Fickle Hillers File First Pushback For Ridge Trail – October 23, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mayor Stillman began the meeting with a round of introductions. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CITY HALL – The chairs were arrayed around the perimeter of Council Chamber last Thursday as the City Council met with the Open Space & Agriculture, Wetlands & Creeks and Parks & Recreation committees in a big joint session. Good thing, too, because with all the committees and participants, some 30 individuals were present.

The City’s citizen advisory committees often overlap in areas of interest, and risk duplicating efforts and creating conflicting policy. Better coordination is constantly sought.

Now, with several environmental initiatives in play, improved synchronization on projects and with the City Council’s goals prompted the joint meeting.

Not planned was a mini-revolt of property owners who live adjacent to one of the Arcata Ridge Trail’s key links.

The meeting began with introductions and an update on recent Arcata Ridge Trail fundraising events by Mayor Alex Stillman. Steve Lovett of the Open Space Committee said the recent equestrian forest ride raised $5,000 for the trail, adding to the near-$20,000 raised via Bat N’ Rouge and related events.

“Everything talked about in every committee here is grounded in the goals that the City Council adopted,” said Environmental Services Director Mark Andre.

He noted goals which mandate opportunities for forest expansion and for economic development, both of which the Ridge Trail assists with.

Fickle Hill rebellion

Mark Elking, who lives near the Ridge Trail’s proposed Fickle Hill Road crossing, said a dozen neighbors have formed a group and are compiling a list of concerns regarding impacts on their property from the Ridge Trail.

The trail’s proposed route crosses Fickle Hill Road, using a hoped-for conservation easement on property now owned by Ted and Cindy Humphry.

Elking said the area, which is outside city limits, is under the jurisdiction of Humboldt County, but that the City-backed Ridge Trail Project could complicate matters for neighbors.

“We’re afraid the county rules we have to live by will be taken over by the sovereign state of Arcata,” he said.

Murray Dulac said that his hot tub is visible from the Ridge Trail. “The trail looks right up on us,” he said. “Our house is the most affected… There have to be a number of mitigating items in order to appease us,” he said.

“We should have input into your process,” Elking said, “so that everyone just doesn’t think it’s all good and cool, because it’s not… We don’t feel like we’re represented, because we can’t elect anyone on the council.”

Deputy Director of Environmental Services Karen Diemer said the process was just beginning, and that county residents will be included in the trail development process.

Elking termed the situation “taxation without representation because we don’t have a say in the process.” “But you will,” Stillman said. “We’re glad that you’re organizing yourselves; that will be good for your neighborhood.”

Diemer noted several examples of the City actively involving near-Arcata residents in shaping projects that affect them. “We do look forward to working with you on that process,” she said.

Uri Driscoll, a member of the Open Space Committee, Fickle Hill resident and equestrian, said he was concerned about impacts as well, but that he supports the trail development. “They’re important trails to have,” the man said.

Councilmember Mark Wheetley said “adjacencies” often come up during trail projects and that the various committees should visit the neighbors’ residences, “get on the ground and actually see it” and map out solutions and mitigations.

“Before we cross Fickle Hill Road to tie two properties together there will have to be a lot of planning,” Andre said. Traffic and signage plus other concerns would require county cooperation. “It’s not just a City effort,” he said.

“We’ll have a collaborative effort,” Stillman said. “That’s how our staff works.”

Councilmember Shane Brinton said that the focus should be on mitigation measures, because the Ridge Trail is all but inevitable. “It’s hardly a done deal, but just to be honest, we’re holding major fundraisers and it’s been a dream for a long time, so it will happen,” Brinton said. “I just want to be clear about that.”

In days following the meeting, the Fickle Hill residents further organized. Objections to the trail crossing include increased traffic and vehicles using residents’ driveways to turn around, illegal camping and litter plus safety and privacy concerns, and more.

On to other issues

Forest Management Committee (FMC) Chair Russ Forsburg reviewed the summer’s Community Forest harvest, with 525,000 board feet cut on three scattered parcels totaling just under 20 acres. Revenue will augment the City’s Forest Fund.

He said monies will be used to acquire more property for additions to the forest. “Over time, we keep chiseling away at this, looking for proposals and funding sources,” he said. “It’s a long, slow process.”

