Sacramento County Regional Parks and developer Doug Ose are renegotiating his contract to run Gibson Ranch Park after a year of heavy losses, Ose said Wednesday.
The former congressman took over the roughly 325-acre Elverta park in April 2011 after the county was forced to close it under financial pressure. Per his contract, Ose served notice to the county in November that he would no longer operate the ranch, six months out from the potential closure date of April 30.
“I am working with the county to try to change the deal so, frankly, it’s more sustainable,” Ose said. “The county is very understanding of the dilemma because they had the same dilemma. … I think we’re on the same path, but we have different highest priorities.”
Ose said he didn’t expect to make money off the ranch until 2015, five years into his management of the park. That year, he turned a $22,000 profit, but in 2016 the park fell back into the red to the tune of roughly $60,000, sometimes losing as much as $20,000 in one month.
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“We had great attendance,” he said. “Expenses related primarily to labor went up.”
He and county parks Director Jeff Leatherman declined to discuss the details of their discussions.
“We’re very close, but not quite there,” Ose said. “In the meantime, the community gets to enjoy the park.”
Gibson Ranch Park is open from sunrise to sunset year round, with options for hiking, biking, fishing and feeding ducks. In addition to the “thriving” duck population, the park is home to geese, pigs, cows, chickens and llamas. Horse owners can board their animals at the Equestrian Center and the park’s website warns hikers to be careful around the large creatures because they “don’t have rearview mirrors.”
Ose said in 2016 that about 100,000 people took advantage of the nature preserve 30 minutes from downtown Sacramento.
The park charges a $5 vehicle entrance fee and parties can rent the 120-person banquet hall and several outdoor picnic areas. To stay overnight, families can reserve camping spots.
When Ose put in his bid to run the park in 2010, his proposal was met with approval from some county residents who wanted to see the park reopened. Others feared he would degrade the natural setting with new buildings. At the time, potential new uses for the park included a skate park and a pet hotel.
Advocates were also concerned that allowing a private operator for Gibson Ranch would lead to more privatization of local parks.
Ose pays the county $1 a year in rent and half of any profit he makes. The county was required to pay him $500,000 over a six-year period for deferred maintenance, which is significantly less than what the county was paying for upkeep at the shuttered park.
Ose alone absorbs the losses. He said the hits to his revenue came from increases in the cost of labor, insurance and power.
A few complaints have cropped up during his time running the ranch, particularly after the inaugural City of Trees music festival and the Aftershock music festival in 2015. Concertgoers dealt with traffic jams on the way out of the event and long lines for water inside. This year, City of Trees was held at Bonney Field and Aftershock took over Discovery Park.
Ose said he doesn’t think hosting the festivals this year would have lifted the park out of the red.
“I don’t think it had a negative effect, not having the events,” he said. “Would we have been better off if we’d held the concert? Yes.”
But the revenue wouldn’t have been enough to offset his losses. Despite the challenges, Ose said he enjoys running Gibson Ranch.
“I get to be outside every single day,” he said. “It’s fun but … it’s not $60,000 worth of fun.”