Auburn district moves on PG&E's free parkland offer

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn Recreation District is moving to secure two parcels of Pacific Gas & Electric-owned land totaling 64 acres as future park sites. The two sites – 22 acres at the New Airport-Bell crossroads and 42 acres off Dry Creek Road near Interstate 80 – are being offered through the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council. Kahl Muscott, parks district administrator, said the two parcels – particularly the site off Bell Road in North Auburn – would be valuable additions to the district’s inventory of parkland. An agreement with the council to transfer ownership could be reached as early as the beginning of 2013, he said. Muscott said the Bell Road property has good vehicle access potential from New Airport Road and is within walking distance of nearby residential areas. The land is flat and could be used for future ball fields or as a trail and picnic area. “We don’t have money to develop the property so we would be relying on grants for future development,” Muscott said. “There is no time line to develop the property.” The council board of directors recommended Nov. 16 approval of the land transfer, which moves a process forward that requires future agreements between the recreation district and PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission and the stewardship council. The council is a private, nonprofit foundation established seven years ago as part of PG&E bankruptcy proceedings. A major goal is to ensure that more than 140,000 acres of watershed lands are conserved for public purposes. Heidi Krolick, council regional land conservation manager, said the next step is a 30-day waiting period in which the recommendation to approve the land transfer is finalized. Auburn’s Placer Land Trust has already been selected to hold the conservation easement on the land, she said. Funding will be available to help pay for transfer costs and possibly for future development of the sites, Krolick said. Part of the Dry Creek Road property is currently leased by the parks district from PG&E and includes a baseball-soccer field and the Tutor Totter Preschool. Muscott said the transfer would add extra land to the east and north of the property but there are limitations because of hilly areas and a deep ravine bisecting the site. Scott Holbrook, a park district board director, said the prospect of gaining new property is an exciting one but that he’ll move forward with an open mind and some concerns about the Dry Creek land. “I’m not convinced yet that ARD is the right recipient, especially when it comes to the adjacent property to the Tutor Totter Christian Valley field,” Holbrook said. “Up front, it sounds great, but there are concerns such as upkeep and other liabilities to the ARD.” Holbrook said that the PG&E property dispersal agreement guarantees land won’t be sold to developers. “I feel possibly that some other agency that specializes in open space types of land might be better suited for this,” Holbrook said. “With budgets that have little to no room for increased burdens, this worries me and I do not want to commit ARD to liabilities with questionable benefits.” The Bell Road land is more exciting because of its central location and its promise as a more manageable property to improve and maintain, Holbrook said.