HERCULES -- A chunk of open space in easternmost Hercules that a ballot initiative saved from development almost a decade ago now is the subject of a flap over public access.

The Refugio Heights Homeowners Association is appealing the Planning Commission's June 17 approval of the Franklin Canyon/Fernandez Ranch Project, which would open the area to hiking and other outdoor activities. The association objects to the mention in the project's documents of possible access to trails into the open space from Grissom Street or Coronado Street, both of which end cul-de-sacs.

The association owns a belt of undeveloped land that separates the Refugio Heights homes from the project area, which is owned by the Martinez-based Muir Heritage Land Trust and was paid for partially with public funds.

Although the Franklin Canyon project area is within Hercules city limits, there is no current provision for access from the city. The trail system would be accessible only from the east, from Christie Road in an unincorporated part of Contra Costa County.

The project area covers 483 acres of wooded hills and grasslands in Franklin Canyon; it includes parts of the watersheds of two creeks, Rodeo and Refugio, and is home to several rare plant and animal species.

Developer GreenPark Holdings of Seal Beach once wanted to build more than 500 homes, a hotel, offices and stores on about 450 acres, or most of the project area. But a group of Hercules residents launched the successful Protect Franklin Canyon Area Initiative that voters approved by a wide margin in November 2004.


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Adjacent and immediately east of the Franklin Canyon tract is the 700-acre Fernandez Ranch tract, also owned by the Muir Heritage Land Trust. The Fernandez Ranch staging area would also be the access point to Franklin Canyon; it is 4½ miles by road from Hercules' main intersection at Sycamore and San Pablo avenues.

To return, with no left-turn possibility onto Highway 4 at Christie Road, a motorist must drive toward Martinez to the next exit, cross an overpass and head back west on Highway 4. The round-trip from Sycamore and San Pablo avenues to Fernandez Ranch and back measured 11½ miles.

Muir Heritage's executive director, Linus Eukel, said Friday that the references to the potential access points at Grissom and Coronado streets are simply part of an effort "to shine a bright light on a very wide scope of possibilities."

"It's not a project proposal," Eukel said. "It's property we don't own."

In a May 9 letter to the Hercules Planning Department, the Refugio Heights HOA said access from Grissom or Coronado streets would have "a profound impact on ... safety, liability, parking, exposure to strangers with possibility of increase in crime, lack of control over private property, maintenance/wear-and-tear of private property etc."

Said Eukel, "We're showing a broad range of alternatives. It's really up to Hercules to resolve issues of access."

The environmental study also makes reference to another potential trail access point, the eastern end of Refugio Valley Road. That spot is separated from the Franklin Canyon project area by a section of East Bay Municipal Utility District-owned watershed land.

The City Council on Tuesday will hold a public hearing to consider the homeowners association's appeal, and whether to affirm the Planning Commission approval of the environmental document and a conditional use permit for the Franklin Canyon tract to be used for public access and some agricultural uses as consistent with the general plan.

According to a Hercules staff report, Muir Heritage Land Trust bought the Franklin Canyon parcel in 2010 for $2.61 million with the help of funding from the East Bay Regional Park District, California Coastal Conservancy, Caltrans, and $200,000 in park bond funds from Hercules.

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

IF YOU GO
What: Hercules City Council meeting
Where: Hercules City Hall, 111 Civic Drive
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

TO LEARN MORE
To read the appeal of Franklin Canyon/Fernandez Ranch Project approval, go to http://bit.ly/12TW3L8