Sale of Hidden Valley Property Stalled by Planning Commission

The fate of the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park remains in limbo following a 4-3 finding by the Hanford Planning Commission that the land is not surplus.

With the city short on funds needed to construct a new fire station, the city council has been again mulling selling 18.1 acres of open land adjoining the park site at 11th Ave. and Courtner St. But, so far there has been stiff opposition.

At its August 11 meeting, the commission was asked to reaffirm a decision it made in 2013, when it determined the land could legally be sold under the terms of the city’s General Plan. After some confusion over what property had been included in the survey of Hanford’s parkland, as well as how the calculations were made, the present commission concluded Hanford may not have adequate park land to meet future population growth and voted against reaffirming the previous decision.

Membership of the planning commission has changed substantially in the two years since its previous finding.

Conserving Open Spaces

In discussion prior to the vote, the commission also debated whether deeming the parkland as surplus would be contrary to state law requiring cities to maintain a high level of recreational land for public use. Making the point were commissioners Dennis Ham and Mark Fernandez.

“This is not going to conserve open space,” Ham said of the possible sale. Ham is vice chair of the commission.

Back to City Council

With the refusal to reaffirm the 2013 decision, the issue now goes back to the city council for consideration.

“So there goes that,” said Commission Chair Steve Froberg. “I guess that’ll be transmitted to the city council, which has the discretion of sending it right back down to us.”

Froberg voted against not affirming the 2013 decision. Wording of the motion not to affirm the decision meant a yes vote would deny the reaffirmation. The strange syntax caused confusion among members of the commission, who asked several times how their votes would be interpreted. Voting yes with Fernandez and Ham were Amjer Nahal and Travis Paden. Commissioners Richard Douglas and Michael Johnston were opposed. The council will likely send the issue back to the planning commission for reconsideration should they decide to pursue the sale.

Parks and Rec Says No

Resistance to selling the parkland was more unified at a meeting of the Hanford Parks and Recreation Commission on July 22. There, the vote to keep the land was a unanimous 7-0. Mickey Stoddard, chairman of the parks and recreation commission, addressed the planning commission to explain the parks and recreation decision.

“I do want to remind the commission that parks and recreation voted unanimously not to sell the property. I think this is a quality of life issue,” he said at the August 11 meeting. “If we were to sell that property and give it up, I don’t know that we’d be able to do something of that nature in the future.”

Safety First

But the only public comment at the July 22 meeting of parks and recreation supported the sale. Former city council member Dan Chin said the proceeds from the sale, estimated at $1.54 million, should be moved to the city’s Public Safety Fund.

“Even in the most recent plan that was done by a consultant some years ago, I think four or five years ago, your master plan even said at that time that you should sell off Hidden Valley at that time, or if you are going to develop it, develop it into active, not passive, playgrounds. I don’t think it’s in the best interest to hang onto Hidden Valley. It doesn’t fit into the direction the city is going. We’ve developed two 20-acre parks.” he said. “But, Hanford has more serious needs today that I think are more important, and that’s public safety. If we use that proceeds from Hidden Valley Park to build a fire station that can increase response times and serves the whole community, that’s the way to go.”

Council Wants to Sell

Chin’s opinion echoed what City Manager Daryl Pyle says the city council would like to see happen, giving the parks and recreation commission a brief rundown of the thinking on July 22.

“The conversation on the Hidden Valley Park site was driven primarily based on the fact that there was recognition we don’t have enough money to build it, and we are falling further behind on the public safety,” Pyle said. “So, the conversations that have taken place so far are: ‘How much money do you have in the Public Safety Development Fund?’ ‘It’s about $575,000.’ ‘And what’s the appraised value of Hidden Valley Park?’ ‘$1.45 million dollars.’ ‘Can you build a fire station for $2 million?’ ‘Yes, I can.’ That has been the conversation.”

Pyle also cited the reasoning behind the council’s change to a new direction.

“The new council seated and recognized we don’t have the money to build it, we don’t have the money to maintain it and now we don’t have the water to water it,” he said.

