The saga of the bike trail

Roseville residents, city at odds over proposed multi-use trail
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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On an overcast afternoon in March, Donna Wilson walks through the Linda Creek greenbelt in Roseville, as she does several times a week for enjoyment, but this time it’s to critique the merits of a paved multi-use trail that may one day cut through the area.

That day remains years off, but some residents are already concerned.

Wilson, who has lived on the creek for 25 years, has walked many times down a gravel service road — and de facto walking path — through this greenbelt to inform neighbors about the proposed 4.25-mile Dry Creek Greenway Trail that would run along three local creeks in Roseville and connect to other existing and planned bike trails, including the American River Parkway.

Wilson is neither decidedly against, nor for, the bike trail. But she has plenty of concerns. She used to be able to voice these concerns as volunteer representative of the Meadow Oaks Neighborhood Association, serving on the city’s trail project stakeholder group. After a year in this capacity, she was unceremoniously fired by the neighborhood association board.

Meanwhile, the city is proceeding with the trail plan, now working on an updated feasibility study. Some residents have cast doubt on the project — both its potential impact on the area and how the city has handled its progression. Recent actions have left these residents wondering just how far this effort will go and whose opposing voices might be squelched along the way.

‘(We) love it just the way it is’

Resident Eric Welty, his wife and their four young children have lived on the greenbelt for a year. They moved to Roseville for a better quality of life, he said.

“My goal is to find enough people to stand up and say we don’t want (the bike trail),” Welty says.

He has spoken against the trail at a Roseville City Council meeting and attended public meetings about the project, including one at the Maidu Community Center, where he spoke with Alternative Transportation Analyst Mike Dour.

“I asked, ‘Is there anything stopping a bicyclist from getting through here now?’” Welty said. “And he said, ‘no.’”

Bicyclists already cruise through the area on a regular basis, Welty said, adding that the American River Parkway is a different culture where bicyclists reign supreme.

“(The city) can’t argue that this will be less friendly toward children and older folks and anybody not moving at the 15 to 25 mph speed most bicyclists want to travel at,” Welty said.

Dour said the city’s lack of speed limits on its 30 miles of bike trails hasn’t been a significant problem. In 2010, the city adopted “Share the Trail Guidelines” and later installed “Share the Trail” signs as a pilot program along the Miners Ravine Trail to address conflicts on multi-use trails and remind people how to behave.

Welty said the paved trail privileges bicyclists, not the larger community.

“We live in a city,” he said. “Here is this peaceful pocket and people just love it the way it is.”

Mark Allen, a volunteer with the Dry Creek Conservancy who serves as its stakeholder representative on the project, says his organization supports the multi-use trail. He said a bike trail may make people more invested in caring for the surrounding area.

“If you have a trail, then people going into the area, they don’t want it to be an eyesore, they want the amenity maintained and for it to be a pleasurable place to go,” Allen said.

Dour said many residents want more paved bike trails, citing a 2007 survey in which trails were identified as the most desired recreational amenity.

“In all of our surveys, the public has expressed a real desire for bike trails in open spaces,” Dour said. “By paving them, it allows people to have more access to those areas and more opportunities for alternative transportation.”

Open space worker fired

Before one public meeting on the project, Welty ran into Scott Dietrich, a trained environmental engineer and then an open space worker with the city of Roseville who innovated eco-friendly bioengineering efforts and coordinated the Adopt-a-Creek program.

Dietrich is also friends with Wilson. The pair met three years ago during a nature walk near Linda Creek, and have since collaborated on several community projects together.

Dietrich told the Press Tribune he had expressed concerns with colleagues about impacts to the creek that weren’t being discussed and urged them to conduct a geomorphic survey, which would provide data on the current and future stability of the creeks being impacted by the bike trail.

“Current data suggest that building roads and bridges near creeks or in floodplains can significantly affect the biological and geomorphic stability of that creek,” Dietrich said via email, while traveling. “Many of our creeks possibly affected by the bike trail currently show severe erosion and bank instability and are in close proximity to private property.”

He wanted the city to use precaution and make sure the trail would avoid causing increased erosion and heavy maintenance costs, a problem that’s plagued the bike trail in Saugsted Park, portions of which have fallen into the creek.

“Trying to push a new philosophy that tries to work with the creeks instead of trying to control them has been a difficult sell within the city,” Dietrich said.

Through his community projects, Dietrich often educated residents on sustainable technology such as bioengineering, which uses native plants to stabilize creek banks instead of rock, concrete or other hard structures.

But this philosophy doesn’t necessarily jive with the city’s, as staff has publicly acknowledged that rock and concrete might be needed.

