Mayor Francisco Ramirez announced at Tuesday’s May 4 Hanford City Council meeting that he will add an agenda item for the May 18 meeting to rezone the Hidden Valley Park extension property from low density residential back to public facilities.
The move, long-sought by advocates of an expanded Hidden Valley Park, was endorsed by Council Members Art Brieno (District E) and Kalish Morrow (District B). Morrow’s district includes the park located at 11th Avenue and Cortner Streets in North Hanford. The 18-acre extension property is west of the park and is owned by the city.
If Ramirez, Brieno and Morrow vote to rezone the property—a council majority— it would mark a major turning point in a bitter, 20-year struggle to save the extension property. Ramirez’s position represents a reversal of his stance on the issue when he served on previous councils. He said Tuesday the extended park was needed for future generations in a growing city.
Vice Mayor Diane Sharp (District C) has not announced her position on the park extension and outgoing Council Member John Draxler (District A) is opposed to extending the park.
In 2019 a majority of the council including Council Member Sue Sorensen voted to rezone the property to low density residential and declared the property surplus. This put the property a step closer to a sale. All the land was zoned for a housing development. Sorensen was a staunch opponent of extending the park even though it was in her district. She lost her re-election bid last November to Morrow, a park extension advocate.
A majority of residents (48 percent) in a city-sponsored statistically-valid poll in the recently prepared city Parks Master Plan said they wanted the property kept for park expansion.
Following the 2019 council vote, a citizens’ group, Saveourparkland93230, drafted a voter initiative to rezone the property to public facilities and prevent it from being sold for 30 years.
When Ramirez made his announcement Tuesday the group was gathering signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. The initiative is still underway at least until the council acts, said Mark Pratter, a spokesman for the group. If the council votes to rezone the property, the park group will then decide its next course of action, he said.
More than 90 percent of the people contacted about signing the initiative agree the property needs to be saved for park expansion, said Pratter. Those opposed to extending the park said the city’s park needs are best served by having parks in different areas of the city rather than having a large park at Hidden Valley. They also said the city cannot afford to build and maintain an expanded Hidden Valley.
Park expansion advocates said the city will never be able to acquire such a large tract of land for a park again. The land is city-owned. The expansion of Hidden Valley is the will of the overwhelming majority of the voters. There is already too much commercial and housing development in Hanford and an expanded park will help offset Hanford’s serious air pollution problems, said adovocates.
Simultaneously with the Hidden Valley controversy the city is attempting to get $8.5 million of state money to help build a 40-acre park at 9 1/4 and Florinda. Such a project would likely spur commercial and residential development on Hanford’s east side.