FMC member Yana Valacovic said she was satisfied with the care taken during the forest harvest, and that the mitigation measures had been effective in minimizing impacts.

Andre noted that the 80-acre Forsyth Property (also known as the McDowell Property) east of Humboldt State University is on the market. Often mistaken as part of the Arcata Community Forest (as in last week’s HSU Lumberjack newspaper), the parcel is zoned Natural Resource and can’t be developed.

Because it is heavily impacted and not in any danger of residential subdivision, the City isn’t eager to acquire it. Stillman said that the matter came up during that morning’s City/HSU liaison meeting. Stillman added that HSU said it has no money to acquire the property, which has not yet been appraised..

Wetlands and Creeks Committee Chair Bob Brown reviewed that committee’s efforts to stay abreast of development projects and their evolving regulatory standards. Member Doug Kelly said that the committee’s annual creek workday was set for Saturday, involving both Jolly Giant and Janes Creeks. Kelly detailed a number of restoration projects in local parks, with large amounts of invasive plants removed from area creeks and parks.

Wheetley said the newly acquired Stromberg Property in Sunny Brae is overgrown with “old growth ivy.” “I thank all you volunteers, because it’s making a huge dent,” he said.

Parks and Rec Committee Chair Steve Martin said his group was focusing on dilapidated Rotary Park on South G Street, he said it “isn’t one of our crown jewels.” “Yet!” said Stillman.

Martin said an HSU student had surveyed the neighborhood as to its needs. Parks Superintendent Dan Diemer said the survey’s findings supported the goals in the new Parks Master Plan. He said the small park generates the most complaints of any park in the Arcata system.

Stillman asked Bigfoot Bicycle Club activist Rocky Brashear to comment on Rotary Park. Brashear said two apartment buildings’ bedroom windows face the park, limiting improvement options. “I think that’s going to be your biggest concern,” he said.

Brinton suggested that Rotary Park be developed as a traditional playspace for small children and family picnics, “Sticking with the concept of the park that’s already there, but making it better for the families.”

He said residents tell him that they feel neglected by the City. As the Arcata Bay Crossing transitional housing project develops at 250 E Street, Brinton suggested that Rotary Park be developed concurrently to offset impacts on the neighborhood and improve amenities for residents.

Martin said Redwood Park’s playground will require replacement within a few years. When that happens, the park should be reviewed as a whole and improved accordingly. He said the new ropes course has become extremely popular.

Dan Diemer said that all the City’s recreation program have seen “quite an increase,” with City facilities being used “at a level I haven’t seen in the last 12 years.”

Recreation Director Heather Stevens said a summer Marsh Explorers had been very successful with grade schoolers. A partnership with HSU’s Natural Resources department had brought science training to the program.

Open Space Chair Lovett said the depressed economy had ruled out creation of a tax-based open space district. He said a regional Western Greenbelt planning overlay is in development which could help preserve agricultural land in the Arcata Bottom.

A member of the Forest Fund Committee, Lovett said participation is welcome. He added that he’s a Fickle Hill Road resident and understands the neighbors’ concerns. “We want to make it as safe as tolerable as we can,” he said.

Lovett noted that a forest workshop was in the works to develop and Humboldt Bay Regional Community Forest from Fortuna to Trinidad.

Driscoll said he was excited about the recent equestrian ride in the Community Forest. It included 49 rides from areas as far away as Carlotta and Orick.

He said a dedicated equestrian facility is needed, as access to the forest is limited for horse riders. The Happy Valley area would well serve for such a facility, and that trail development could mesh well with planned industrial development there.

City Manager Randy Mendosa said the 14th Street Redwood Park entrance is being rebuilt, and when finished will accommodate equestrians very well.

Citizen Andrea Tuttle, former director of the California Division of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF), said she was “jazzed” by the energy of the meeting. “I just get a high listening to you,” she said.

She suggested that after hearing about all the youth-oriented events, that “aging baby boomers” be considered as participants for “cross-generational experiences and exposures.”

Stevens said Redwood Park’s ropes course was popular with older citizens. “Horse riders range from seven to 95 years old,” Driscoll noted.

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