City of Hanford Rejects Referendum Petitions

After the Friends of Hidden Valley Park pounded the pavement for two weeks collecting signatures for a city-wide referendum, staff with the City of Hanford have rejected their petitions.

“Based on my two findings I hereby reject the entire Referendum Petition as not being sufficient,” Jennifer Gomez, the Hanford City Clerk, told the group on June 5.

The group collected a total 2,769 signatures, and handed them into the City Clerk on June 1; above the required amount of 2382 signatures.

Gomez said that only 607 signatures qualified — because while most signatories put their address, they did not include the word “Hanford.”

City attorney Mario Zamoro stated that the petitions did not comply with Election Code 9020 (a)(4) — requiring that each signer personally affix the name of his or her incorporated city or unincorporated community.

The petitions were also rejected because they did not comply with Election Code 9238.

Gomez stated in her letter to Mark Pratter, one of the referendum’s organizers, that the petition “did not contain the text of the ordinance or the portion of the ordinance that is the subject of the referendum.”

Nate Odom, park advocate, countered, “We had the zoning ordinance sited, and attached for perusal if the signer wished to see it.”

He did acknowledge that the text of the ordinance was not printed along the top of each signature page.

Hanford Adopts Its General Plan

The Hanford City Council adopted the 2035 General Plan and zoning ordinance at its April 24 meeting. The zoning ordinance changed the undeveloped 18 acres of the park from public facilities to residential.

The city filed the new zoning ordinance on May 2; the Hidden Valley Park advocacy group had until June 1 to hand in the signatures.

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.

Those objecting to the zoning change and working on the referendum don’t want the 18 acres sold to a developer. Park advocates want Hanford to have a 38-acre park as a community gathering place, to draw outside visitors, and be a symbol of pride for the city.

Councilmember Justin Mendes said in a Facebook post that the park “was originally purchased for a Storm Water Basin. Over time, the basin was not developed and the city listed it as surplus property many times. The city never developed the land into anything else and lacking political will, never sold the ground.”

Hanford city attorney Ty Mizote confirmed Mendes’ view during the June 6 city council meeting by reading the minutes from an October, 1967 city council meeting stating the city wanted 12 acres for a sinking basin. The city council at that time voted to sell the excess at fair market value.

Park advocates point to Hanford Sentinel articles, site maps, and personal testimonies that contradict those 1967 meeting minutes. The advocates’ sources state that all 38 acres were meant to be a park.

Mendes and Councilmember Francisco Ramirez favor selling the vacant 18 acres to a developer and using the money to build an indoor recreational facility.

All of the city council members voted in favor of the zoning change at the April 24 meeting except Councilmember Sue Sorenson, who had a family emergency. Even if she had been in attendance, the Fair Political Practices Commission advised her to recuse herself due to a conflict of interest. Sorenson did vote, however, in favor of designating the 18 acres as surplus, which is the first step towards selling the property.

Park Advocates Vow to Continue the Fight

Several proponents of the park spoke at the June 6th Hanford City Council meeting to voice their outrage.

Pratter said that some signatories did not put the word “Hanford” on “what were obviously Hanford addresses.”

He accused the city of using a “strategy of legal technicalities to scuttle the will of the voters.”

“It is wrong and misguided. The city’s argument is a short-sighted scheme to destroy our parkland for the sake of developers’ dollars,” Pratter said. “What the signatures show is that the support for the parkland is broad-based and deep.”

Mizote took umbrage at Pratter’s saying the city rejected the petitions on a technicality.

“The statute is very clear that that every signature must put that they live in Hanford. This is not a technicality.”

Mizote cited a case in Monterey County that was upheld in appellate court.

“They faced a very similar situation where people were very unhappy with the zoning. There was a referendum attempt, petitions circulated, and signatures collected but the registrar said they did not collect enough signatures,” Mizote said.

He also said that the signatures all had addresses — but not enough of them designated in what city the signatories lived.

Pratter informed the council at the June 6 city council meeting that the Friends of the Hidden Valley Park intended to challenge the city clerk’s action in Kings County Superior Court.

“We are confident that a fair-minded judge will rule that the signers are indeed from Hanford and that getting a referendum on the ballot is the lawful will of the voters,” Pratter told the council.

“In the event there is a lawsuit we will be prepared to use this appellate case which is the binding authority,” Mizote countered.

“As it stands now, the referendum is dead.”

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