Draft agreement proposes Placer Co. ownership of Firestone property | SierraSun.com

Draft agreement proposes Placer Co. ownership of Firestone property

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Officials are optimistic an agreement will be reached in time to begin work on a long-awaited bike trail connecting Tahoe City to Kings Beach.

As of Monday, representatives from Placer County and the North Tahoe Public Utility District had met twice in the past few weeks regarding control of the Firestone property and a plan for the Dollar Creek Shared-Use Trail.

"(Negotiations) were choppy in the beginning, but they are going well now," Paul Schultz, NTPUD General Manager/CEO, said Monday. "The goal is getting the bike trail constructed."

A Nov. 10 email from Placer County CEO David Boesch to Schultz outlines the following proposed agreement terms: the PUD would give control of the 85-acre Firestone property to the county through a joint transfer, not a sale; with that, the county would take over the PUD's planning, permitting, construction, operation and maintenance responsibilities for the entire trail extending from Dollar Hill to the North Tahoe Regional Park; and upon completion, PUD residents and ratepayers will have a new recreational amenity at no cost to them.

"We think it's fair and just that we take (the Firestone property) on if we're also taking on the PUD's agreed-to commitment to pay for the planning, development and operations and maintenance …," Jennifer Merchant, Tahoe manager for the County Executive Office, said at the Nov. 12 PUD board meeting. " … We're not going to take on the entire project with not owning the property."

While former PUD Parks and Facilities Manager Kathy Long also spoke in favor of the proposed agreement at the board meeting, many others attending did not.

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"I think I speak for many others present … I would urge your body go back and look at other ways to try to maintain control of the project, maintain control of the property," Dean Headley, a Dollar Point resident, told the board.

NO OTHER USE BESIDES TRAIL?

Earlier this year, the county released a concept drawing, depicting the Firestone property — which sits between the Old County and Highlands neighborhoods just east of Tahoe City — being a potential site for a new Placer County justice center and a corporate yard. It's garnered public concerns such as traffic, noise and use.

"I feel people have just jumped the gun on this, thinking we've already made a decision to do anything beyond the bike trail," said Peter Kraatz, assistant director of the county's Public Works department, who insisted no other project is planned for the property besides the bike trail at this time.

Despite that, the PUD board on Nov. 12 directed Schultz to add a condition to the agreement that a public process take place for any other use of the Firestone property.

"That provision is already a requirement of public law, but memorializing it in the letter will clearly make the community feel better," Schultz said Monday.

Schultz plans to revise the proposal and send it to the county this week.

Both the PUD board and the Placer County Board of Supervisors will need to approve the agreement before the California Tahoe Conservancy can finalize it.

COMPLICATED HISTORY

The PUD bought the Firestone property in 1990, after getting a $1.186 million grant from the Conservancy two years earlier earmarked for the PUD to acquire the land and build a multi-purpose trail.

According to the PUD, it did planning studies and design for a proposed trail, and started environmental documentation. However, a snag occurred in 2009 when additional environmental study was called for, but neither the PUD nor the Conservancy had funds to cover the expense.

Meanwhile, Placer County secured $3.4 million in federal funding for construction of a 2.4-mile section of the trail, which would be on the Firestone property. In August, the county asked to take over ownership of the parcel, which the PUD board didn't favor.

Considering all this, Patrick Wright, executive director of the Conservancy, sent a Sept. 30 letter to Schultz, advising the PUD and county work together and develop an agreement that complies with the Conservancy's original 1988 grant conditions — or for the PUD to submit its work plan, schedule and commitment of funds for the trail project by Dec. 1, so the Conservancy board can take action at its Dec. 11 meeting.

Otherwise, the Conservancy could reclaim the property under the finding that the 1988 grant terms are not being upheld. Shortly after Wright's letter, the PUD and the county began discussions.