At the September 22 Hanford Planning Commission meeting, it will be decided if the undeveloped part of Hidden Valley Park can be designated as surplus under the 2002 General Plan. If the 18.1 acres of Hidden Valley Park is designated as surplus, the City Council can vote to sell the property.
If Hanford citizens think they are seeing déjà vu, that’s because they are.
The Planning Commission already voted “no” on August 11 that the 18.1 acres of Hidden Valley Park be designated as surplus. In response, at their meeting on September 1, the city council told the commission to vote again. The city staff said the planning commission did not have the correct numbers of acres of open space when they voted the first time and should reconsider.
Even if the planning commission votes “no” again next week, the city council has the final word. The city council can still deem the property as surplus and put the undeveloped part of Hidden Valley on the auction block. According to Hanford Environmental Action Team’s (HEAT) lawyer, Richard Harriman, a decision to sell could generate lawsuits based on the fact that Hanford’s 2002 General Plan is too old to be used to justify anything. In addition, Hanford has a deficit of parkland.
Harriman wrote in a letter to the planning commission saying, “your Commission should reject the proposed findings (of the city staff) and recommend that any sale of the subject property not occur until after the current General Plan Update and Final Environmental Impact Report for it has been completed, circulated, approved, and adopted by the City Council.”
Even if the city council and planning commission decide to heed Mr. Harriman’s advice, and drop the issue until after the new General Plan is approved, they can resurrect it soon after. Hanford’s General Plan should be completed and approved sometime in 2016.
To add insult to injury, the Hanford Planning Commission and City Council just filled their dance cards with the exact same issue at the end of 2013. In December of that year, the planning commission voted in favor of selling the 18.1 acres of Hidden Valley Park. But at the January 2014 city council public hearing, 21 people spoke against selling the land and none spoke in favor. The city council got the message and dropped the idea, at least for a few months.
How many times the city council can vote on same thing? “As many times as it takes to get what they want,” said a member of HEAT who did not want to be named.
The debate continues about whether to sell the property because of an outdated general plan, the drought and disagreement about the number of acres of open space available to Hanford residents. The city staff has calculated a total of 153.79 acres of community parks. That would mean that there are 2.76 acres of open space of parkland per 1,000 people. This number surpasses Hanford’s 2002 General Plan goal of 2 acres per 1,000 people. But it is less than the 6.25 acres recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association and cited by the Hanford Parks and Recreation and Open Space Master Plan.
Mickey Stoddard, a parks and recreation commissioner and former city recreation supervisor, spoke during public comment at the September 1 City Council meeting. He pointed out that five of the parks listed on the city’s staff report to the city council are not open to the public. The Bob Hill Youth Athletic Complex (26.2 acres), SOCOM (40 acres) Softball Complex (32 acres) BMX Track (4.7 acres) and Harris Street Ball Park (4.4 acres) and Hanford Joint use Softball Complex (21) are fenced-in and locked-up. This represents 128.3 acres of “open space.” All of the above mentioned parks either require a fee, a membership on a sports team, or both to gain access to the grounds.
Rob Bentley, of the Hidden Valley Completion Team, said that he drove around to these parks on Labor Day and found them all locked-up.
Stoddard said that Freedom (16.66 acres), Centennial (14.11 acres) and Hidden Valley Park (17.96 acres) are the only actual open spaces where Hanford residents do not have to be a member of a sports team or pay a fee. Bentley pointed out that Hanford’s neighbor to their east, Visalia, has 5.1 acres of community parks per 1,000 people, none of which are locked. He said, he wondered: If Visalia can maintain 50 parks, why can’t Hanford handle six?
Who Is the Buyer?
Jason Wix, a Hanford Joint Union High School employee, said “We already own the land so why does it keep coming back on the agenda?” He added, “We want to know who is buying it.”
Mattos asked for the city to be more transparent. She said that she has seen the APN number for Hidden Valley on the agenda for the closed sessions and wants to know if the city is in negotiations to sell the property.
Darrel Pyle, Hanford City Manager, says there is no buyer. He said that the city cannot legally pursue a buyer until the sale is found to comply with the general plan and the city declares the land surplus. Then, the property must be offered to a public agency such as a school or a hospital.
According to the city staff report “If no agency is interested in the Land or if terms cannot be successfully negotiatated with an interested agency, the Land will be offered to private parties for purchase.”
No regulation precludes a developer from approaching the city to express their interest in buying the land, but the likelihood of a school or hospital coming up with more than $1 million dollars is exceedingly slim.
Although Pyle says that there is no buyer, a January agenda staff report stated that, “The City obtained an appraisal after a private party showed interest in the Land.” it was reported that the private party wanted to build a residential development on the 18 acres. The property was appraised at $1.2 million.
Mayor Russ Curry said he surveyed a few of the residents near the park prior to talks on selling the vacant land. He said most of the residents were tired of looking at a vacant lot. Curry said those in favor of the sale wanted to see houses built there.
One of the justifications for selling the park is the drought, but questions arose at city meetings about where the water would come from for 100 or more new houses. Hanford has been mandated to cut water use by 28%, but has only succeeded in cutting water consumption by 9.9%. If the City of Hanford can’t comply with the state’s mandate now, how will it do it with a new housing development, it was asked. Hanford may face fines of $500 a day if they do not comply with the state mandate.
Paul Broussard, who lives next to Hidden Valley, said that the spirit of why the parkland was acquired should not be violated by a developer’s money.
Brad Lakritz, whose father, Simon Lakritz, was a Hanford city council member for 25 years and who played a central role in developing the park, said, “The land purchased by the City of Hanford to build Hidden Valley Park was promised to all the people of the city. Should the city choose to sell the land to developers for a ‘profit’ the benefit will be to a very small group of people.”
The Spirit of the Original Purchase of Hidden Valley
During public comment at the September 8 planning commission meeting, Maureen Fakuda suggested that the staff research the original intent of Hanford’s leaders in buying Hidden Valley. As an older citizen of Hanford, who lives close to the park, Fakuda’s tax money went to buy the property. She, along with other residents, want the current leadership to respect the spirit in which the property was bought in 1967.
According to a 1971 Hanford Sentinel article, it seems the leaders at that time intended the park to be a place where Boy Scouts could camp and families could picnic.
The Sentinel article stated, “Councilmen agreed the parks should be primarily a wilderness area, rather than a manicured site for organized sports and large organizations. It will be meant to facilitate families and small groups in a secluded setting. The park would include a hilly area in front, with numerous trees and trails with horseback riding and bicycles meandering to the rear portion. The middle part would consist of lakes or a system of lagoons connected by bridges and surrounded by weeping willows. Picnic spaces would surround the small lakes. The rear of the park would contain a large play area and a heavily forested area for archery and camping.”
Not only was the original intent to develop the 38 acres over 10 years, but the goal was to expand Hidden Valley Park.
“The consultants raised the possibility of the city purchasing adjacent land to the northeast and southwest for an intensive recreation area featuring tennis, badminton, volleyball and basketball on one parcel and a golf course on the other.”
Fakuda ended her comments about why the park has not reached its potential, “it’s not a lack of desire, it’s a lack of leadership,” she said.