UPDATE on Aug. 24, 2023: The upgrade project has been completed.
The $2.1 million landscape upgrade of the Hiddenbrooke Parkway is expected to be completed in early September, according to Vallejo Public Works Director Jason Lacey. It is the greatest achievement of the Hiddenbrooke Maintenance District (HMD) Advisory Committee, according to Committee Chair Byrne Conley. Here’s a Committee overview with insight into its achievements and challenges.
Committee Background. Before there was a Hiddenbrooke Property Owners Association (HPOA) there was a HMD Advisory Committee. Today, it is a standing committee of the HPOA but its purpose has always been to work with Hiddenbrooke property owners and City staff in an advisory role regarding the HMD which is a City special purpose taxing entity that is responsible for maintaining specific City property which includes the Welcome Center, parkway landscaping, pocket parks, and some open spaces within the Hiddenbrooke development. The Committee and City staff have always had a close relationship with City staff eager for Committee advice on maintenance needs and contract oversight. But, to be clear, the City has complete decision making authority on how tax funds are collected and spent. At present, the key City staff contacts for HMD issues are Landscape Maintenance Division Director Jason Lacey and Inspector James Olsen. The current HMD Advisory Committee members are: Byrne Conley as chair with Chuck Cocho, Bob Schussel, Laurie Foster, and Ian Forsythe.
Special Taxes Paid by Hiddenbrooke Residents. All Hiddenbrooke residential property owners were billed $611 in fiscal year 2022-2023 for the HMD which was a reduction from the $695 charged in past years. The reduction happened because the Committee was successful in convincing the City that the over $3 million of budget surplus in the account was a sufficient cushion. The same $611 amount will be billed by the City to all residents for the fiscal year 2023-2024. These fees total an annual City budget of $721,000. The biggest HMD expenditures last year were: $231,000 for Welcome Center security guard staffing, about $120,000 for landscape maintenance contract, $100,000 for utilities (primarily water), and $152,000 for City administrative staff overhead.
This article is focused on the HMD, but there is also the Hiddenbrooke Improvement District (HID) which deserves its own article. For the purposes of this discussion, you should know that the most Hiddenbrooke residents are billed $1,200 to $1,800 annually to pay down bonds that the City issued in 1998 to fund the initial municipal capital infrastructure improvements in the valley, such as streets, streetlights, water, sewer, etc. To learn more about HID, visit https://hiddenbrookeonline.org/hid/.
Parkway Upgrade. The $2.1 million upgrade contract awarded by the City was paid from a surplus in the HID thanks to successful negotiation over many years by HMD Advisory Committee members and HPOA leadership. This means that no one’s taxes or HPOA dues have gone up to pay for the Parkway upgrade. Instead, the City agreed, after much Committee convincing, that the Parkway upgrade was a worthy expenditure of surplus funds that were accumulated in the HID account.
Byrne believes the Committee’s efforts to get the Parkway upgraded are its greatest achievement because the area was in such disrepair due to irrigation system aging and drought restrictions that resulted in significant landscaping damage. The upgrade includes a new entrance sign, extensive re-landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, a path to the mailbox, and a large tree near the Welcome Center. See the landscaping plan concept at chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://hiddenbrookeonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Hiddenbrooke-100-Conceptual-Landscape-FINAL.pdf
Once the contractor completes the Parkway upgrade project, it will be turned over to the HMD for upkeep.
Welcome Center. The Welcome Center’s on-going security guard staffing remains a challenge for the HMD Advisory Committee. That’s because the security staff contract is technically between the HPOA and the security firm although the contract cost is reimbursed to the HPOA from the City’s HMD tax account. The current security firm has just finished the third year of a three-year contract. The HMD Advisory Committee encouraged the City to approve a one year extension with a small contract dollar increase to the firm so it could pay higher wages in hopes of improving staff quality. If service doesn’t improve, the Committee will have the opportunity to work with the City to contract with a new security firm. Committee member Chuck Cocho provides extensive oversight of the security firm contract on behalf of the City as a volunteer.
The Welcome Center was opened in 2001 so the developer’s staff could guide prospective homeowners to the builder subdivisions that had properties for sale. Once home building stopped, the developer was prepared to tear down the center but a poll of homeowners showed 85% wanted the Center to remain. The HPOA worked with the City to assume Center operations to be paid from HMD tax funds. Further, the Center had a $90,000 renovation in 2022 using HMD surplus funds. Committee member Chris Brittle shepherded the renovation project with City staff.
Security Cameras. Recently, the Committee agreed with the City to allow HMD funds (about $4,000 per year) to be used to lease two Flock(r) security cameras that are installed at the Welcome Center’s entrance and exit. The new cameras are a significant improvement over the cameras they replaced because the Flock video streams are networked with all area police departments, and Committee staff may conduct faster, more sophisticated searches of the archived video. Committee member Chuck Cocho manages the Flock camera relationship to assist police in the event of suspicious activity reported to the Center and/or police by residents. To learn more about the capabilities of the Flock system, visit https://www.flocksafety.com/
Firebreak Overgrowth. Another major effort for Committee members is assisting residents frustrated with overgrowth in firebreak areas, especially at this time of year. A key challenge is determining if the mowing of an overgrowth area is the responsibility of:
- Landscape contractor hired with HMD funds to maintain the common areas
- Golf course owner
- Solano Land Trust
- Homeowner who might not realize an area beyond their fencing is actually considered their private property
The performance of the current landscape contractor, New Image, is an ongoing topic of discussion between the Committee and City staff. The City replaced the previous landscape contractor due to service problems. Committee member Ian Forsyth has lead responsibility for working with the City on landscaper contract issues and resolution of property ownership disputes.
Committee members and the HPOA President are hoping to meet with the golf course owner this month to discuss closer cooperation and seek attention to the upkeep of areas that have been neglected, including the ground between the course’s white fence and public sidewalks, especially at the community entrance.
Learn More About the Committee. To learn more about the Committee’s activities, including past meeting minutes, visit https://hiddenbrookeonline.org/hmdac/