A vocal group of Hanford advocates for Hidden Valley Park are keeping their promise. During the April 24 Hanford City Council meeting the council passed a new zoning ordinance that changed the designation of the undeveloped 18 acres of the park from public facilities to low-density residential.
Because of the zoning change the group promised a referendum and/or a recall.
A referendum on the zoning ordinance was filed mid-May and a recall effort against Sue Sorenson, whose district includes the park, is being organized. The decision to follow through on the recall is still up in the air.
The city officially filed the new zoning ordinance on May 2, giving the Hidden Valley Park advocacy group until June 1st to hand in 3,300 signatures. Mark Pratter, a familiar face at city council meetings, said that the group plans on handing in the signatures on May 31.
According to Pratter, the referendum gives the city the choice of repealing the zoning ordinance or putting the zoning ordinance up for a public vote. The ultimate goal is to change the zoning of Hidden Valley Park back to its Public Facilities designation.
The referendum states:
“We the registered voters of the City of Hanford Ca hereby present this petition to the City Council of Hanford, California, and ask the council to repeal or submit to the registered voters of the City for their approval or rejection that legislative act adopted by the city council on May 2, 2017 of which the following is a full and correct copy.
Ordinance 17-04 approving Municipal Code Amendment 17-01 amending title 17 of the Municipal Code, as Update to the City of Hanford Zoning Ordinance.”
Mike Quinn, another park advocate, said that during the April 24 city council meeting the council members changed the Downtown zoning fairly easily and could have done the same for Hidden Valley Park.
“It’s not like Hidden Valley Park was a lynchpin of the entire General Plan. They could have easily changed the zoning back to parkland and still voted to pass the General Plan,” he said,
Pratter added that the referendum will need to be a special election. “The group cannot wait until the November 2018 election because the city might sell the park from underneath them.”
Former Hanford Mayor Dan Chin said, “The city of Hanford has had a standing offer from a developer to buy that land for 20 years. I bet not one developer in Hanford hasn’t considered buying it.”
Another longtime Hanford resident participating in the Thursday night Farmers Market said, “I know of a developer ready to buy it tomorrow.”
Vice-Mayor Sue Sorenson Under Consideration For Recall
Vice-Mayor Sue Sorenson, whose district includes Hidden Valley Park, has been under consideration for a recall by the park advocates.
“Sorenson doesn’t want the park expanded and has said that Hanford does not need a 40-acre park. She opposed it before when she was on the council,” said Pratter.
Sorenson was a city council member from 2008-2012.
Nate Odom, a park advocate who has been pounding the pavement getting signatures for the referendum, said he got very suspicious when Sorenson said she would not vote to designate the 18 acres of undeveloped land as surplus, but then turned around and did so at the March 7 city council meeting. Designating the land as surplus is the first step in selling it.
Park advocates are frustrated that Sorenson often argues both sides of an issue, making her support extremely unreliable. She has flip-flopped on decisions regarding the Bastille, a hotel occupancy tax, and Purple Heart Patient Center, a medical marijuana facility.
Another issue the group has with Sorenson is that she has too many conflicts of interest. Because she has part ownership in the Laundry Building, a downtown office building at 425 W. Seventh Street, she recused herself from voting on Hanford’s new zoning ordinance and the General Plan.
Quinn said, I live in her district and I want to be represented. But she can’t vote on major issues.”
Sorenson commented during a city council meeting that she was unaware she would not be able to vote on the general plan before she got elected. A former public official said, “I have a hard time believing that statement after her 20 years of public service.”
Besides serving on the city council, Sorenson served on the school board for 16 years.
When rumors of a possible recall started circulating on a Hanford facebook page, several longtime residents said that Sorenson would rather resign than go through another recall. Sorenson was on the school board when a fellow trustee went through a nasty recall over the firing of a beloved school superintendent. She allegedly said she never wanted to go through that experience again.
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez is currently facing a possible recall. Recall advocates have until mid August to collect 800 valid signatures from District D. His term is up in November of 2018.
Sorenson represents District B. Her term is up in 2020.