Placer County supes, Rec District move closer to Hidden Falls showdown

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A funding wrangle over Hidden Falls Regional Park is moving closer to a showdown. The flap pits the Auburn Recreation District against Placer County, rural hikers and horse riders against urban ball field users, neighbors against neighbors. Verbal skirmishes have already broken out at municipal advisory commission meetings in the Auburn-Lincoln area and at a recent county Parks Commission session. But the war being waged over where much-needed developer fees will go – either to the Auburn Recreation District or the Hidden Falls expansion project – is yet to fully escalate. That will take place in front of the Placer County Board of Supervisors at a meeting expected within the next two months. At that time, the board will weigh all the different recommendations – and likely a lengthy round of public comment – before deciding on the fate of $150,000 in fees that are the major point of contention. The recreation district is attempting to retain the money for its own needs. The county Parks Division is recommending it be allocated now for an expansion of Hidden Falls Regional Park trails and other improvements. Plans are to build 11 more miles of trails by early 2011. The 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 two weeks ago to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the funding be approved. The Auburn Recreation District, spearheaded by Director Scott Holbrook, and supported by the Auburn City Council and the North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council, wants alternative funding from other county sources to be used. When Auburn’s Scott Holbrook took a walk at Placer County’s Hidden Falls Regional Park on a recent weekend he said appreciated the beauty but also saw opportunities lost elsewhere. The park is a good resource but spending the developer fees at the expense of Auburn Recreation District plans would shortchange families who need ball fields and other facilities rather than hiking and riding trails, he said. “They’re snubbing their nose at Area 5’s wants and needs,” Holbrook said. On Hidden Falls, the district has taken an aggressive stance against spending money it says would be better used. But Rex Bloomfield, a Meadow Vista resident and former county supervisor, said while the district portrays the funding request as a money grab by the county, the truth is the recreation district wants the money to make up for losses in revenues and hasn’t made a request through regular channels. “Why not just make a proposal and follow the rules?” Bloomfield said. “I’m not that empathic. They had a way to get the money but they didn’t make a proposal.” Bloomfield added that proposals to rebuild soccer fields or perform maintenance on rundown facilities wouldn’t be allowed because the fees are paid by developers to increase recreational opportunities caused by growth. “If it’s just general maintenance because of neglect, they don’t have a right to the park fund,” Bloomfield said. The parks district request already has one supporter on the board. Supervisor Jim Holmes, whose electoral district doesn’t take in the regional park but does cover much of the recreation district, said that he’s leaning toward support of the Hidden Falls expenditure. “You have to remember that those are county funds,” Holmes said. “The county has been very generous with the funds as long as the nexus is there for public access.” Holmes said examples of non-Recreation District funding in the area included tennis courts Placer High School built on its campus. Disputes when big projects come along aren’t unprecedented, Holmes said, citing the Newcastle Elementary School District’s objections over a sizeable sum that was approved for Del Oro High School stadium improvements. Kahl Muscott, Recreation District administrator, said the loss of the $150,000 in fees would be a significant setback for the district’s five-year capital improvement project plan. Over the next five years, the district calculates about $300,000 in developer park fees would be generated in Area 5. “That money, combined with the $219,000 that is currently available totals about $519,000,” Muscott said. “The loss of $150,000 represents close to 30 percent of the funds we were expecting over the next five years. “The list of projects that could be affected is lengthy, however the overwhelming majority are major renovations to our aging infrastructure and compliance with American With Disabilities Act regulations,” Muscott said. “If we lose this money, we will have to delay or outright cancel projects.” The county plans for the money involve leveraging the local fees to receive grants for trail construction and other work. Andy Fisher, project manager for the Parks Division, said the $4.5 million Hidden Falls expansion project needs $2.7 million in outside grants, with most of it coming from the state. The developer fee fund originates with the $3,855 paid for each single-family dwelling for capital improvements. The county has 16 different park districts or zone, in which money is collected and distributed. The Board of Supervisors is the ultimate decision-maker on funding dispensation. The board will also be deciding whether to recommend $109,000 from the Lincoln recreation area and $46,000 from the Ophir-Newcastle recreation area should also pay for continuing work on the Hidden Falls expansion. 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. The district also has to apply through the same process for developer fees. Like the parks department, the district must go through the municipal advisory councils for a recommendation and then to the parks commission. Once approved, the district or other agency signs a contract with the county and collects the requested fees when the project is complete.