The Sonoma City Council could take a significant step on Monday toward acquiring a 98-acre hillside parcel that one day could become a hiking destination offering dramatic views of the city.
The Montini Preserve forms much of the city's backdrop and is historically significant because it was part of the foothills purchased in 1850 by Gen. Mariano Vallejo.
Sonoma County's Open Space District purchased the property and an adjacent 59-acre conservation easement in 2005 for $13.9 million, including a $1.15 million contribution from the City of Sonoma.
State parks initially planned to take over the preserve but when those plans fell through amid the state's budget crisis Sonoma city leaders began weighing whether to acquire the property.
The city would not have to pay for the property. But it would have to pick up the costs for maintaining it. Whether the city can afford to take on continued maintenance is the key issue under consideration.
The Sonoma Ecology Center submitted a proposal to the city to do the maintenance work for as much as $15,000 annually, money that would come from the city's general fund.
That does not include $10,000 in initial start-up costs related to environmental review.
The City Council on Monday will review the cost estimates while weighing whether to proceed with the acquisition.
"It's a big step," Planning Director David Goodison said Friday. "We're asking the council to express what their intent is."
Goodison said the city would have to contract out the maintenance work because the city's Public Works Department does not have the required staffing or budget.
The Open Space District would continue to pay for maintenance on the preserve for another three years under the current proposal.
Mayor Laurie Gallian on Friday said that she is leaning toward supporting the acquisition. She said that the city could seek more bids for the maintenance work or partner with agencies to help keep costs down.
"It can be a controlled cost," she said. "I think this opportunity is very unique. I would hate to pass it up."
Plans to install nearly two miles of hiking paths on the preserve and provide parking for visitors drew some neighborhood opposition when they first were proposed in 2007.
The parking plans have since been scaled back, with only two on-street handicapped parking spaces planned at the Fourth Street West trail head.
That trail would begin on the east side of Fourth Street West, across from the intersection of Harazthy Drive, and run roughly parallel to Fourth Street while curving to the east.
That would lead to some separation between the trail and the Montini Way subdivision, where some residents have opposed trail heads in the area because "they did not wish to see hikers in the view from their backyards," according to a county staff report.
Goodison said the city has not received any significant opposition to the current trail plans. Construction could begin in spring 2012.