A local parks advocacy group, Saveourparkland93230, mailed a revised initiative to the City of Hanford on March 30. The initiative is to save the 18 undeveloped acres of Hidden Valley Park from being sold and turned into single family housing.
Initiative sponsors are Mark and Patricia Pratter and Louis Martinez, a former city councilman.
The revision was necessary to satisfy technical objections raised by the city with the group’s November 4, 2019 initiative filing, said Mark Pratter, a spokesman for Saveourparkland93230.
The park advocacy group is asking the city of Hanford to put an initiative on the ballot at the next election. The initiative would involve rezoning the 18-acre property west of 11th Avenue and Cortner Street from low-density residential back to public facilities.
The 38 acres were purchased by the City of Hanford in 1967 when the population was only 16,000. The parcel was bought with taxpayer money with the intent that the land remain open space, be it a wilderness area, golf course, sports facility or developed parkland. Work on the park started in January of 1973. Development of the 38 acres was anticipated to take 10 years and would be split up into nine -acre increments.
A running concern expressed by the residents of Hanford concerning Hidden Valley Park is having enough acres of open space per person to maintain their quality of life.
The National Recreation and Park Association recommend 6.25 acres per 1000 residents. This recommendation was cited by the Hanford Parks and Recreation and Open Space Master Plan as a desirable goal for the city.
During meetings concerning the General Plan in 2017 it was reported by city staff that Hanford has 155 acres of community parks. This means that there are only 2.2 acres of open space or parkland per 1,000 people. But in reality the number of acres per 1000 residents could be significantly less because the staff included acres that are fenced off to the public.
Mickey Stoddard, a parks and recreation commissioner and former city recreation supervisor, pointed out that the Bob Hill Youth Athletic Complex (26.2 acres), SOCOM (40 acres), Softball Complex (32 acres), BMX Track (4.7 acres), Harris Street Ball Park (4.4 acres), and Hanford Joint Educational Softball Complex (21 acres) are fenced-in and locked up.
Community Development Director Darlene Mata has stated that the calculating of open spaces is complicated and that Stoddard’s summary is flawed.
Nevertheless, even at the rate of 2.2 acres of open space per person, as part of the city’s 2035 General Plan Update in 2017 the property was declared surplus by the city council and rezoned to its current low-density residential designation.
Close to 3,000 signatures were collected to reverse the zoning put in place in 2017 before the city rejected the petition. In addition, the residents of Hanford have had to show up en force more than a dozen times over the span of 20 years to prevent the city council from selling the parkland.
According to former City Manager Darrel Pyle, if the property were sold to a developer the city could get in excess of a $1 million for the land which is bounded by Cortner to the north, railroad tracks to the west and the existing Hidden Valley Park to the east.
The city council—except District E Councilman Art Brieno— and a majority of the previous council voted on actions pointing to a sale of the property for a housing development.
The current city council reversed a mid-December, 2019, action by its parks and recreation commission. The commission nearly unanimously recommended the council preserve the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park for a future park. The commission also recommended this provision be included in the city’s latest parks master plan.
But the council later voted 4-1 to approve the parks master plan without the provision to preserve the 18 acres. Brieno voted against omitting the provision to save the 18 acres from development.
Those voting to eliminate the 18 acres from the parks master plan consisted of: Mayor John Draxler, District A, Councilpersons Sue Sorensen, whose district B includes the park, Martin Devine, District C, and Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez, District D.
According to Pratter, when the city attorney certifies the current petition after a 15-day waiting period, there will be no signature gathering to get the new initiative on the ballot until the Covid-19 pandemic has cleared.
“We are not going to try to get signatures until people are totally comfortable that the pandemic has passed and their minds can return to everyday concerns like local politics,” Pratter said.