HERCULES -- The City Council on Tuesday rejected an appeal from a homeowners association worried that an open space project on the city's eastern fringe might bring crime, vandalism and traffic to their adjacent neighborhood.

But in upholding the Planning Commission's approval of the Franklin Canyon/Fernandez Ranch Project, the council agreed to tweak references to possible future access to the open space from the cul-de-sacs of Grissom and Coronado streets within the Refugio Heights subdivision. The vote approving a conditional use permit and mitigated negative declaration of environmental impacts was 4-0, with Councilman Dan Romero recusing himself because he lives within 500 feet of the project

The project would open the 483-acre Franklin Canyon tract, a mix of grasslands and woodlands with several threatened plant and animal species, to grazing, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and other outdoor activities. It adjoins the 700-acre Fernandez Ranch, accessible from Christie Road in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County east of the city. Both tracts are owned by the Martinez-based Muir Heritage Trust.

The trail system of the combined tracts would be accessible, at least for the time being, only from the Fernandez Ranch staging area along Christie Road. Project documents, however, referred to other possible access points, from the west, including the ends of Grissom and Coronado streets and the end of Refugio Valley Road, which is outside the Refugio Heights subdivision.


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The homeowners association wanted references to Grissom and Coronado streets as possible access points taken out of the documents altogether. The council took out the reference to Coronado Street while specifying that Grissom Street would be for "emergency access only." A fire trail begins at the Grissom Street cul-de-sac and winds its way to a ridgeline.

Separating the two cul-de-sacs from the Franklin Canyon tract is a buffer of association-owned land. In dispute is a 700-foot-long, never-paved extension of Coronado Street that the city claims as a historic, public right-of-way, but the association claims to be the legal owner by virtue of the city's failure to exercise its right long ago to build the road for access to possible subdivisions further east.

The end of Refugio Valley Road abuts a strip of East Bay Municipal Utility District-owned watershed land that Franklin Canyon users would have to get permission to traverse. Reference to Refugio Valley Road as a possible access route to Franklin Canyon remains in the documents.

Hercules Planning Manager Robert Reber and Muir Heritage Executive Director Linus Eukel noted that the future access points were outside the scope of the project before the council, and that references to them were for the sake of transparency and in anticipation of future discussion. Eukel said it is up to Hercules and its residents to figure out how to provide possible alternative access to Franklin Canyon.

Refugio Heights homeowners association President Jesse Bork said the mere references to Grissom and Coronado streets as possible access points in the documents and associated maps could mislead people into thinking the two streets were actual access points. Another Refugio Heights resident spoke of hearing gunshots in the hills near the subdivision and seeing drunken or drugged people stumbling out of the open space into the cul-de-sacs, even under current no trespass rules.

But Chuck Lewis, who lives on Christie Road, said he does not share the fears of vandalism expressed by some of the speakers, and that he is happy to see visitors coming to Fernandez Ranch near his home. Other speakers, noting that Franklin Canyon was bought with the help of funding from public agencies, including $200,000 in park bond funds from Hercules, argued that city residents should not have to drive out of town to gain access to their open space; the round trip between Hercules' main intersection and the Fernandez Ranch staging area is 11½ miles by road.

Hercules resident David Bartke encouraged the council to provide access to Franklin Canyon from the city in the future, closing with a quotation from the legendary naturalist John Muir: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.