Editorial: Forty years later, updating open space vision

As open space and recreational opportunities become ever more important, a good time to reassess priorities

From virtually anywhere on the Midpeninsula, Windy Hill's unique treeless contours dominate the Skyline ridge and provide a constant reminder of how lucky we are to have the vast amounts of open space lacking in other urban areas.

Longtime Peninsula residents can remember when it was not at all assured that today's spectacular views of our undeveloped coastal mountains would avoid development.

But thanks to the vision of people who were the pioneers of a burgeoning local environmental movement, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) was formed in 1972 through a voter initiative and privately owned land was gradually acquired and opened for public use.

Today MROSD now oversees 26 preserves totaling more than 60,000 acres with more than 225 miles of trails, and that doesn't include vast additional acreage of other connected open-space lands and trails operated by other public agencies.

When one combines the land owned by various groups, including MROSD, the federal, state and county governments, the city of San Francisco Water Department and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, the expanse of undeveloped open-space watershed between Los Gatos and Pacifica has largely been permanently protected.

Increasingly, these agencies have recognized it is their responsibility to make these lands available for public use and enjoyment, not to simply preserve them.

As the demand for recreational opportunities increases with population growth and more active lifestyles, parks and open-space agencies are grappling with how to best serve the public, and how to balance competing interests.

To its credit, the Midpeninsula Open Space District has pulled out all the stops to undertake a $500,000 visioning and priority-setting process called "Imagine the Future of Open Space." With the help of consultants, it has conducted formal surveys and hundreds of informal interviews and group sessions to gather public input. Public meetings are scheduled over the next few weeks to gain further input, and the elected directors are expected to adopt a final plan by the end of the year.

Like many planning exercises, however, the scope of the visioning process is so broad that it risks not focusing enough attention on the most important and controversial questions: How much and what types of recreational uses should be allowed and supported within the district's preserves?

The values promoted in the draft plan — stewardship, education, biodiversity, enjoyment of nature, increased diversity of visitors and improved visitor experience — are all appropriate and certainly belong in MROSD's visioning document. The plan's laundry list of 74 prioritized action items, which detail specific improvements in each region within the district, including new trails, improved trail connections, habitat restoration, better parking, signage and maintenance, are sound.

But in both being broad and visionary on the one hand, and ultra-specific on the other, critical questions about how we want to use these valuable resources for recreational purposes get lost.

For example, currently in the entire open-space district, backpack camping is permitted in only one spot, atop Black Mountain above Los Altos Hills, where there are five campsites. Should development of additional overnight camping opportunities be part of a long-range plan?

Mountain biking is allowed in 16 of the 26 preserves on about 140 miles of trails. Horseback riding is permitted in all but five of the preserves.

But for dog owners, who far outnumber mountain bikers or equestrians, the district is decidedly unfriendly. Only four of the preserves on the Midpeninsula are open to dogs, and most offer only short-distance trails of little interest to serious hikers. One preserve promoted as dog-friendly, the Foothills Open Space Preserve on upper Page Mill Road, has a single trail that is less than a half-mile long.

We are happy to see the Midpeninsula Open Space District undertake this major planning process, but as it nears completion we hope directors don't dodge the controversial questions about expanding and diversifying recreational opportunities. How we use these lands is as important as how we preserve them.

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Like this comment
Posted by Brian Steen
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 11, 2013 at 11:11 am

The open space accomplishments are indeed great but the job isn't done. Using the Editor's boundaries of Los Gatos to Pacifica, there are thousands of acres that are logged on a regular basis. And there are hundreds of undeveloped house-sites in this same area whose value is going up as the result of the hard won open space around them. So please continue on, Mid-Pen, with public benefit land acquisition and please don't use the word completion yet.

Like this comment
Posted by Jim Clifford
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm

The district needs to be less arrogant and more user friendly. I went on a group hike led by a docent who felt free to express his political opinions to a captive audience. I complained to the district, which failed to reply.

Like this comment
Posted by Taggot
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I love the Open Space Parks, except for Windy Hill: it is FULL of ticks!

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Posted by MM
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm

With all that space it seems that there could be a few more areas where dogs and their owners could go and let the dogs be a dog.

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Posted by Jimmae
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I'd like to see a breakdown of user groups access to actual trails that are defined by being 4 ft wide or less.
Fireroads are dirt,but , imho, do not constitute trails.
Ex:Windy Hill OSP
Mt Bikes are only allowed on the Spring Ridge Trail, which is a fireroad, not a trail.
Which of the 140 miles of "trails" mt bikes are allowed on are actually fireroads?

I ask this width of trails specific question for the sake of clarity, as I am very doubtful that mt bikes have the "trails" mileage stated by MROSD.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Four feet? I'm looking at my measuring tape. Is it physically possible for oncoming mountain bikers to pass each other in that width? My road bike handlebar is 17 inches, but most mountain bikes I see start at 26 inches.

Like this comment
Posted by jimmae
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I'm not sure what the mrosd official width of single track trails is(non fire road) , but for sake of clarity for all to visualize, how about 6 ft wide trails or less?

Like this comment
Posted by Berkeley Mike
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Yes, mountain bikes can pass each other in a 4 ft space. It is a matter of cooperation and sharing.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm

and a matter of speed management and visibility when hikers are in the mix.

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Posted by Jim Sullivan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

Yes, sharing is key.
We Palo Altans have found a way, through creative management, to allow leashed dog walking on all trails within our own 1,400 acre Foothills Park during the weekdays.(see copied ordinance below).

The question above to clarify what constitutes a trail is also a valid point in need of clarification.
Myself and many others in the over 60 yrs age brackets ride mt bikes due to our fading knee,hip,ankles,etc.The option to walk w poles to steady ourselves is unappealing and still impacts excessively our various ailments when we recreate.

