Commission wants to take guesswork out of park hours (updated)

The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park may soon be “dawn to dusk” no longer. As the city continues work on new parking lots for the Wilderness Park, the Community and Human Services Commission has recommended specific hours of operation for the increasingly popular hiking destination.

With a 6-1 vote, the commission proposed late last week that park hours be listed as 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from March to October and 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to February. The recommendation will move forward for final approval by the Claremont City Council.

Park hours have long been a source of frustration for residents and users of the park alike, who are hoping to reach a decision all can agree upon. Those living near the park’s entrances claim the constant noise level caused by car doors slamming, even before the park’s listed opening and closing, is affecting their families’ quality of life. Others in the community fear the hours will become “too restrictive” and keep the public from using a valued public amenity. Commissioners feel the set park hours decided upon appease both sides.

“There is no right answer, but we figured it represented the best compromise between users and neighbors,” said the commission’s Vice Chair Bob Miletich.

For over a year, city administration and commissioners have sought to find a solution to the “dawn to dusk” hours of the park and numerous other concerns relating to the park’s heavily-used and well-loved trailheads. City officials first began the discussion of designating more specific park hours in September 2011 after 300 citations were issued to park users in 3 months. Each citation was issued for violation of park hours. Residents and council members present then and at a subsequent council meeting expressed concern with ambiguity in the park’s hours.

“We need to make a clear-cut time,” Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali acknowledged at the time.

The need for specific, set hours has become increasingly clear as the city moves forward with expanded paid parking lots near the Wilderness Park entrances. Two recommendations came before the Community and Human Services Commission last week, one presented by the police department and another by the city’s 3-member Parks, Hillsides and Utilities Committee.

Police recommended changing park hours 8 different times during the year coinciding with the seasons’ changing daylight hours. While recognizing the initial daunting appearance of 8 different time blocks, officers believed it to be “simpler than the currently posted schedule at the park, and easier for visitors to observe and officers to enforce.” In the end, the Parks, Hillsides and Utilities committee’s 2 time blocks received the most favor, but it wasn’t a clear-cut victory.

Chair Butch Henderson opted to abstain—stating he was not comfortable recommending a proposal by a 3-person committee over thorough research by city staff and police—and Commissioner Andy Winnick opposed, seeing no reason to go against what police saw as a manageable option.

“I found our committee report inadequate,” continued Mr. Winnick.

For one, Mr. Winnick didn’t see why the park hours couldn’t differ from the parking lot’s hours, seeing that complaints from the neighbors centered on the noise problem as a function of cars. Mr. Winnick said he would have preferred that the park remain open earlier and later than the parking lot to allow more time for those able to walk to take advantage of the wilderness space. Mr. Winnick voiced disappointment that the commission didn’t take that into consideration.

In addition, Mr. Winnick said he found the committee’s recommended time blocks too simplistic.

In addition to its recommendation on set park and parking lot hours, the commission urges the council to issue 4-hour parking passes for $3 or $100 yearly passes in its newly-constructed north lot. Two free parking passes per household will be given to Claremont residents and Claremont College students for use in the south lot.

The commission’s recommendations, along with all proposals involved in the process, will move forward for final review and approval by the Claremont City Council. A notice prior to the council’s scheduled review will be posted in a future edition of the COURIER.

—Beth Hartnett


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