What’s New Since 2013

In 2013, the Council first took up the notion of selling the undeveloped parkland, but decided against the move after receiving overwhelming public opposition. Conditions, however, have changed. Measure S, a voter initiative that would have increased taxes to pay for construction of a new fire station, “is no longer in our future,” Pyle said. “Without Measure S to help us out on the public safety side, we’re looking for a whole different approach for how we’re going to fund our public safety needs.”

The drought has also worsened in the meantime, and the city is under state mandate to reduce its water consumption by 29 percent compared to 2013 usage, making development of park difficult, Pyle said. He’s also faced questions from the council about how much the city has spent to keep the undeveloped land maintained.

“How much money have you spent on weed abatement since we’ve owned this thing?” Pyle said he was asked. “The number at the time was about $250,000 over the 40-some-odd years in weed abatement.”

Back to School

The city may soon have a lot more open recreation area at its disposal. Pyle told the park and rec commissioners, he was in discussion with the city’s school superintendents, working on a plan to make their schoolyards available for general use when the schools are not in session. That additional acreage would be added to the totals used to calculate whether Hanford is meeting its self-set obligation to maintain 2.2 acres of parkland for every 1,000 citizens. Talks, Pyle said, are just beginning, but the school districts leadership seems supportive.

“They are receptive to the idea of us actually gaining some substantial acreage in our parks and recreation open space portfolio,” he said. “It’s always been there, it’s just been on the wrong side of the gate.”

Pyle also said many residents near Hidden Valley Park no longer want to see the park developed, citing traffic concerns.

Petition Against Sale Gains Quick Support

Pyle was warned at the July 22 meeting, however, that should the council go ahead with the plan its members may face a severe backlash at the polls during the next elections. Public outcry began even sooner, as Robin Mattos of the Hanford Environmental Awareness Team delivered a petition against the sale bearing nearly 300 signatures. Also presented was data Mattos collected online, she believes go against the notion Hanford is meeting its acres of open land per residents requirement.

“You’re being asked to make a finding that the current General Plan of 2002 is consistent with and would be OK to utilize as a reason to name 18.1 acres on the western portion of Hidden Valley Park as surplus land,” she said. “But, I believe that in order to be able make a finding like that, not only does the General Plan need to determine that you’re on the right road to figure that out, but also you need to determine, OK, we have a greater (amount of parkland) than what we need.”

The numbers she discovered on the city’s website, she said, say the city is below the 2.2-acre requirement.

“At this moment, you’re not even at that minimum,” she said.

The Latest Numbers

Mattos, however, may have been mislead by outdated information.

Darlene Mata, the city’s director of Community Development, who was on hand at the August 11 planning meeting to request reaffirmation of the Commission’s 2013 finding, said she used newer survey results to make her calculations.

“Based on the most recent calculations of acreage included in the background report we have a surplus,” she told the planning commissioners. “So, we’re hitting 2.2 acre per 1,000 when the standard is 2. It doesn’t mean we can’t have more. It means we do have more.”

The issue became even more clouded when Commissioner Paden, using numbers from the background report that seemed to use the 18.1 acres of Hidden Valley Park under consideration for sale, found an apparent discrepancy during the meeting. Mata, calling the third estimate of parkland a coincidence, reassured the commissioners she had used the latest data and checked her math repeatedly.

“I used the current calculations,” she said. “Without the 18 acres.”

Park’s Fate Still Uncertain

Without the planning commission’s reaffirmation of the 2013 decision, the city council cannot go ahead with the sale.

“They have to have that finding to move forward,” Mata said.

That, however, does not mean the issue is closed. Mata has already recalculated the acres-to-residents ratio and included space that had been overlooked previously. Not included were nearly 40 acres of a soccer park used and maintained by the city and a softball facility of which the city is joint owner. With that land taken into consideration, the city is now clearly well above the 2.2-acre requirement, Mata said, and the new data will be reported to the planning commission if they are asked a second time to reaffirm their 2013 decision.

The agenda for the Council’s August 18 meeting did not include a discussion of Hidden Valley Park or any action on the issue.

 

 

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