Hidden Falls Park gets Placer funds over rec district protests

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Weathering strong opposition from the Auburn Recreation District, Placer County supervisors approved a $150,000 request today for developer fees to help fund the expansion of Hidden Falls Regional Park. Auburn Recreation District and its supporters came up empty-handed in an attempt to convince supervisors that the money could be better spent on projects the local parks board is planning in the Auburn area. The vote in favor of granting the funding was 4-1, with Supervisors Robert Weygandt, Jim Holmes, Rocky Rockholm and Kirk Uhler siding with the county parks division and Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery casting the lone “no” vote. Four of five Auburn Recreation District directors – Jim Ferris, Gordy Ainsleigh, Curt Smith and Scott Holbrook – addressed the board in an attempt to convince supervisors to either find the money somewhere else in its plus-$700-million budget or divide the $150,000 for Hidden Falls from a wider area. “Find a fair way to fund the project,” Holbrook said. “If everyone chipped in on this project, we wouldn’t be here.” The recreation district now faces a near future with very little money in its capital fund for projects. At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the Meadow Vista-Auburn recreation fee area held $276,194. But after supervisors approved $105,000 in park dedication fees for the district for a ¾-mile trail around Auburn’s Recreation Park and the $150,000 for Hidden Falls, that figure was down substantially. The park district found some sympathy from Uhler, who said that it was unfortunate the district didn’t have a funding structure of its own established for capital projects. But Uhler added that the county started the developer fee program in 1979 and took criticism for establishing rates for park infrastructure that developers have to pay on new construction. “It’s important for people to know these are county dollars,” Uhler said. Montgomery voted against the appropriation after rejection of her own plan for dividing the money from a wider geographic area, since residents from all over the county could use Hidden Falls trails. She proposed sharing the cost among all five supervisorial districts – with Lincoln and Auburn areas paying the most because of their proximity to the park. But she prefaced her remarks by saying she was “troubled” by “Auburn-area residents who appeared to feel they were entitled to county parks fees.” “I want to make it clear that they are county monies that can be shared but do not have to be,” Montgomery said. Ainsleigh – noting that the traditional share of park fees for the district had dropped from 75 percent to 65 percent over the past five years – presented a plan that would have seen 15 park districts in the county contributing from $1,000 to $75,000 a year. “It’s an easy solution,” Ainsleigh said. The $150,000 from the Auburn-Meadow Vista fund will be combined with $109,000 from the Lincoln area and $46,000 from Ophir-Newcastle to pay for a final piece in the Hidden Falls expansion project’s funding puzzle. The project itself will cost more than $4 million – with funding from the Auburn developer fees also ensuring $1.9 million in time-sensitive grants would not be lost, according to county staff. Located between Auburn and Lincoln, the park is being targeted for about 20 more miles of trails and expanded parking as it grows from about 221 acres opened in 2006 to 1,200 acres. “It’s so important the jewel of Placer County parks continues to shine,” said Jaede Miloslavich, executive director of the Meadow Vista-based Action Coalition for Equestrians. The lack of $150,000 won’t mean layoffs, recreation district Administrator Kahl Muscott said in an earlier interview. But the district may be forced to dip into general fund money in the future for work usually paid for through the developer fee fund, he said.