Neighbors leery of proposed development in Ukiah's western hills

Jun 10, 2021

June 9, 2021 — A proposed development in the Western Hills of Ukiah has neighbors fuming as the city takes steps to acquire and annex about 700 acres off of Redwood Avenue, in the headwaters of Doolan Creek. The property currently belongs to David Hull, who gave the city 188 acres adjacent to the proposed project parcels late last year. The city wants to break 54 acres into seven lots for single family residential parcels, where owners would be allowed to build one main house and one additional dwelling unit each. According to city documents, no purchasers have been identified and the timing of the sale and development of the properties is unknown. The remaining 640 acres would be rezoned public facilities, which is the same designation used for city parks. The property is still on county land, and the project would need to go through Ukiah’s planning commission and City Council before the city could even start the annexation process, which could take a year.

But last month, when the item was scheduled to come before the planning commission, thirty-eight letters came in, only three of them supporting the project. A few others, from agency representatives, offered analyses of what would be needed to carry out the proposal, but most expressed opposition on the grounds of increased traffic, fire risk, and impacts to wildlife.

Ted Aff is a retired Oakland firefighter who remembers fighting the Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991, before wind-driven blazes that jumped over freeways had become a way of life in California. 

Aff and other members of the Firesafe Council are worried because the homes would be on the wrong side of a firebreak meant to protect the city from fires coming in from the west. But Maya Simerson, a project administrator in the city manager’s office, says that’s been vetted with CalFire, the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, and the city fire marshall.

She also said that homeowners would have to maintain the properties according to fire code and the rules of a homeowners association. Retired CalFire battalion chief Michael Maynard, who was responsible for local fuel reduction efforts in the last ten years, wrote a letter saying he thinks acquiring the Hull Properties would reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in the Ukiah Valley. Aff said he and the retired chief have “a different assessment” of the situation, adding that he does “not underestimate the lethality of fire.”

Another supportive letter was from a real estate agent who reminded the commission that the hospital is always trying to recruit doctors who go to “other areas with a larger inventory of homes.” An opposing letter writer declared that single-family homes are “so last century.” And Aff thinks a lot of work is going into building a few homes for rich people. “The views are spectacular,” he said. “Oddly enough, they characterize these properties as moderate income properties. So either their scale of what moderate income is, is far different than mine, or they're downplaying the value in order to fit in with the city’s general plan, which requires a certain number of moderate income  houses.” 

Simerson says she thinks the developer would build on the land even if it stayed in the county, and the city didn’t get involved; and that the city is the best agency to take the lead in the project.