Yolo smooths out parks master plan: Yolo (County CA) Enterprise, 5/17/05

By Elisabeth Sherwin

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors was scheduled this morning to review the process that has been used to update the initially controversial draft Parks and Open Space Master Plan.

The draft plan met with considerable unhappiness when it was first made public earlier this spring. The main opposition came from landowners who feared the county was going to build public trails across private ranches, possibly by invoking eminent domain.

However, county staff held many public meetings, at least two specifically with rural landowners, and further explained the county's position, according to an advance staff report.

Staff made clear that possible sites of future parks and open space areas will not identify specific private land. The revised plan will emphasize willing participation and mutually beneficial partnerships. It also will present possible future park components as suggested ways to expand recreational and open space opportunities; these may not necessarily involve land acquisition.

Further, staff emphasized that the draft plan did not mention, nor was it intended to support, the use of eminent domain. The revised plan will clearly state that it is not the county's intent to use eminent domain for projects outlined in the master plan, nor is implementation of the plan dependent on eminent domain.

Staff also will remove all reference to Conaway Ranch as potential county-owned open space. The status of the 17,300-acre Conaway Ranch property is the subject of ongoing legal actions involving the county and other parties, and references to it will be removed from the revised plan. The county has initiated an eminent domain action to buy the land.

(On Monday afternoon, a news conference was called for 11 a.m. today at the County Administration Building in Woodland to announce news regarding the Rumsey Branch of Wintun Indians, the county and Conaway Ranch. The tribe's public relations spokesman, Doug Elmets, would not describe in advance what the announcement concerned but the county has been seeking more than $50 million to buy the ranch property.)

At the board meeting today, staff was going to hear from supervisors and members of the public in preparing revisions to the master plan in the hopes that most of the contentious issues had been addressed.

Staff says the need for recreational areas and open space continues to be a demand in Yolo County.

As a steward of public lands, the county is faced with the challenge of balancing often-competing user needs. This process for managing evolving demands within county parks is often difficult because a clear vision for the management of these lands is not defined.

Through the development of a park and open space master plan, a management directive would be available to staff and the public to provide a clear direction for the planning, development, and management of county parks.

Earlier this year, the board determined that a countywide plan was needed and selected a consulting firm to assist the county. The Dangermond Group, in association with Roberts, Kemp and Associates, was selected based on a recommendation of a subcommittee of the Parks, Recreation and Wildlife Advisory Committee that included chairman Andrew Fulks, Sally Barrett and Jerry Hartwig.

In May 2004, county staff and the consultants (the planning team) began developing the public outreach process. First, a list of potentially interested agencies, advisory committees, citizen groups, individuals, and businesses was developed to be contacted about the plan and planning process.

In addition, a Web site with the sole purpose of educating the public on the park master planning process was developed.

In total, there were nine public meetings in 2004 and 12 public meetings to date, including four public workshops.

The background reports, public outreach and public meetings all led to the creation of the draft master plan, released in February. Several public workshops were held, including a March meeting with rural landowners at the Farm Bureau to gather additional input and provide clarification on the draft plan.

"These meetings were very helpful, as the staff heard a perspective that was missed during the initial public workshops," said John Bencomo, director of planning and public works, in his staff report.

Nearly 100 individuals submitted a total of 50 written comments about the proposed master plan. From these comments, several reoccurring themes and issues became apparent, including questions about plan implementation, the identification of private lands as future parks, the issues of eminent domain and Conaway Ranch and financing for future parks.

Once staff has provided the supervisors with an update on the planning process and heard their comments, the planning team will then revise the draft master plan and return it to the parks advisory commission for more public comment and a recommendation to the board.

The final plan must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Yolo Enterprise: www.davisenterprise.com