Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, April 28 @ 1:05 p.m. / Community
Del Norte Board of Supes Donate Park to Hunter Valley CSD, Denies Competing Request For a Land Transfer From the Yurok Tribe
Del Norte County supervisors sided with the Hunter Valley Community Services District over the Yurok Tribe on Tuesday, agreeing to donate a county park CSD representatives say has been frequented by residents for decades and is currently maintained through volunteers.
Sally Rodgers, a Hunter Valley CSD board member whose family moved to the Hunter Creek subdivision in the Klamath area in the early 1970s, said former county supervisor Harold Del Ponte built the park and donated it to the county.
Though CSD representatives can’t find the paperwork, Rodgers said Del Ponte wanted the park to return to the subdivision’s residents if the county didn’t want to continue maintaining it.
“It’s been 110 weeks since we were here the first time,” she told county supervisors. “We discovered this on Facebook that this was possibly going to be deeded to the tribe and it was a shock to all of us owners. It was disappointing that our representative — and I won’t speak ill of the dead — our supervisor didn’t come to us and say, ‘Hey, this park is up for grabs and as owners, would you like to take ownership of it?’ We weren’t given that opportunity and there are a lot of hurt feelings and there’s a lot of emotion that has come in the last 110 weeks.”
The Yurok Tribe initially approached Del Norte County in February 2020 with a request that the county donate the park at 22 Duncan Road to the tribe.
On Tuesday, Yurok Tribal Councilor Ryan Ray, who represents the Requa District, repeated the request, saying he was prepared to put an action item before his colleagues next week for the allocation of funding for playground equipment at the park.
Ray promised to “build a park” this summer. He and his colleague Phillip Williams, who represents the tribe’s North District, proposed partnering with the Hunter Valley CSD to manage the park together.
However both Ray and Williams said the Yurok Tribe opposes land transfers within its ancestral territory.
“We have an obligation to go after any property within our ancestral territory,” Williams told county supervisors. “But the other side of that is it would be nice to let these fine folks manage it and we would provide the funding. I think that’s the path forward.”
However, when Board Chairman Gerry Hemmingsen asked Ray if the tribe would “help out” if he and his colleagues transfer ownership to the Hunter Valley CSD, Ray said he’d have to take that matter back to the entire Tribal Council.
According to Rodgers, in the two years since the proposed land transfer initially went before county supervisors, the Hunter Valley CSD, which is a water district, has gone through the process to attain the ability to offer parks and recreation services to the community.
CSD representatives submitted an application to the Local Agency Formation Commission and paid the $1,000 fee in July 2020, Rodgers said. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process was slow, she said.
In the meantime homeowners wanted to show county supervisors that “we can handle this” and so entered into an agreement to maintain the county park, Rodgers said.
“We have volunteers who have now gone out and we have mowed the park with our own lawnmowers, with our own gasoline — we have not asked for money from the service district, we have not asked for money from the county to pay for the gasoline,” she said, adding that the homeowners the CSD represents have donated $5,000. “We have rebuilt a bus stop. It has a light so we don’t have to worry about the kids going out there in the morning when it’s dark — the first bus comes in at 6:50 in Hunter Creek.”
Hunter Valley CSD representatives has also polled the community that consists of 65 parcels, Rodgers said. Homeowners indicate are willing to pay an annual $35 park and recreation fee in addition to the $225 they pay for water, she said.
Meanwhile since February 2020, the Yurok Tribe hasn’t offered to meet with the Hunter Creek CSD or offered to help by donating gasoline or materials for the upkeep of the park, Rodgers said. She also denied allegations that the Hunter Valley CSD’s wanting to take ownership of the park was racially motivated.
“I am a Wiyot Tribal member from Loleta,” she said. “There are 8 other Wiyot members that live in Hunter Creek. This is very much about a community who did not know the park was possibly going to be transferred to people outside of our owners.”
Board Chairman Gerry Hemmingsen pointed out that over the years, the county’s maintenance of Hunter Creek Park has been “less than sufficient.” Though the tribe approached the county about taking ownership of the land, county supervisors hadn’t heard from Hunter Valley CSD. Hemmingsen said the county wasn’t trying to be underhanded or sneaky.
However, the passion and drive from the Hunter Valley community puts a “whole different light” on it, Hemmingsen said.
“Everybody’s got a claim here and it does seem divisive,” he said. “That’s not the direction we want to go. We want to see everybody working together, but I don’t know exactly how we do that.”
District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard brought up the donation of county land — a baseball field in Klamath — to the Yurok Tribe with the understanding that the tribe would rehabilitate it.
Though Howard said he was encouraged by Ray’s promise that the tribe would allocate funding toward renovating the ball field — hopefully having a new one by the summer — Howard was discouraged by how long it has taken for the tribe to get to that point.
“We’ve had years to address the situation, to see an outlay and an example that showed the care and maintenance we anticipated when this board took action,” Howard said. “We really wanted to see the Yurok Tribe do the maintenance and bring, as you envisioned, children back to that ball field. We haven’t seen that yet today.”
Howard’s colleague, District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short said he was impressed by the volunteer work Hunter Valley residents have put in to maintain the park. Short said he spoke with a friend who had been a Hunter Valley resident and whose grandfather was friends with Del Ponte.
“He said it just kind of makes sense, if the county didn’t have ownership of the park anymore, it seems like it makes sense that it goes back to the community, Hunter Valley,” Short said, making a motion to donate the park to Hunter Valley CSD.
Four of Short’s colleagues approved the donation to Hunter Valley CSD.
Before the Board began discussing the issue, District 5 Supervisor Susan Masten, a Yurok Tribal member, recused herself, saying she wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.