Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, March 10, 2020 @ 6 p.m. / Community, Local Government, Tribes
Hunter Creek Residents Balk At Proposed County Park Transfer to Yurok Tribe Despite Plans for a Playground
Members of a water district in Klamath’s Hunter Creek subdivision pushed back against a proposal to transfer a county park to the Yurok Tribe.
Paul Crandall, general manager and treasurer for the Hunter Valley Community Services District, asked Del Norte County Supervisors on Tuesday why the potential land transfer to the tribe wasn’t discussed with his agency. He, and several other Hunter Valley CSD representatives, also wanted to know why the county never offered the park to them.
“Why were landowners and residents never given the opportunity to voice their opinion?” Crandall asked supervisors. “The land transfer is for recreational and community events, according to Yurok Tribe documents. This will greatly impact the peace and quiet for our residents who cherish such an environment in Hunter Creek.”
Though via Facebook on Friday, District 5 Supervisor Bob Berkowitz urged residents to attend Tuesday’s meeting to support the proposed land transfer and playground, he asked his colleagues to table the issue.
Yurok Tribal Councilman Ryan Ray came before the Board of Supervisors at its Feb. 25 meeting to request the county transfer Hunter Creek Park at 22 Duncan Road to the tribe. Ray said he had a crew ready to install playground equipment on April 5 and asked to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting so he could start the process.
Otherwise, Ray said, he would ask the crew to install the playground at another site.
“This is totally a community-driven agenda item,” Ray told the Board of Supervisors. “It’s not about the land. It’s not about transfer to the tribe.”
In a Feb. 19 letter to County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, Yurok Tribal Chairman Joseph James asked the county to transfer the park to the tribe via its nonprofit entity, Kee Cha-E-Nar. James also asked for permission to install the playground equipment if the transfer wasn’t completed.
James noted that the park is within the “exterior boundaries” of the Yurok Reservation and is a recreational space for Yurok families.
“While the tribe is grateful for this community recreational space, we are eager to play a more active role in the management, maintenance and use of Hunter Creek Park,” James wrote, adding that a donor had already given playground equipment to the tribe. “he proposed transfer of another property to the tribe is symbolic of the county and tribe’s strong partnership and commitment to community.”
On Feb. 25, Ray referred to a ball field in Klamath that had been transferred from the county to the tribe and was subsequently refurbished.
The county doesn’t have the budget to continue to maintain Hunter Creek Park, according to Tuesday’s staff report. Since it’s not maintained, “the property is not necessary for a county purpose,” according to the report.
On Tuesday, Board Chair Gerry Hemmingsen noted that the county isn’t able to continue to maintain the park and asked Crandall what the CSD’s objections were to transferring ownership to the tribe.
“We saw no plan from you or your community services district,” Hemmingsen said.
Crandall noted that both the park and the Hunter Creek subdivision is outside the Yurok Tribe’s reservation boundaries. No one notified residents the transfer was a possibility, he said.
“Had we not seen this on Facebook it would have gone forward and residents and property owners would never know it until it was lowered on us,” Crandall said. “My objection is we have a right to know what’s going on in our neighborhood. We have a right to know why someone who has no jurisdiction is being considered to take over property within our jurisdiction. I would appreciate having a meeting in Klamath…”
Hunter Creek resident Sally Rodgers, who is also active within the community services district, also took issue with the way residents found out about the proposed land transfer. When they found out on Friday, Rodgers said she and Crandall began polling residents within the CSD’s jurisdiction.
“Eighty-nine of our members said, ‘No, we do not want to see the tribe given this piece of property to manage and run,’” Rodgers said. “We’d like it to be left with the community people, our community services district. They are a 501 c3 also.”
In response to the comments, Ray said increasing recreational opportunities for Klamath residents, particularly the youth, has been an ongoing concern of his. The tribe just installed a playground in Klamath Glen and put a basketball court in the Klamath town site, he said. The tribe is also hoping to install a playground in Requa.
The park at Hunter Creek is a hot topic, Ray said.
“I came here before regarding the park about five years ago,” he said. “We talked about it last year. We have a playground sitting at the fish plant and we’ve got to install it somewhere on April 5. I brought it to the board to propose a solution to the ongoing problem at Hunter Creek playground.”
According to Ray, the donor of the playground equipment stipulated that it be installed on tribal land.
In response to Berkowitz, who asked if a 25-year lease of the park to the tribe would satisfy that requirement, Ray said he would have to consult with the tribe’s legal counsel.
District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin said while he appreciated the tribe for stepping up and wanting to refurbish a “mothballed” park, he was concerned about the process.
“We have a community in there that feels left out of the loop,” he said. “You have at least 89 people down in Klamath, which is a lot of people and you’re ramming this (in) and that’s not democracy.”
Though he apologized, Ray said the status of Hunter Creek Park has been discussed on social media for years, including throughout most of his tenure on the tribal council.
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to bypass any steps,” he said. “I thought everybody was aware of this.”