WatchSonoma Watch

Park officials to meet with Occidental residents over public land use


Sonoma County parks and open space officials hope to clear the air Thursday night with west county residents two months after an uproar over the future of large swaths of public land in the region.

Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart and Bill Keene, general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, will meet with area residents at the Salmon Creek School, 1935 Bohemian Highway, at 7 p.m. to talk about the future of publicly held lands and the prospect that most of them will eventually become county or state parks.

Caryl Hart (PD File)

Caryl Hart (PD File)

“I’m really hoping our presentation will be short,” Hart said Tuesday, “that it will be more of a back and forth” between residents and staff.

Controversy erupted in the spring when some Occidental residents learned of a document known as the “West County Gateway,” calling for various parks and public lands throughout the area to be connected by a system of trails and shuttle buses, with a hub at a remodeled version of the aging Occidental Community Center.

Hart insisted that the document was simply a concept paper, created to apply for a small federal grant. Critics, however, saw it as evidence of an elaborate scheme to bring a flood of tourists to the west county, a plan created with little local consultation.

That uproar culminated in a well-attended meeting in June where residents expressed their opinion of the idea, largely opposing it.

Hart and her staff were not invited to the June meeting. Thursday’s meeting is intended as a companion to that first meeting, giving Hart and Keene a chance to reintroduce themselves to the community, said former west county supervisor Eric Koenigshofer, moderator of both events.

It will also allow them to hear directly from residents, to understand why they were upset by the West County Gateway concept, he said.

“There is no one better equipped to explain the impacts and needs of these small communities than the people who live out here,” he said.

Keene was not involved in the spring controversy, but his agency is an important part of whatever happens next. The open space district holds about 6,400 acres of lands scattered around the county, including several large properties between Occidental and Bodega Bay, and much of that is designated to wind up in the hands of Regional Parks.

Keene said he will lay out the history of the district’s acquisitions and explain the process for transferring them to other owners, such as state or regional parks. The meeting may also help clarify for residents the various public and private entities that protect open lands and own and operate parkland.

“I think the general public looks at a park and doesn’t really make a distinction” about the various types, he said. “They think a park is a park is a park.”

Likewise, Hart said she hopes to explain the process for developing parks so area residents understand how much public input is required before projects are undertaken.

She said her staff will probably not discuss details about plans for the Occidental Community Center or other specific recreational initiatives. Rather they will focus on explaining what the parks agency is and how its processes work.

“What happened with the whole Gateway misinformation is that people lost sight of what Regional Parks are and what we do,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.

3 Responses to “Park officials to meet with Occidental residents over public land use”

  1. bear says:

    This plan is likely nothing but trails and campgrounds. You’d never know if you relied on PD reporting.

    You folks have been demanding public access to lands acquired through a legal tax measure, twice affirmed, and now you don’t?

    You sound like a lot of welfare socialists to me. Use tax dollars to acquire land without public access?

    I’m sure, if there was a way, that the affected agencies could sell off this land for subdivisions and mini-mansions.

    And solve those loathsome County budget problems?

  2. Over Easy says:

    She is far from inexperienced, she just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Read her bio


    You can thank your board of supervisors.

  3. James Bennett says:

    I went after work.

    It was a soft pedal ( they had to pedal soft after the last one) indoctrination towards The Agenda.
    Getting folks acclimated to Wildland corridors and Conservation Areas.
    The term eminent domain wasn’t used (yet) this, like Plan Bay Area ‘visioning meetings’ is about creating an action/paper trail so that later it can be said that that their moves enjoyed public support.
    One they identify corridors of land to be ‘set aside’ then it’s about getting the ‘hold outs’ of theirs so they can create uninterrupted ‘swaths’ of land. Little steps (a LOT of ‘em) to get folks off rural/country property.

    They kept talking grant money, never heard anything about…say, property rights.

    First, they’ll “set it aside”, then, they’ll contrive reasons to deny human access. You’ll see.

    Sounded so benign…ultimately it will be anything but.

    Search Wildlands Network map.

    Self explanatory two minutes well spent, much will start to make sense. Look at the color coded part where humans will allowed to reside.

    Look hard, ’cause it’s small.