plaque placed near the barbecue area, at a cost between $1,000 and $2,000, and an island counter north of the barbecue area with a sink, drain, cabinets and other features, topped with a piece of granite with an engraved plaque that states, “Dedicated to the Memory of Council Member Russ Hicks.” The second project would cost between $10,000 to $15,000.

Two public speakers, Ben FitzGerald and Ron Anderson, recommended keeping the park’s name.

“I was first struck that Russ Hicks said he didn’t want this sort of thing done on his behalf,” FitzGerald said. “I would think something like that should be honored. Everyone agrees he did a wonderful job and was a wonderful person, and I don’t think any of that is in dispute. But speaking strictly as a citizen of Buellton, I love the name River View Park.”

Councilwoman Judith Dale said she was delighted to hear Russ’s family was interested in pursuing an alternative to renaming the park. She also encouraged the board to consider adopting policies and procedures to handle memorials.

“This council deals with policy, and we need to make decisions based on policy and procedure, not politics and emotion,” Dale contended. “This is a very emotional issue.”

Council members John Connolly and King opposed the idea of creating guidelines for memorials. They also opposed a proposal by councilman Ed Andresik to create a committee that would help design the memorial. “Every time you appoint a committee, you’re talking a year down the road before anything gets done,” King stated. “So I’m hoping that in order for us to expedite things, we would not do that.”

In other news, the council was debriefed on the city’s visioning process, which aims to create a vibrant downtown area. Council members postponed a decision on requests for proposals from interested branding and economic development consultants. Council members have said branding and economic development are paramount for attracting businesses and tourists to the city.

But given the city’s current finances and the uncertain outcome of a proposed bed tax increase in the upcoming November ballot, the council in a split vote held off on considering requests until after the election. King, who voted for tabling the decision, said he opposed considering accepting new RFPs, which he considered a costly, time-consuming process, while Dale and Sierra wanted to broaden the number of applicants.

“It’s like giving some other company a second bite of the apple,” King said. “They had their chance.”

The council members, however, unanimously agreed to take the Avenue of Flags Specific Plan to the city’s Planning Commission for more analysis and public input.

jfoster@syvjournal.com