The Kenwood Press
News: 09/01/2016

Oakmont makes move to protect public access to Trione-Annadel State Park

Sarah C. Phelps

The Oakmont Village Association’s Board of Directors has unanimously approved a proposal that could help to officially sanction public access from Oakmont to Trione-Annadel State Park.

At its Aug. 16 meeting, the seven-member board approved a proposal to construct a gravel trail near the community garden on Stone Bridge Road to a service road on property occupied by a shuttered waste water treatment plant and now owned by the city of Santa Rosa. The service road connects to an existing gravel path and a narrow bridge that the public currently uses to cross the creek and access Channel Drive in Trione-Annadel State Park.

For the past 50 years, pedestrians and cyclists have been using an existing paved road that leads from Stone Bridge Road, across property owned by Brad Benson and his Oak Creek RV & Storage facility, to Channel Drive on the other side of the creek. However, on Aug. 8, Benson posted “No Trespassing” signs along this road, a reminder that he has never given formal permission for its public use. The newly proposed trail would circumvent Benson’s property.

In 2012, Benson gated another access path connecting Meadow Creek Court in Oakmont to Channel Drive, citing liability concerns over the public using that path, which crossed another of his properties.

“The reality is, with those signs going up, we in Oakmont have no legal access to Trione-Annadel State Park, except through Wild Oak,” said Hugh Helm, during his presentation to the OVA Board. Helm is spearheading the proposal as Chair of the Wastewater Treatment Plant Ad Hoc Committee, and is a cyclist himself.

Access to the state park through the Villages at Wild Oak, which is a private community, has been under litigation for five years. Pedestrians, but not cyclists, are allowed to pass through the community from White Oak Drive to Channel Drive, although that decision is currently being appealed by the city of Santa Rosa, who originally brought a lawsuit against the Wild Oak community.

The proposed trail will start and end entirely on OVA open space property and Helm is coordinating with the city of Santa Rosa, who is also in contact with Benson regarding public access through his property.

“We have heard Oakmont’s desire for nonmotorized access and we are looking for solutions,” said Jennifer Burke, deputy director of Water & Engineering Resources for City of Santa Rosa. Jason Nutt, the city’s director of Transportation and Public Works, said that his department has been given the green light to identify a designated route for public access through the contested area.

“Mr. Benson has always been amenable to granting or selling an easement to the city, but his issue is the timeline,” said Nutt. “He’s been talking to the city about this for a long time, but there has been no direct action on the part of the city to address his request. City management has now deemed this a reasonable process to undertake.”

Nutt acknowledged Oakmont’s anxiety over this issue, but pointed out that even if Oakmont builds its proposed path, that path would still connect to private property owned by the city of Santa Rosa, where no official public access had been granted, either. Staff is looking at options for public access and hopes to make a presentation to the Santa Rosa City Council in the next 45 days.

Complicating the process, a narrow footbridge that crosses the creek, originally built to allow maintenance workers access to the pipeline that carried water from the treatment plant, would need to be brought up to ADA accessible standards. Just what that means and how much this will cost is part of the research being done by Nutt and his staff.

“Do we need to do a complete rebuild or can we utilize what’s there? That’s what we are investigating,” said Nutt.

The City of Santa Rosa is also tasked with cleaning up and figuring out what it will do with the defunct wastewater treatment plant property. It will most likely be a lengthy process, which is why Helm hopes his path proposal will maintain access to Annadel in the meantime.

“I’m just trying to ensure access from Oakmont to Annadel while the city is negotiating, even if it becomes superlative later,” he said.

Helm has not encountered any opposition to the path, although he will be working with the Oakmont Garden Club to make sure the trail’s alignment doesn’t impede on the garden’s space and tranquility. The trail, less than 100 meters long, can be built with help from the Sonoma County Trails Council and its volunteers for well under $10,000, Helm said.

OVA’s approval of the gravel path is subject to the approval from Santa Rosa's water agency and City Council and obtaining the necessary insurance for public access.