The initiative to save the undeveloped half of Hidden Valley Park will be extended six months.
A local citizens’ group was supposed to turn in 2,693 valid registered voters’ signatures from Hanford by October 29. However, October 22 a new initiative was filed with the city clerk extending the signature deadline for six months.
This will give the initiative backers more time to gather signatures and the new initiative allowed the backers to address the city staff’s objections to the previous initiative.
The staff’s objections to the previous initiative were that it was inconsistent with the city’s General Plan which is the city’s blueprint for development.
A statement of overarching importance of keeping the 18 for future park space was included in the October 22 refiling, said Mark Pratter, a spokesperson for Saveourparkland93230, the initiative’s backers.
The statement said: “There is an overriding public purpose in the expansion of Hidden Valley Park by 18 acres, in that would help ensure that future generations of Hanford families, including those in underserved communities, will have adequate space to enjoy outdoor recreational and open space opportunities, while maintaining Hanford’s legacy of preserving community values and leaving the City a better place for our children and grandchildren.”
The signature gathering effort for the previous initiative was going well, said Pratter.
“Virtually everyone we asked to sign the initiative was willing to do so,” he said.
The extension of Hidden Valley Park has been a hot button issue in Hanford for years with periodic attempts by the city council to sell the property which is located at 11th Avenue and Cortner Street in North Hanford.
All efforts to sell the 18 acres over the years have been beaten back by public opposition.
However, the previous city council voted to rezone the property from public facilities (parks) to low density residential. That council also voted to declare the 18 acres as surplus, a prelude to selling it.
The city would receive in excess of $1 million for the property, according to an appraisal obtained by Darrel Pyle, the previous city manager.
A majority of the current council—Mayor John Draxler, Councilpersons Sue Sorensen and Martin Devine— is opposed to retaining the 18 acres for parkland even though the city’s own scientifically-conducted poll in 2019 concluded that the majority of those polled wanted the space to remain for future park space.
Sorensen has previously said the city does not need a 43-acre park and that new parks should be spread throughout the city as the need dictates. She also has agreed with the staff report that said the initiative is inconsistent with the city’s General Plan.
Interestingly Sorensen supported the city’s parks director’s efforts to get state grant money to build a 43-acre park at 9 ¼ Avenue. The grant application is due in December.
Sorensen just lost her Hanford City Council seat in District B to challenger Kalish Morrow in the November 3 election by 12 points.
The park issue played prominently in the elections and Morrow said she favors retaining the property for park space.
Councilperson Art Brieno, District E, favors retaining the property for parkland and Councilperson Francisco Ramirez, District D has proposed holding a study session on alternatives to the voter initiative on the issue. The idea was embraced by the other council members.
If Saveourparkland93230 is successful in getting the required number of valid signatures the measure would go on the ballot either in a special election or the next general election.
If the measure passes, the 18-acre property would be protected as park space for 30 years. The measure would also amend the city’s General Plan to rezone the property for public facilities.
Since state law does not allow any land designated for housing to be taken for other purposes without rezoning another area so an equal amount of housing can built, certain undeveloped areas within the city’s sphere of influence in Northwest Hanford now designated a “floating” open space would be redesignated for medium-density residential development, according to the initiative.
This change would also preserve sufficient land in this area for future neighborhood park development, the initiative said.
Arguments in favor of the initiative include that Hanford is short of adequate park space per person—something city staff and the council majority disputes—and that it is the community’s will to retain the 18 acres for future park space. In addition, initiative backers have said that there is too much development in Hanford and not enough green space.