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Hidden Falls park-funding wrangle heading to Board of Supervisors

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s parks panel has added its support to controversial plans for $150,000 in developer fees the Auburn Recreation District argues could be better spent elsewhere. The county parks commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to recommend to the Placer County Board of Supervisors that the money be put toward expansion of Hidden Falls Regional Park. The park, about halfway between Auburn and Lincoln, recently received county clearance to move ahead on plans to build more trails that would allow Hidden Falls to expand from its current 221 acres into nearly 1,000 more acres. A parking-lot expansion and road improvements are also part of the $4.5 million project. The Auburn Recreation District is opposing the funding and has support from the Auburn City Council, North Auburn and Newcastle-Ophir municipal advisory councils. They have a list of localized needs that includes soccer-field rehabilitation, a swimming pool upgrade and Americans With Disabilities Act facility improvements. Recreation district Director Scott Holbrook of Auburn said he was disappointed with a decision by the parks board that appeared to be a rubber-stamp on the expenditure and didn’t consider the needs of the residents of Area 5 – the Auburn-area zone in which the fees came from. Holbrook said families that wouldn’t be involved in horse activities make up a vast majority of Area 5 residents and it appeared the horse trails lobby was able to provide too much clout at Tuesday’s meeting. The Area 5 developer fee fund would drop from about $210,000 to $60,000 if the Hidden Falls funding is removed. That would result in several projects being put off because of lack of funding, Holbrook said. “They snubbed their noses at Area 5’s needs and wants,” Holbrook said. A preponderance of speakers at Tuesday’s parks board meeting were in favor of spending the $150,000 on the Hidden Falls project, said Jaede Miloslavich, executive director of Action Coalition for Equestrians. Miloslavich said the group included hikers, a Boy Scout leader, senior hikers and cyclists as well as equestrians. “Everybody was there because they cared about their park,” Miloslavich said. “The vast majority were from Placer County but there were others from El Dorado County as well.” Dee Meredith, an Auburn resident who rides in the park frequently, said she was “tremendously happy” with the vote. Final approval would come from the Board of Supervisors, who could take up the recommendation within the next couple of months. “It tells you what the people want,” Meredith said. “And the legacy is going to be here for generations.” The Auburn parks district and the city of Auburn see the allocation as a diversion of funds that veers away from a traditional formula that normally sees about 75 percent to 80 percent of developer-fee dollars going to local projects decided on by the district board. That’s particularly troubling at a time when few new developer fees are expected, Holbrook said. Andy Fisher, parks division planner, said that the county is attentive to the needs of Area 5 residents and there are many worthy projects. But the $150,000 is needed for Hidden Falls because the money is pivotal as local funding in receiving other outside grants to keep the project on track, he said.