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Placer County, Auburn Recreation District in brouhaha over Hidden Falls meeting notification

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County has set a date for the Board of Supervisors showdown over Hidden Falls Park. But the decision to schedule it July 27 is being made in the middle of a swirl of accusations by opponents. Scott Holbrook, an Auburn Recreation District director, said an e-mail sent out June 4 rallying support to funnel $150,000 in park developer funds to the county’s Hidden Falls Park expansion shows the county is working behind the scenes to thwart opponents’ efforts. The e-mail from a Meadow Vista Trails Association leader said the board would consider it Tuesday. Holbrook said that despite efforts by the recreation district to pin down a date and regular contact with the county, District Administrator Kahl Muscott wasn’t notified until last Monday – 10 days after the e-mail by Meadow Vista Trails Association President Claudia Booth was sent. “They got caught with their pants down,” Holbrook said. “We were nervous about notification. We felt all along that games were being played. They told the trails people and not us.” But Claudia Booth, trails association president and author of the e-mail, said that she never knew for certain that the $150,000 request was going to be on Tuesday’s agenda. Instead, she had learned that it would not take place on June 8 and found the next meeting date to be June 22. “I didn’t know if it was specifically Hidden Falls (on the agenda),” Booth said. “I assumed it would be there.” The wrangle eventually drew County Executive Officer Tom Miller into the discussion. In an e-mail to Holbrook, Miller wrote that he had not participated in any conversations with Booth nor the parks division on an agenda matter that would have been coordinated through his office and the clerk of the board. The recreation district, along with Newcastle-Ophir, North Auburn and Meadow Vista municipal advisory councils, are opposing the county parks division’s attempt to use the money for Hidden Falls park work. The county parks division is recommending the expenditure from the Auburn area’s Recreation Area 5 coffers that now hold about $210,000. The plan has the support of the county Parks Commission, which voted 5-0 in April to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the funding be approved. The recreation district estimates that the loss of $150,000 it feels it is entitled to represents about 30 percent of the developer funding for capital improvements it will receive in the next five years. The developer fee fund originates with the $3,855 paid for each single-family dwelling for capital improvements. “For us, $150,000 represents a large amount of money,” Muscott said. The Auburn Recreation District is fighting the proposed allocation because of its own list of projects, including creation of a playground accessible to disabled children, a small third soccer field at Auburn’s Railhead Park and wheelchair accessibility to a softball field at Regional Park. The recreation district and other opponents of the Hidden Falls funding proposal are now looking toward the July 27 date. “It’s unfortunate we were not notified with as much notice as the horse people,” Muscott said. “The county has taken remedies to move it back another month to get our supporters out.” The county plans for the money involve leveraging the local fees to receive grants for trail construction and other work. The $4.5 million Hidden Falls expansion project needs $2.7 million in outside grants, with most of it coming from the state. Located north of Mount Vernon Road between Auburn and Lincoln, Hidden Falls is expanding its trail system from its original 221-acre footprint opened in 2006 onto an adjacent 961-acre property owned by the county.