“We’re not sure yet what method we’re going to use,” Dour said. “We’ll have a better idea when we go into the preliminary engineering on the project.”

On March 7, Dietrich said, he was called into his supervisor’s office and released from his position. He said he was not given a reason either from his supervisor in the open space division or from the city’s human resources director.

“It was a surprise to me because I felt that as a public servant I was working with the community and establishing good relationships,” Dietrich said. “It’s been disappointing to see the city react the way they have in the recent months over controversial bike trail issues brought forward by the community. I think we need to make sure that we are establishing an atmosphere where community participation is wanted and issues are taken into consideration and not deemed as a threat but a benefit to bike trail efforts.”

As for Wilson, she worries that Deitrich’s alignment with her may have contributed to his dismissal, as she has often butted heads with the city on the bike trail project.

Stakeholder removed

On Feb. 7, Wilson had been asked to attend a closed-door session, during which the Meadow Oaks Neighborhood Association board voted to dismiss her as the representative on the trail stakeholder group. She said this decision represents a board politically aligned with the city, not the neighborhood.

Board member Kathey Ahrens said she voted against Wilson’s removal because she felt her passion, knowledge and communication skills made her the right person for the position. But Ahrens said Wilson “got called out” by fellow board members for not always speaking as the board’s representative. The decision was made secretly without much discussion, she said.

"The manner in which she was dismissed was, to me, inappropriate,” Ahrens said.

In response to the Press Tribune’s request for the board’s official statement regarding Wilson’s firing, Chairman Jim Robinson wrote in email that Wilson’s removal was her own doing.

“Donna chose to make statements and demands as the (representative) that were never even brought to the board for review or approval,” Robinson said. “After being reprimanded for this she chose to continue, therefore she was brought before the board. After an hour of listening to Donna and trying to get her to understand the board’s issues with her, it was clear she was not going to listen. At that point, a board member, not the chairman, motioned she be removed. A second board member, also not the chairman, seconded that motion. … Although, (the vote) was not unanimous, a 4-2 vote is a strong statement to have her removed, and in a board setting a majority vote rules. So in the best interest of our neighborhood, she was removed and the (alternative representative) who had been in place since her appointment, replaced her.”

That alternative representative is Robinson.

One board member was absent during the vote, and another member is Audrey Huisking, a former member of the Roseville Planning Commission and currently on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Huisking — who voted for the dismissal — was on the steering committee of the city’s 2008 Bicycle Master Plan Update, a project overseen by Dour.

In the neighborhood association’s April newsletter, Robinson wrote a front page article about the trail project that referred to a “disgruntled person,” which led resident Bill Connell to question whether that was about him. It wasn’t: It was about Wilson. But Connell had written a letter to the editor criticizing the trail project, which the editor refused to publish, according to email correspondence.

Homeowner has environmental concerns

The city has held several public workshops about the proposed trail since the project launched in 2008.

Rosalyn Clement has lived on the creek in the Meadow Oaks neighborhood for 20 years. She recently organized her neighbors who live on the creek and told Dour she represented the Blue Jay Drive stakeholders.

“I was told no, (the Meadow Oaks Neighborhood Association) represented me,” Clement said. ““I countered with a definitive, ‘No they absolutely no not,’ which got me nowhere. Instead, I got the response that there were already two resident stakeholders on the stakeholder group committee, and that we should send our concerns to (Robinson).”

She was told she could be considered an individual stakeholder, but not represent a group, she said. Clement, a bicyclist, wants a two-trail system: the unpaved walking path to remain and the paved bike trail to run parallel.

But she’s concerned that the city will use concrete, rock and rip rack for creek bank stabilization, which harms the natural environment. During a recent walk along Linda Creek, she pointed out dozens of oak trees at risk of falling into the water, and trees planted fewer than two decades ago several feet from the bank now resting at the creek’s edge — illustrating erosion.

Clement said the bank near her house has eroded 20 feet since she moved in, which includes 4 feet during a heavy rain in December. Her yard flooded, she said.

The city will likely have to buy some slivers of land in the vicinity of Clement’s house (on the opposite side of the creek) to accommodate the multi-use trail, according to Dour, and doesn’t anticipate being able to acquire an easement for a separate walking trail across the private property.

Once the current feasibility study is finished, the environmental impact review process begins, probably by early summer. That process typically takes nine to 15 months, Dour said.

Mayor Susan Rohan said she has received several emails from residents about the project, and noted that many of their concerns will be addressed later in the process. She urges people to stay involved.

“This is an absolutely gorgeous, treasured area in Roseville and being involved and giving their input in the process will make it a more cherished aspect of the community,” Rohan said.