HANFORD — Once again, citizens are fighting to keep the vacant, city-owned, 18-acre parcel west of Hidden Valley Park as public facilities.
Earlier this month, a group of citizens submitted a notice of intent to circulate petition with the city to put an initiative on the November 2020 election ballot to rezone the 18-acre parcel back to “public facilities” from its current designation of “low-density residential.”
The 18-acre parcel west of the Hidden Valley Park has remained undeveloped for over 40 years and has been the subject of many city discussions over the last couple decades. Residents have voiced strong opinions in favor of converting most, if not all, of the land into additional park space.
The parcel was zoned for “public facilities” until the city’s 2035 general plan update was adopted in 2017, when the zoning was changed to “low-density residential” — much to the dismay of dozens of residents who spoke against the rezone during council meetings at that time.
Rezoning the land, which was purchased by the city in 1967, opened up the possibility of selling the property.
Mark Pratter with the “Save Our Parkland 93230” citizens group was one of the initiative’s sponsors. Pratter said it has long been the community’s wish to turn the vacant land into an extension of Hidden Valley Park.
“It’s the closest thing Hanford has to sacred ground,” Pratter said.
He said the Save Our Parkland group, which has a core group of about 10 people and many other supporters, would like to see something like a walking trail, grass, trees, lighting, security cameras and some parking put in the area.
Pratter said the city is short of park space, and while he’s not against city growth, he believes this space would be too much of a loss.
“We’ll never be able to acquire that much land,” he said.
Pratter, who has been dedicated to this issue for the past four years, said councils from the past up until the present have tried to sell the parcel, but inevitably dozens of citizens would show up to the council meetings and plans would halt.
He has even knocked on doors in the surrounding neighborhoods several times and said most people he’s talked to want to keep the land as park space.
However, Pratter said the fight isn’t getting any easier. He said he is disappointed in the fact that there has been very little dialogue between the city and the community on this issue.
“There’s no compromise,” he said. “There’s no dialogue and there’s no compromise.”
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After submitting the initiative, Pratter said the city attorney’s office looked it over and sent back a letter that identified issues with the initiative.
As part of the initiative, the group proposed substituting the vacant 18 acres with various other properties that the city owns that are vacant and could instead be designated as “low-density residential.”
According to the letter sent back to Pratter, which was provided to the Sentinel by City Attorney Ty Mizote, zoning changes in some of the proposed properties will create numerous General Plan inconsistencies
In addition to other conclusions, the letter stated that “Expansion of [Hidden Valley Park] by eighteen (18) acres will result in an unequitable distribution of parks within the community and may divert the City's financial resources in a manner that precludes the construction of a new eastern and/or western community park in accordance with the General Plan.”
Mizote said the initiative proponents now need to determine if they intend to begin collecting signatures based upon the proposed initiative in its current form, or whether they will modify the initiative to address the issues identified in the letter.
Pratter said the group will consider the city’s objections and resubmit a new initiative soon with more suitable properties proposed to be rezoned. He said they plan on moving forward with gathering signatures after this.
“Our feeling is that we’re on solid ground,” Pratter said.
If the signatures are verified and accepted, he said the initiative would be on November 2020 election ballot.
In the meantime, he said members will continue to go to council meetings to lobby for what they want and will mobilize the community by knocking on doors, distributing fliers and getting as much attention on this as possible.
“It is really in jeopardy,” Pratter said of the land. “This is very serious.”
It is also still possible that the city could move forward with selling the property during this time — a scary thought to someone who loves parks.
“We just don’t know. It’s a roller coaster,” Pratter said, adding he has a hard time going to the area now. “To think that we could lose it — it just slays me.”
If the property were to be sold and developed with houses, Pratter wonders what that would do in terms of pollution, not to mention the current ecosystem already present in the green space.
“It’s our responsibility to preserve this so that the next generation has it,” Pratter said. “If we don’t do this, it’s going to be lost.”