Hanford Planning Commission Apprehensive on Park Vote

This article has been updated to reflect the results of June 13’s Planning Commission meeting.

While the ink was barely dry on Hanford’s newly minted General Plan, the city planning commission was expected to take the next step in preparing the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park for sale at its June 13 meeting.

But things didn’t go as predicted.

Presented by Community Development Director Darlene Mata as just a routine procedure, the planning commission handed down a surprise no vote. The votes were four against and three in favor.

The four against were Commissioners Dennis Ham, Angel Galvan, Ajmer Nahal, and Travis Paden.
Commissioner Michael Johnston expressed dismay at the final vote and wasn’t sure what more the commissioners needed to find the disposition of the 18 acres consistent with the 2035 General Plan.
The staff report to the planning commissioners stated,

The staff report to the planning commissioners continued,

“California Government Code Section 65402 requires that the disposition of real property be reviewed by the Planning Commission for determination as to whether the sale conforms to the City’s adopted General Plan.

Analysis: Low-density residential land uses surround the property to the north, west, and south. Any future development of the property would be required to meet the development regulations set forth in the Hanford Municipal Code for the R-L-5 Low-Density Residential zone district. New low-density residential development would be compatible with the existing and surrounding low density residential developments.”

The 18 undeveloped acres of Hidden Valley Park were changed from zoned as Public Facilities to Low Density Residential at a special Hanford City Council meeting on April 24.

The Planning Commissioned was tasked with complying with the government code necessary before the council could approve the sale of the property.

Galvan said that it was difficult to vote for consistency if the commissioners did not have a copy of the 2035 General Plan; Mata said that their big printer was being repaired, and directed the Commissioners to look at the General Plan on the city’s website.

Paden said that he would have appreciated all the backup documents being available during last week’s city council meeting, such as the 1967 City Council minutes. Mata replied that all of the material was available for review at the administration’s front desk.

Paden said he didn’t want to review documents at the front desk — but that he wanted supporting documentation in his agenda packet.

The four commissioners who voted against finding consistency appeared to be very uncomfortable with the rezoning of the property to residential, though none said so directly.

The commissioners instead voted unanimously to continue the discussion and vote again during their regular June 27 meeting.

During public comment, Mark Pratter, organizer of Friends of Hidden Valley, asked the commissioners that even if they find it consistent with the general plan, he hoped they would not find it consistent with the will of the people.

He pointed out that the commissioners’ vote was one more step needed by the city to sell the second half of Hidden Valley Park. The first three were when the city council voted to designate the land as surplus, then rezoned the property, and finally approved the General Plan on April 24.

Hanford resident Bob Ramos said that soon the city’s population will be 70,000 and they will need more parkland, not less. He said that Hanford didn’t have this problem until City Manager Darrel Pyle and Mata came to work for the city.

Though Pyle and Mata have never publicly said they want the land sold, this accusation has surfaced in several meetings concerning the park. Park advocate Mike Quinn said that ever since Pyle came to town the park has been fast-tracked to be sold. Quinn referred to Pyle as a big project city manager only out to accent his resume.

Pat Johnson, also a member of the Friends of Hidden Valley Park, said that the city council could have set aside the zoning disagreement about the park and voted to pass the rest of the General Plan.

She also brought up a popular compromise where park advocates proposed finishing Roger’s Road and let the city sell the far nine acres but extend Hidden Valley Park with the closest nine acres.

The fact that both of these proposals never gained traction was evidence to the park advocates that the city is only interested in selling the 18 acres. Nate Odom had the final say during public comment, “The fact that we have to be here yet again is ridiculous.”

Although Hanford residents have strongly opposed selling Hidden Valley Park, their city councils have put the issue on the agenda approximately ten times in the last 15 years.

Pratter, who spear headed a referendum attempt to reverse the zoning of the 18 acres, said the Friends of Hidden Valley Park’s strategy is to tie the city up legally so the property can’t be sold. He said that the property was bought with state money back in 1967. According to the Quimby Act, cities cannot sell land bought with state funds.

Pratter also said that environmental lawyer Richard Harriman will soon be filing a suit to challenge the city’s rejection of the group’s petitions in support of the referendum. The suit will challenge the city’s rejection of the signatures and will challenge the city’s assessment that the petition’s language was insufficient.

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

Laying the Ground Work

The Hanford City Council decided at its March 7 meeting to list the undeveloped portion of Hidden Valley Park as surplus. Listing a property as surplus is the first step in making it available to be sold. Councilmembers Justin Mendes, Sue Sorenson, and Francisco Ramirez were in favor while Martin Devin was non-committal.

Councilmember David Ayers was the only one opposed to listing the 18 acres as surplus.

During public comment at that meeting, a report was cited that said that Hanford has 155 acres of community parks. This means that there are only 2.2 acres of open space of parkland per 1,000 people. But in reality the number of acres per 1000 residents could be significantly less because the staff included open space acres that are fenced off to the public.

The National Recreation and Park Association recommends 6.25 acres per 1000 residents. This recommendation was cited by the Hanford Parks and Recreation and Open Space Master Plan.

Pratter said that Hanford’s city council was the worst in the county in terms of representing the will of its residents.

“They do anything they can to thwart you. We just gathered 2,769 signatures of Hanford residents who don’t want the city to sell the 18 acres,” Pratter said.

“What is it they don’t understand?”

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