More Questions than Answers at Hanford Planning Commission Meeting

The dark tan area represents land zoned as open space. The white, dashed area, added by the Voice, represents Hidden Valley Park as it exists today.

Frustrations were evident on the faces of the Hanford Planning Commissioners when meeting for the second time to vote on Hidden Valley Park and the General Plan.

The commissioners met on June 13, and then again on June 27, to confirm if the sale of the undeveloped 18 acres of Hidden Valley Park is consistent with the new General Plan.

The vote on June 13 was 4 – 3 against finding the sale consistent with the General Plan. City staff requested the commissioners take another vote in two weeks and that they would provide the documents needed by the commissioners.

The vote on June 27 was 5-1 in favor of finding the sale of the property consistent with the current General Plan.

The vote on the 27th was not easy for the commissioners who voted “no” on June 13. Commissioner Dennis Ham voted no on both dates. Commissioner Ajmer Nahal was absent on the 27th. Commissioner Angel Galvan gave what appeared to be a reluctant yes, and Commissioner Travis Paden said that he wished he had done more to prevent the situation from getting to this point.

Because the second half of Hidden Valley Park was zoned as residential in the 2035 General Plan, Paden said he felt obligated to leave his biases outside the chamber and now vote yes.

Explaining his no vote, Ham said that the city staff asked the planning commission to look at the Hidden Valley Park issue in March. This was more than a month before the 2035 General Plan had been approved by the city council. Seeing as the planning commission was still under the jurisdiction of the 2002 General Plan when the request was initiated, Ham found selling the 18 acres inconsistent because the land was zoned as Public Facilities at that time.

He also felt that the city staff lied to the city council about the number of acres of open space available to the residents of Hanford. Ham personally went to the Hanford School District to ask if school property was open for public use. The school district said no.

Councilmember Francisco Ramirez, who attended the meeting, said that school grounds are open to the public and are considered green space. The problem has been fencing it off because of vandalism. Ramirez said he got his information from the Hanford City Staff.

Paden was just as pointed as Ham with his comments about the veracity of the city staff’s numbers. Paden said that when “the math didn’t work” city staff manipulated the numbers to get the needed 3.5 acres per 1000 residents.  If Hanford reached this 3.5 goal, any open space above and beyond that could be declared as surplus.

Their calculations meant that the staff was free to present to the city council that the 18 acres were “surplus” when in fact they were not.

The city council voted March 7 to list the 18 acres as surplus, the first step towards selling the property.

Ramirez said that Paden is correct if you look at the 2002 General Plan. But the 2035 General Plan has open space acres set aside to reach the city’s goal of 3.5 acres per 10000 residents. The parks just aren’t built yet.

Hidden Valley Park Was Never Meant to Be 40 Acres – or Ws It?

Nate Odom, a member of the Friends of Hidden Valley Park, requested Hanford’s 1973 General Plan to ascertain if past city councils wanted a 40-acre park.

He received this response from the city clerk, Jennifer Gomez:

“We found one file described as General Plan Program (1973-1974), but it was destroyed on April 24, 1997 in accordance with the City’s Records Management Policy.”

Undeterred, Odom eventually found a copy of the 1973 General Plan from a family member of a former Hanford planning consultant.

According to the 1973 Hanford General Plan, the city council and staff wanted Hidden Valley Park to extend north of Cortner Street and south along Mussel Slough toward Grangeville Road, which would double the size of the park.

Councilman Justin Mendes has countered that belief by saying the land “was originally purchased for a Storm Water Basin.”

City attorney Ty Mizote confirmed Mendes’ statement by reading the minutes from an October 1967 meeting stating that 12 acres were to be used for a water basin and the remainder of the 38 acres would be sold.

While the 1967 meeting minutes are historically intriguing, they do not hold the weight of a city’s General Plan. As pointed out by Mendes, Hanford City Council members are prone to change their minds from one meeting to the next. This makes council minutes a capricious resource from which to base historical fact.

The following are sections taken from the 1972 General Plan.

1972 Hanford Community General Plan Program

Public Land Policy Considerations

Undeveloped public lands and developed public lands which are no longer suitable for the conduct of public functions for which the lands (and buildings) were originally acquired should not be considered as “surplus” property without there first being careful consideration given to potential for other public use. The availability of public lands should be viewed as an asset for the long-term benefit of the community which should not be sacrificed for the short-term gain.

 Summary of Major Proposals: Long-range plan

Additional open-space corridors along Mussel Slough and local canals would be acquired and developed. The community recreation park at Cortner and 11th Avenue would be extended north; and the vacated Santa Fe right-of-way would become a riding and hiking trail linking the community park and the Central Area.

Recreational Policies – Community Recreational – Park

The principal feature of the plan is the proposal for development and expansion of the community recreation-park located at 11th Avenue and Cortner Street.  The existing 38.5 acres would be designed to create and maintain a “natural” character. The park would offer recreation opportunities for the entire family of a variety and character which could not be provided within neighborhood recreation-parks due to limitations of space and natural amenities. Significant features of the park would involve a combination of special use areas and facilities within a realized natural setting. A fresh-water lake would be a prime feature, offering canoeing, fishing, wading, attraction for birds, reflection and other outdoor experiences without having to leave the urban area. Complementary features would include areas for family and group picnicking, open play, adventure play, pre-school play, day camping, nature study, outdoor theatre and council ring. Highly active and noise-producing activities would be excluded.

Riding and hiking trails would be provided throughout the park and continue along the section of Mussel Slough owned by the city which extends south of the park site to Grangeville Boulevard. The natural character of the park would be retained by limiting intensive activity areas, access drives and parking areas to the eastern end of the park.

The park would be expanded to include the land between Mussel Slough and the Santa Fe Railroad to the south and between the slough an 11th Avenue to the north of the existing site. Land to the south would be designed either as an executive par golf course or for further general park use.

Hidden Valley is Now in the Hands of the City Council

Nothing is definite on how the city council will vote on the 18 acres. Mayor David Ayers and Councilman Martin Devine have consistently said they don’t want to sell the park but voted in favor of rezoning the parcel as residential. Mendez has consistently said he would vote to sell the 18 acres. Vice Mayor Sue Sorenson has said she doesn’t support a 40-acre park but has shown a willingness to take her constituents wishes into consideration.

Hidden Valley Park is in her district.

Ramirez has told Friends of Hidden Valley Park that he will never make the motion to sell the park, but if someone else did, he would vote in favor to sell under two conditions.

One condition is, if he sees future revenue coming in from the Medical Marijuana facility, he will not vote to sell the 18 acres. Ramirez has also said that he will not sell the land unless the funds are earmarked for some sort of youth facility.

“I’m less interested in getting reelected than leaving a legacy. I’m concerned about the youth of Hanford and they need more facilities.”

With an air of resignation, Commissioner Paden ended his prepared statement during the June 27 planning commission meeting by saying, “After us, Hidden Valley Park will be in the hands of the City Council.”

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