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Park plan sets priorities for the future

Nearly two years from its inception, a draft of the master plan for the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park is available for public review. Released on the city’s website last Thursday, it is intended to be a “living document,” serving the community for the next 20 years.

The plan summarizes the park’s existing conditions and usage, and aims to balance preservation with recreational use of the park in the years to come.

In late 2013, the city of Claremont selected MIG as the project consultant to bring all relevant conversations relating to the popular recreation area into one consolidated and coherent master plan. The purpose of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park (CHWP) Master Plan is to guide the management of the 2,000-acre wilderness area, which sees nearly half a million annual visits from people seeking to connect with the outdoors.

In a collaborative effort between city staff, members of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), Claremont Wildlands Conservancy, MIG and the community, the master plan includes environmental and usage data and recommendations for plan implementation upon adoption, as well as prescriptive ideas and possibilities for future implementation.

At nearly 1,000 pages including appendices, it’s a lengthy but comprehensive playbook on how the city can best preserve the park as an environmental resource, manage it as a passive recreational area and minimize the impact park attendance will have on the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Chapters 1 through 4 of the master plan provide background and guidelines about the management, operations and maintenance of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. Chapter 5 presents the implementation strategy, which MIG and city staff believe are the necessary actions that should be taken to minimize environmental and neighborhood impacts while still providing adequate access to the public.

The implementation plan includes 20 recommendations, both short-term and long-range activities and programming, with many addressing more than one master plan goal or desired outcome. The recommendations run the gamut from renaming the park to the Claremont Hills Wilderness Area (CHWA) and installing spike strips at the exits to the north parking lot to integrating informal trails into the trail network for management purposes.

While residents may be reading about some proposed recommendations for the first time, others will seem more familiar.

Two composting toilets are to be installed along the main loop, and kiosks located near the main entrance will be relocated to an area where visitors more regularly pass by.

Standard park operating hours will remain the same. City staff believes that the current hours strike the best balance between access to the park and limiting impacts to the neighbors.

The Red Flag Emergency Closure Policy will continue to be promoted onsite as well as on the city’s website. Trail open/closed signs have already been installed for easier notification and, if approved, the city’s Municipal Code will be updated to codify this policy.

Always a hot topic of conversation, whether it is a community town hall or city council meeting, is the parking situation at the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. A Congestion Parking Program as well as an increase in parking permit fees have been proposed in an effort to mitigate the problem.

After reviewing parking permit fees at other regional parks, staff has recommended raising the price of a four-hour temporary parking permit from $3 to $5 and increasing the price on an annual permit from $100 to $140.

In 2014, the city sold 400 annual permits over the year totaling $33,000 in revenue and, with the proposed increase in price, projects $46,300 in annual permit fees. In fiscal year 2013-14, 108,302 temporary parking permits were sold, bringing about $325,000 to the city. Factoring a possible 30 percent reduction in temporary permit sales with the higher price, staff still projects revenue of approximately $403,200, including revenue from congestion pricing.

What is the congestion pricing program? It goes something like this: The north and south parking lots have adequate space to accommodate visitors except during peak periods, typically weekend mornings when parking lots are full until 9 to 10 a.m. People who want to visit the park from opening until 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday will now pay $10 per temporary parking permit.

The south Thompson Creek Trail parking lot will be reserved for residents only during peak hours. Annual and resident permits would still be valid. As a consolation for the price increase, parking will be free in both lots on Sunday and Monday from noon until 4 p.m.

The city fears that consequences associated with the congestion pricing will include reduced visits overall and more parking migration or access through other entrances. If the recommendation is approved, the potential impacts will be closely monitored by the city.

Parking impacts have already resulted in restrictions being implemented to limit on-street parking to neighborhood residents with Residential Parking Permits (RPP). In June 2014, city council put a moratorium on any additional RPP zones until the CHWP Master Plan was complete.

However, at the main entrance on Mills Avenue, visitors continue to park along residential streets. Staff recommends that council approve an RPP policy specifically for the neighborhoods adjacent to the main entrance at Mills and the Pomello access point.

While some Claremont residents already benefit from the Residential Parking Permit policy, others do not. Via Padova serves the unincorporated area of Padua Hills where CHWP visitors have begun to park, creating safety concerns for residents. Because this roadway falls within the Los Angeles County unincorporated area, city staff proposes working with county representatives to advocate no parking along the southern limits of the street.

Creating a “Friends of the CHWP,” developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) and updating the Vegetation Management Plan are recommended as well.

Of all the recommendations, what may be most difficult for some longtime Claremonters to swallow is no longer referring to Johnson’s Pasture, Gale Ranch and Sycamore Canyon Park as separate entities. For management purposes, city staff recommends folding in all previous and future acquisitions into the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park name. To do so will require amending the Municipal Code.

According to the master plan draft, “It makes sense to manage the hillsides as one facility, rather than disparate ones, with one set of rules.”

To achieve the desired outcomes of the CHWP, the city feels an increase in park ranger staffing would be necessary. The Human Services Department currently has a budget of $33,000 for two part-time rangers who work only on weekends and are supplemented by volunteers. Staff recommends adding one full-time senior park ranger to coordinate CHWP operations, excluding maintenance, and five part-time rangers working staggered schedules. One-time upfront costs, including a new 4WD pickup truck, would be $42,500, with recurring annual staff costs of $162,500.

The city is seeking public input on the draft plan. A TAC meeting will be held at the Hughes Center on September 10 at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited.

The master plan draft is available on the city’s website and hard copies are now available for review at Claremont City Hall, the Hughes Center and the Claremont Library.

For questions or information, contact Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor at (909) 399-5466 or visit www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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