City council begins next phase of open space preservation

As the city moves forward with townhome complexes and housing developments, officials are also taking a step in the preservation of local open space.

The Claremont City Council Tuesday approved a six-figure master plan to comprehensively address concerns at the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park.

For several years the city council has been working to address overcrowding, littering and safety issues at the popular North Claremont landmark. While temporary fixes have been adopted, like restricting the hours of the park and charging users for parking, in July the council agreed to move forward with a master plan to address overarching goals at the park.

With the council’s unanimous approval, MIG, Inc.—a Berkeley-based consulting company that specializes in recreational areas—will lead the city’s work in analyzing the popular public leisure spot to create an inventory of existing conditions at the park, take a look at the park’s carrying capacity, evaluate parking, develop a site map and create a public participation plan.

Additionally, the council added a resource management plan to the overarching master plan, to discuss ways of protecting and enhancing the park’s natural wildlife.

Councilmembers hope the finished product will help the city better manage the park as a recreational destination for current park enthusiasts while preserving the space for generations to come.

“The word is balance,” said Councilmember Sam Pedroza. “It is a balance between the natural resource we have here and it is a balance between the recreation amenities…and it is also a balance with the neighborhood.

“What we are doing here tonight, I know it’s a tall order…but I think we do have very engaged residents that want to spend that expensive amount of time to commit themselves to making sure we are doing this right,” he finished.

After months of city reviews, which included community input, residents were overall pleased with the city’s due diligence in moving the plan forward.

“We have been waiting for this night for a long time,” said Lissa Peterson, president of the board of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy.

Though pleased with the proposal’s scope of work, Ms. Peterson emphasized the importance of addressing the park as both a recreational opportunity as well as an environmental resource to be preserved.

“We don’t want to lose the natural beauty and the natural qualities that are there in our foothills so preservation is extremely important to us. This is a great environmental resource that we have all worked to save and that we hope to continue to expand.”

Fellow conservancy member Terry Grill chimed in, thanking city officials for keeping an open process of developing a master plan, while adding the importance of keeping the public engaged in the work ahead.

“The number of public meetings and the involvement of the public will allow us to fully evaluate the issues that are at hand for a variety of the stakeholders involved in this park,” Ms. Grill said. “By increasing the amount of public participation we may gain the most creative solutions that may not be obvious until we engage a number of the public stakeholders.”

Not all were on board with the plan. Claremont resident Hugh Wire, who has started a petition with a few other locals who were recently cited for staying in the park after hours, said he would like to see the plan focus more on community outreach.

“These people [park users] are not just a problem, they are not just a threat to the environment and not just problems to the residents. They are people that are making themselves healthy and they are potential allies. Rather than people to be regulated, these are sentient human beings that have ideas and willingness.”

Noting that park usage is closer to 300,000 people, Council member Larry Schroeder pointed out to Mr. Wire the city has done its due diligence in communicating with park users, through the city’s website, repeated public meetings and signs posted at the park itself.

City officials say they will continue to engage the public in finding solutions to the wilderness park overcrowding in the months and year ahead, as work on the master plan gets underway. The estimated completion date of the plan is expected in January 2015.

—Beth Hartnett


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