Hanford Pays Consultant $96,000 to Update Parks Master Plan

Editors Note: The writer of this article has been involved in the efforts to save the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park for future park expansion

Pros Consulting was hired at a cost of nearly $96,000 to update Hanford’s park master plan.

Michael Svetz, lead consultant on the project, told members of the Hanford Parks and Recreation Commission that the firm will identify where Hanford needs future park acreage and pledged to engage diverse members of the community in developing the document.

Pros Consulting Inc., based in Indianapolis, has done master plans for cities such as Fresno, West Sacramento, San Clemente and Hayward, said Svetz. In addition, the firm ETC will conduct a statistically valid survey of Hanford residents to determine preferences on future parks needs.

But several city residents, who have repeatedly lobbied for better and expanded parks at city council meetings, were not included in initial discussions.

Svetz said his role was to give city staff a schedule for public comment periods and it was the staff’s role to identify focus groups within the community.

In a January 4 interview, Hanford Parks Director Craig Miller emphasized that the city is “not trying to exclude anybody.” There will be more public participation, he said.

Public Not Given Notice

Svetz said the first round of focus groups on the master plan were consulted December 17 and December 18. He said the parks master plan will be developed through a collaborative planning process engaging the community all the way through the process.

But the Parks and Recreation Commission Special meeting was held December 18 at noon, a time when most people can’t get off of work. Concerned residents also said there is a lack of backup materials available on the city’s website.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Patricia Lewis said she didn’t see any notice of this meeting in the Hanford Sentinel. A large group of people can’t come out to a public meeting, she said. People are busy, she said. They are working.

Alvin Dias, parks manager, said five to six people who regularly came to city council meetings were contacted about the meeting where Svetz gave a more than hour-long presentation. Svetz said 30-40 members of the public were consulted.

But Bob Ramos, a community activist, and this article’s author, who regularly attended council meetings on park issues, were not consulted. Prior to the noon Hanford Parks and Recreation meeting at city hall, there was a meeting in the conference room in the city manager’s office.  This author and Ramos did not receive notice of this meeting.

Asked about this, Dias said there wasn’t enough space in the conference room and the consultant would meet with other residents on January 15.

“I hope,” this author said, “this isn’t going to be a replay of the farce that was the public input process for the (Hanford) General Plan Update.”

Background

Although Hanford residents have strongly opposed selling Hidden Valley Park, their city councils have put the issue on the agenda approximately 10 times in the last 15 years. Residents have made clear that they want the city to save the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park at 11th and Cortner for future park expansion.

On several occasions the city councils have moved to sell the acreage only to pull back at the last minute due to public opposition. The latest effort occurred when the city updated its Hanford General Plan in 2017.

During 2017-18 discussions of the General Plan Update and the zoning change of the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park, Darlene Matta, Hanford Community Development Director, said that the city was not underserved in park space.

Based on the city’s staff estimation of park acreage, the council rezoned the property from public facilities to low density residential in spring of 2017, which means it could be sold at any time. City Manager Darrel Pyle has stated in numerous city council meetings that the sale could bring in an excess of a $1 million to city coffers and be used for other purposes such as a recreation center.

In response, Friends of Hidden Valley Park collected more than 2,700 signatures in July 2017 requesting that the council return the zoning on the 18 acres to public facilities, or have the matter put on the ballot for the voters to decide.

The city rejected the petition as legally invalid.

Ramos said the 18 acres need to be returned to the previous zoning, which is public facilities. “We can’t buy that park (the 18 acres),” said Ramos. “It would cost millions.”

The land needs to be kept for future park acreage, said Ramos. Residents on streets adjacent to the park have been repeatedly polled by citizens interested in Hidden Valley’s expansion and the residents have said overwhelmingly that they want the land to be developed into a park and not a housing development.

“The city is underserved in parks,” said resident Mike Quinn, objecting to the city counting schoolyards as park space.  “No one moves (here) on account of the books (being) well-balanced,” he said. “(They) move here because they like the way the city looks.”

Will the New Plan be Implemented?

Pros Consulting said the city needs to ask: where it is today, where it is going and how does the city get there? Many of the recommendations in Hanford’s 2009 Parks Master Plan were never followed.  For instance, on page 22 it stated the parcel west of Hidden Valley Park should be developed into an active or passive park or sold to fund other facilities.

He questioned the city staff’s ability to put into effect any master plan the city develops.

In developing the new master plan, Svetz cited data from the Environmental Systems Research Institute that presumed there will be more demands for parks and recreation as the city grows from 57,000 to 64,000 by 2033. He referred to the city’s bad air pollution but very little indoor recreation space to remedy the issue.

Questions, he said, are what would a new recreation center be? Would people use it? How close are people to parks and recreation in Hanford? How do people learn about parks and recreation in Hanford?  It is important, he said, to make sure people have the amenities they want and will use.

As part of the $95,895 cost, the firm of ETC will conduct a statistically valid survey of Hanford residents to determine their parks and recreation needs.   “The survey work is not a public process,” said Svetz. It’s an opportunity for the city staff, the consultant and people who work with the parks and recreation department to develop questions, he said.

Half to three-quarters of the survey contains common elements with other parks surveys conducted throughout the United States. The questions will be statistically valid, Svetz said. “ETC does this work all over the country, it’s one of the leaders in the industry.”

The survey will be conducted during January and February. There will be “no public say,” Svetz said “on (the) final format of the questions.”

Moving Forward

Other issues to be considered in the Hanford Parks and Recreation Master Plan are capital improvements, financing, operations and maintenance money and how much money would it take to replace a park that was developed into housing.

The timeline for further work, Svetz said, involves a January 15 city council work session, a parks and facility inventory in February, a determination on the level of parks and recreation services, and a program assessment.

Miller said he expected the master plan to be done by August or September. Among those involved in the planning process, said Svetz, will be community groups, school districts, various youth organizations, service groups and citizens.

Svetz said he recognized that the proposed Hidden Valley Park expansion was a “hot button issue” in the community but the resolution of it was just one element in the parks master plan. “Land use principles— design guidelines—govern whether the park is built,” he said.  The reason it has not been developed, he said, is not just money. “Our role,” Svetz said, “is to get to the bottom of this.”

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