The city’s role in the growing problems facing the Wilderness Park

by Dean E. McHenry, Jr.

The city is stumbling in its efforts to help foster the development of a fair and far-sighted Wilderness Park Master Plan aimed at resolving the variety of problems faced in our efforts to preserve and enjoy that wonderful asset to our north.

This concern was raised to a critical level last week when the Traffic and Transportation Commission approved a residential parking permit program for additional areas “below” the park. When the city council banned parking for citizens of Claremont and those from other communities last year who were not residents of the immediate area, it made clear that this prohibition was a temporary measure until a master plan resolved on a more permanent basis the issue of how to deal with the general parking problem. 

Yet, on the request of city staff the commission approved an extension to the ban on non-resident parking much further south at a time when the planning process is underway. And it did so in a manner that appears both unreasonable and a violation of existing legislation. Consider the following: 

• The city’s own evidence is ignored: The city’s survey of the three side streets to the west of Mills—Holyoke, Macalester and Forsyth—at three time periods through the week and even on the President’s Day holiday found no cars parked there, let alone cars of users of the park—yet, it still banned parking by non-residents of those streets.

• The Brown Act appears violated: The agenda circulated before the commission meeting and distributed at the meeting indicated that in addition to those three streets, the ban would cover Mills Avenue down to Miramar. But when city staff presented the request to the commission, it called for the extension of the ban down to Charleston and included Bluefield to its end a short distance to the west of Mills. My sense is that this sudden change violates the Brown Act meant to warn concerned citizens of pending action on issues before public bodies.

• Non-resident parking was banned on roadways where problems reported could not exist: The ban covers the west side of Mills Avenue throughout the section from Alamosa to Charleston—a section where there are no houses facing the road, no driveways, no yards. Only a sidewalk, vegetation and a wall separate the roadway from the houses. In addition, the Miramar to Bluefield section on the east side is lined by a wall, too. 

• Alternative solutions were not tried:  Certainly, the complaints received by the city from a few residents of the area need to be addressed, but where they arise they can be dealt with by enforcing existing laws rather than banning parking by both Claremont and non-Claremont residents who do not live in those neighborhoods.

In addition, there are other problems that do not bode well for the success of the  planning process:

First, the Technical Advisory Committee appointed by the mayor to help MIG—the company hired by the city council to prepare the master plan—is neither composed of “technical” experts nor is it representative of users. There are no plant or wildlife experts, no geologists, no trail development experts, no county fire department personnel, almost none representing users residing outside Claremont and so on.

In fact, its composition makes it more of a “political” action committee than a “technical” one—specifically, individuals more likely to weigh the concerns of those who live near the park rather than to consider the concerns of all park users and other community members. Those who serve are concerned individuals, most of whom are sincere about representing their constituents. They do come from some of the significant interested parties. However, neither users from outside Claremont nor “types” of users like bikers, walkers and those driven by other interests were included on the committee. The advice the committee provides is likely to be less representative of all concerned with the park than would be had the committee been selected on a more representative basis.

Second, there appears to be a narrow focus on specific solutions to problems without consideration of useful alternatives. The examples are many. The solution to the objective of “preservation” is said, explicitly by some and implicitly by others, to necessarily involve limitations on “use.” Yet, use can lead to enhanced appreciation of the park and increased commitment to its preservation.

The “solution” might be better found in policies that focus on reinforcing the commitment to preservation.  The “solution” to the safety problem when cars enter Mills, according to the staff proposal, was to remove those cars parked along the side of Mills. Yet, the solution might have been to extend the “red” zone a bit further up and down Mills on either side of intersections.

The “solution” to park visitors parking in front of driveways or making loud noises or trash being thrown in yards, etc. might be enhanced enforcement of existing laws rather than banning all visitors from neighborhoods

There are many alternatives to the simplistic “solutions” the city seems to be pursuing to resolve problems relating to the wilderness park, which would lead to resolutions less harmful to those of us who do not happen to live in the neighborhoods where the residential parking permit system is imposed.

Third, there is the problem of the city withholding public information that is relevant to the resolution of problems with the park. Specifically, the city contracted with Alta Planning and Design to do a study of park usage in 2012, I believe. That study was completed last year, but has not been released by the city for public scrutiny. Hiding such a document from the public undermines the ability of the public to engage in the park planning process in a fully informed way. Additionally, such non-disclosure is not in accord with the intent of the law or the professed values of the city council.

At present, the planning process for the future of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park is being undermined by the actions and inactions of our city staff and city council. That needs to change!



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