Push for disc golf course in Hilltop Lake Park angers some on council
on April 5, 2021
Late this winter in Hilltop Lake Park, people wondered why Richmond city crews were yanking out shrubs and clearing an expanse of green.
Some asked their City Council members, only to find that they, too, were puzzled.
A council member took the question to the city manager, who also was unaware of what crews were doing in the park.
As it turns out, they were making way for a disc golf course that the nonprofit East Bay Disc Golf Club hopes to open in the park. The club didn’t realize the plan would upset some nearby residents and park users and incense some City Council members.
The mixup put the brakes on the plan, which will return to the Recreation and Parks Commission on Wednesday and could make its way to the City Council.
Nathaniel Bates called it the most embarrassing experience he’s had as a council member.
“What kind of city do we run where people can arbitrarily do anything they want without going through the due process of a public hearing?” he asked at the March 16 council meeting.
Apparently, the Recreation and Parks Commission gave the 18-hole course a green light in December, clearing the way for the Public Works Department to prepare the course for a spring opening. And the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council gave its consent in a January letter.
City Manager Laura Snideman said she hasn’t been able to find any policy outlining procedures for such matters, though there is precedent. The commission gave the go-ahead for a soccer field in 2018 without the Planning Commission’s or City Council’s involvement.
But Eduardo Martinez, who formerly was on the Recreation and Parks Commission, recalled that there was an established process and that it ended with the Planning Commission or council. He said he was “very, very angry” about the way the disc golf club’s request was handled.
The club’s president, Jon Braidman, said his group would set up the course at no cost to the city and that hundreds of players already had volunteered to help with that. He said he thought the club had gone through the proper channels.
“If the people do not want the course to be installed for free, that’s fine with the club,” he said.
Martinez asked if one of the club members involved with the project was Andrew Butt, the son of Mayor Tom Butt and a former member of the city’s Planning Commission.
Braidman said Andrew Butt is part of the club but is not a board member. He also addressed the council’s questions about why there are tournament fees if the club says it makes no money. He said the fees cover the costs of discs and prizes for winners.
Several residents spoke against the proposal during the council meeting, with safety being their top concern. One mentioned being injured by a disc during a walk in another Bay Area park.
Several club members promoted the plan, saying disc golf has been played safely for 40 years and has a large following in the region.
The sport emerged in the 1970s and has grown to more than 2 million players worldwide on more than 8,000 courses, which mostly are in public parks. It is similar to golf, except that instead of clubs and balls, players sink discs or Frisbees into elevated baskets. The discs range from putters to drivers and weigh less than half a pound. But they travel fast, at more than 40 mph, leaving little reaction time for people who inadvertently may be in the way.
Because Hilltop Lake Park is a favorite for walkers, bird-watchers and families, council member Gayle McLaughlin joined residents who said it wasn’t appropriate for disc golf.
Since the meeting, the club, through its Facebook page, called on members to fight for the course by emailing council members about what the sport means to them and how it could benefit the community.
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