This article has been updated to include comments by Councilmember Martin Devine.
It was standing-room only April 24 at the Hanford City Council meeting as residents awaited the final vote on the 2035 General Plan.
At stake were the rezoning of the vacant 18 acres of Hidden Valley Park and the protective zoning ordinances that some feel have kept Hanford downtown vibrant.
The meeting started with Community Development Director Darlene Mata reviewing the legal challenges to Hanford’s General Plan.
Mata needed 30 minutes to read through her written statement responding to all of the issues, focusing mostly on Environmental lawyer Richard Harriman.
Harriman pointed out, among other things, that the General Plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) used outdated information, that it lacked sufficient open space and parks, that it lacked an urban water plan and lacked measures to preserve and restore Mussel Slough. He also said the plan lacked specific strategies to implement the city’s goals.
It is uncertain at press time if any of the lawyers challenging Hanford’s General Plan intend to go forward with legal action.
A request was made for Mata’s prepared statement to which she replied, “I ad-libbed, listen to the audio.”
A Possible Tie Vote Evolves to a 4-0 Vote
Because there was previous disagreement among the council members about whether to keep Hidden Valley Park zoned community service or low density residential, the vote was anticipated to be 2-2. But after the council members discussed adjusting the downtown zoning, all four voted to approve the General Plan.
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez said that this has been a five-year process and that he was ready to pass the plan. He said that everyone can come back when the issue arises to sell the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park.
Councilmember Justin Mendes had considered all of the comments made during the public hearing but concluded that Hanford does not need a 40-acre park. He felt that every quadrant of Hanford should have a 20-acre park so the residents do not have to drive to get to a nice park. Mendes also said that he would have no problem earmarking the revenue generated from the sale of the vacant 18 acres for an indoor recreation facility, a goal long supported by Ramirez.
Mayor David Ayers was firmly against selling the park but did not have a problem rezoning half of Hidden Valley Park to low density residential. He said that even with the new zoning Hanford could still finish developing the park.
Councilmember Martin Devine has been an ardent supporter of Hidden Valley Park and previously was against rezoning the 18-acre parcel. He said, “I’d just like to put out there that we’ve had a lot of people coming forward to support keeping this park. What I’ve been hearing is, it’s ours, we own it, we want to keep it. It’s that simple.”
Devine received a long applause from the crowd mostly in attendance to protest rezoning the 18 acres.
When the vote was 4-0 to approve the General Plan it appeared that Devine accidently voted no on the Environmental Impact Report instead of voting no on the zoning portion of the General Plan.
During councilmember comments, Devine said that he missed Hanford’s Economic Development Meeting due to his health. After the meeting ended Devine was asked what health problems he had and if that affected his vote on the General Plan. He replied that he had been suffering from allergies and that the vote was confusing.
Devine responded on Facebook to a previous version of this article but did not return the Valley Voice’s calls.
“You got it wrong, I did not say that I have missed any council business, as I have not and I did not accidentally vote no on the EIR and yes on the General Plan. Was the vote confusing, yes, it was a bit confusing for us all but I did not accidentally vote for or against anything! We can revisit the 18 acres west of HPV at another time…moving forward on the General Plan was more important.”
Advocates for Downtown Get Half a Victory
Main Street Hanford got half of what the organization had been requesting. Whereas furniture stores will be able to locate outside of the downtown zone, professional medical, dental and optometry has to stay. Ayers’ main reasoning for requesting the compromise to the zoning was the huge financial investment professionals have made in the downtown.
Mendes recounted how it was brought up in previous meetings that 17 furniture stores have gone out of business and that the Downtown area has suffered blight. He pointed out that this happened during the current zoning. He was willing to compromise on the professional services staying in downtown but wanted flexibility with the furniture stores.
Furniture stores will now be allowed to locate outside of the downtown zone and in the regional commercial zone. Furniture stores under 15,000 square-feet can set up shop anywhere, those larger will need a conditional use permit while stores over 20,000square-feet will not be allowed outside of the downtown area.
The Residents Respond
Even though the public hearing portion of the meeting had been closed last week, that didn’t stop the audience from commenting. Several times former mayor Dan Chin interrupted Ramirez, who responded graciously with a smile and patiently finished his comments.
Another audience member challenged the council to explain why it was rezoning the park if it is not going to sell it.
At the end of the meeting, as the council members were thanking everyone for their participation, a Hanford resident responded, “We will have a recall.”
This article is an updated version of an article that originally appeared online.