A majority of the city council informally told staff Tuesday that the proposed citizens’ initiative to save the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park does not follow the city’s General Plan.
At its August 4 meeting, Councilmembers Sue Sorensen, Martin Devine and Mayor John Draxler said the initiative deprives people in other areas of park space, prevents an equitable distribution of parks, puts medium-density housing in low-density housing neighborhoods and requires the city to pay the bill for a special election.
While the majority of the council opposes the initiative, it cannot stop the initiative process. Backers, Saveourparkland93230, have until October 29 to gather 2,644 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
Late in the council meeting Vice Mayor Francisco Ramirez held out an olive branch to the initiative backers by proposing a joint meeting with the backers to forge a possible compromise.
Mark Pratter, a spokesman for Saveourparkland93230, said the city has not contacted the group but the group would have a statement on Ramirez’s proposal if and when the city contacts the group.
The sale of the 18 acres west of the park could net the city more than $1 million, according to information presented to the previous city council.
Last month the Hanford Planning Commission decided that the decision on what to do with the undeveloped half of Hidden Valley Park be left up to the voters. But the council often opposes the recommendations of its commissions which are intended to give the public a voice on city issues.
Councilmember Art Brieno and Ramirez said they wanted to follow the planning commission’s recommendation to allow the initiative to be decided by the voters.
Members of the park group and others in the audience spoke against attempts to derail the initiative. Pratter said the group’s attorney advised them that the council majority’s position that the initiative will require a special election is false.
If the initiative qualifies to get on the ballot, the council could decide to put the election on the November 2022 ballot when there is a general election, said Pratter. It is too late to get the initiative on the November 2021 ballot.
Sorensen, he said, talks about providing facts and honesty and transparency, but what this is really about is one thing: money.
Nathan Odum said it was Sorensen who voted to list the property as surplus before the zoning was changed and then directed staff to rezone the property from public facilities to low-density residential. These actions were taken by a majority of the previous city council which included Sorensen.
Bob Ramos, a member of the park group, said 42% of the public–the number is actually 48%–registered their opinion in a city-sponsored poll that all of the land next to the existing park should be kept for park expansion. This was a majority of those polled. The poll was included in the city’s recently adopted Parks Master Plan.
Sorensen’s district includes Hidden Valley Park. She has long been a staunch opponent of developing the second half of Hidden Valley Park which is located at 11th and Cortner in North Hanford.