The only MROSD sanctioned multi use trail we have to ride from Palo Alto area w/o necessarily driving our motor vehicles is the Spring Ridge "trail" on Windy Hill.
A straight up 10%+ grade fireroad w no shade whatsoever to shelter from the occasionally blazing sun.
Within earshot of the Spring Ridge trail, is the Razorback Ridge and Hamms Gulch trails,which are shaded,terraced paths that connect along the Lonely trail at their summits.

I sincerely appreciate + have paid into ensuring that our open spaces are preserved for future generations to relish.
The gist of this editorial is how MROSD manages our publicly funded open spaces.
I would enjoy seeing a few more options in regards to Bicycle in camping, Dog walking available trails,and broadened access for mt bike riding from Bay area region to Skyline blvd through multiple MROSD managed preserves.

Foothills Park Preserve Rules:
Dogs are not permitted anywhere in Foothills Park on weekends or City Holidays. Dogs are only permitted on weekdays and must be on leash at all times.

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Posted by Butch Meyner
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

It is absolutely irresponsible and unreasonable to manage public resources by simply banning activities that might create a problem.
Mountain bikers, equestrians, dog walkers and hikers can all coexist on the same trail if individuals exhibit simple courtesy and educate our fellow users. Dogs must be leashed, bikers need to dismount around horses and runners must pay attention while traveling at speed with headphones on; these are just a few of the other courtesies respectful users should extend to others.
We have to police our selves, and we need to share with others. There are a lot of people who all deserve to be able to use our parks

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Dogs are a mistake on trails. Rather than run over a dog, I suffered a broken clavicle and scapula. Keep dogs off the trails.

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Posted by jim sullivan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 14, 2013 at 7:12 am

Good Points Butch, I'd like to add that having other users on potentially very remote trails is a huge plus imho.
As I stated above,many of us over 60 yrs on folks also have various medical health realities. When I encounter others walking,riding horses or bicycles on the trails, I am confident that , in the event of an emergency, help would not be far off.
The flip side of that is personally speaking, I have saved many lost hikers and bicyclists from potential harm in my decades of ranging on the trails above us.(never a horse rider,those folks know what their doing!)
Mainly parks visitors that have not given themselves enough time to get back to where they started before darkness falls.
My point:
Having a mixed bag of trails users makes for a safer outing for all. Not just for lost wanderers, but when horse riders and trails walkers,bicyclists recreate with a conscious anticipation of encountering others,the potential startle factor diminishes greatly.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 14, 2013 at 7:20 am

I grew up and live in PA, and would like to see the legitimate new housing needs of the Peninsula's middle class addressed. As I see it, until/unless some of the foothills area above our multi-millionaire PV, Woodside, LAH and Atherton residents to the west are opened to development, there are only two ways to afford a middle class home: leave PA or make $5-10M+ at a tech startup.

Lifelong Palo Altans are rapidly being forced out of our own city, while smug landowners play the "hills are sacrosanct" line until they sell out and move into retirement homes.

Like this comment
Posted by Yoriko Kishimoto
a resident of University South
on Oct 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Thanks for the excellent article, editorial and comments! I hope readers can come and participate in the coming workshops. This is the time for input!

Web Link

Yoriko Kishimoto
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
Director, Ward 2

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

"As I see it, until/unless some of the foothills area above our multi-millionaire PV, Woodside, LAH and Atherton residents to the west are opened to development, there are only two ways to afford a middle class home"

Why not open PV, Woodside, LAH and Atherton to development? There's lots of infill space on those estates.

But the real problem is the elephant in the room: heedless population growth.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Estes
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

My desire is for interesting Mountain Bike trails and access to existing trails, for all. As far as I know, there are trails that are closed because of a single incident. With any type of shared usage, there are going to be some problems, but over-reacting to isolated incidents is not a great solution. Close all the trails to everyone and there wouldn't be any problems at all. The claim I've heard is that they don't want to rescue us when we hurt ourselves ... let us take some personal responsibility for our actions.

I've been biking and hiking on the penisula for 10+ years, and I don't think there are any more issues at places like Pogonip and UCSC than at med-pen parks, and they allow much more interesting trails and are typically more open to mutli-use options.

Trails users are so much more alike in their love of the outdoors. We should all work together for the common good.

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Posted by Marcel
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Oct 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm

It's about time that Midpen wakes and smells the 21st century. Its policies show a very high bias against mountain biking, while kowtowing to well heeled equestrians and entrenched hikers.

Cyclists are tired of being stuck in the back of the trail bus. Specifically, we need to have more access to narrow trails, more access to parks currently closed to us, and finally, if Midpen does not want to make the trails multi use, then we need access to bike only trails. Being the second highest user group by number, and probably the first user group in terms of miles covered, we deserve better access than the crumbs Midpen is giving us.

Alienating your second biggest user group is not very smart, and would not help passing future bond measures

Like this comment
Posted by Berkeley Mike
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Since when do animals dictate how people can use trails?

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 25, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Access figures for mountain biking are misrepresented. Most of the mileage are not "trails" but roads and fireroads. Steep, rutted, covered with gravel - and pretty impossible to ride for anybody but an expert biker. Well designed, contouring trails are few, and far up in the hills.

And all the best lands with easy access to recreation are reserved for rich horse owners of Portola Valley and Woodside - who ride those trails maybe once in a blue moon. 1% of Santa Clara county population keeps the rest of us from healthy recreation. It is a long drive up to the Skyline to get anywhere.

I pay taxes for those lands, I want to be able to take my kids out for a ride - and I do not have a place to keep a horse for that.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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