Construction of two miles of hiking trail into Montini Ranch pastureland, which forms the City of Sonoma's hillside backdrop, will start next year even though a nettlesome side issue of public access from an adjacent subdivision remains unresolved.
Sonoma County supervisors have approved the bulk of a public access plan to the Montini Ranch property purchased in 2005 for $13.75 million by the county's open space district, the Coastal Conservancy and the city of Sonoma. The ranch is historically significant because it was part of the foothills purchased in 1850 by Gen. Mariano Vallejo.
The plan provides for paved trails from a parking lot near the police station to two vista points that offer views of Sonoma as well as the 157-acre ranch now designated as open space.
However, county officials acknowledged an impasse concerning location of another path that is supposed to lead to the vista points from neighborhoods that border the Montini Ranch and the Gen. Vallejo home. For decades, the residents of these homes have enjoyed open space views and they aren't <NO1><NO>happy about trailheads in their neighborhoods.
"My backyard faces the ranch," said Carillo Court resident Patricia Talbot. "My concern is parking space."
Since 2007, residents of the neighborhoods bordering on 4th and 5th streets have opposed trailheads in the area saying "they did not wish to see hikers in the view from their backyards," according to a county staff report.
One plan for a trailhead and 10-space parking lot on 5th Street has been abandoned. Another idea for a land swap between the county and the state parks department has also floundered.
Despite mediation sessions and an attempted compromise offered by Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who is chairman the state Assembly parks committee, county officials agree that it's past time for the rest of the public access plan to move forward.
Sonoma Valley Supervisor Valerie Brown said she was frustrated that the western trailhead issue hasn't been resolved, even after multiple negotiations among county and city officials, the state parks department and the neighbors.
"I want access, I am supportive of anything that makes sense," Brown said. "I understand that there are going to be people critical of parking in their neighborhoods, but the city has to deal with that."
City officials have scheduled a pubic hearing for Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sonoma Community Center to discuss the issue, including yet another trailhead and path proposal.
The latest idea involves establishing a trailhead on 4th Street with two handicapped parking spaces and paving an informal pathway on state parks property that could be extended to the two Montini Ranch vista points. Brown said she is encouraged that state parks officials like this idea after having rejected others.
Dave Gould, superintendent of the Diablo Vista District, said there already is a well-worn path "used by people over the course of time and there is already a hole in the fence."
Gould said the path would cut across a small corner of the property of the historic site and would be acceptable if it has minimal impact.
"We've looked at all the alternatives and we are all trying to create something so the public can access what public money has purchased," Gould said.
Sonoma planning director David Goodison said he hopes the Nov. 16 meeting will produce feedback on trail options that will result in a recommendation to the city council.