Proposal to expand public access to Peninsula watershed draws opposition

Area has been kept off limits in effort to protect water quality, wildlife

By Sara Gaiser | Bay City News Service

A proposal to further open to the public a large tract of Peninsula open space controlled by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) continues to meet with stiff opposition from environmental groups.

At a recent hearing before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee, groups including the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and the Committee for Green Foothills spoke against a resolution urging the SFPUC to expand public access to trails in the Peninsula Watershed.

Public officials and recreation advocates have pushed for years for increased access to the watershed, a 23,000-acre open-space area in San Mateo County that includes the Crystal Springs, San Andreas and Pilarcitos reservoirs. The area has been kept largely off limits in an effort to protect water quality and wildlife.

Currently, the public has access to the Crystal Springs Regional Trail on the eastern edge of the watershed, which is managed by the San Mateo County parks department, and can sign up for docent led walks on the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail within the watershed.

The SFPUC is now considering moving to a system that would allow unlimited trail access to hikers who paid for an annual permit, according to Tim Ramirez, manager of land management and natural resources for the commission. In addition, the agency is working on developing 11 miles of planned trails within the watershed, including a 6-mile extension of the Bay Ridge Trail.

"Development of an annual permit system will increase education and recreation opportunities," Ramirez said. "We're trying always to work to provide these opportunities for people in a way that is consistent with our goals for the watershed."

At the Sept. 12 hearing, proponents for increased access described the move as a matter of social justice and described efforts by environmental groups to limit access as "elitist."

However, environmental groups said social justice could be served by increasing partnerships with schools and groups in underserved areas, without endangering the watershed.

They warned that hikers would inevitably wander off trails, increasing erosion, harming protected wildlife and increasing the risk of a fire. More rangers and enforcement would be required, at an unknown cost.

"This is a protected watershed and a wildlife refuge," said Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills. "It is not a park and it was never contemplated as a park."

"It would take only one match to turn this treasured place into a disaster zone," she said.

The resolution urging the SFPUC to expand public access was introduced by San Francisco supervisors John Avalos, Scott Wiener and David Campos earlier this year. It is nonbonding, and any final decision on access to the watershed will be made by the SFPUC.

Despite a bid by Avalos and Supervisor Aaron Peskin to hold the resolution over another week for further discussion with stakeholder groups, the committee voted 2-1 to forward the resolution to the full board for a vote on Sept. 27. Supervisors Wiener and Malia Cohen voted in support, with Peskin opposed.

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25 people like this
Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Environmental concerns are well-founded. I support the doent-led tours but not Open Access, PERMITS OR NOT...

Was there no mention regarding Homeland Security Safety Issues and potential danger to the main drinking water source for San Francisco, not to mention other communities that depend on the water being protected from Terrorists? I am not into conspiracy theories, but I certainly hope that was a concern that was brought up when they trotted out this idea.

Keep the Watershed access restricted, PLEASE!

21 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2016 at 11:16 am

Close Highway 92, which cuts right through the reservoirs, dumping huge amounts of motor oil and other pollutants directly into our water supply. I am sure that the highway causes much more pollution than off-leash hikers ever will.

3 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2016 at 11:57 am

Dear resident:

Do you have anything to substantiate your claim that Highway 92 is awash in oil and other pollutants? From what I understand, Crystal Springs contains the cleanest water in central California west of Lake Tahoe.

6 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 20, 2016 at 2:24 pm

jh is a registered user.

For years have wished the watershed had a few more trails open to the public, but then I read the comment about fire, and completely changed my mind.

15 people like this
Posted by Plenty of places to hike
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm

We have humans beings flying through the air, gliding under the ocean, walking on the south pole, climbing every peak, living in every jungle, forest, desert, swamp etc. What is our compulsion with placing our feet on every single square yard left untouched? This watershed has been protected for 150 years. Just leave it be. Find another place to take your walk.

1 person likes this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 25, 2016 at 4:07 pm

The lands long controlled by the SFPUC have long been closed to the public. Initially to protect the water supply, and more recently to protect habitat, both reasonable and even laudable goals. However, those same lands have for just as long been the private exclusive playground of the politically well connected in what I consider a blatant F.Y. to the public at large.

I would suggest that the land either be open to the public similar to the Open Space model around the bay area, or close the area off completely, no exceptions, except for activities directly related to the protection of the habitat surrounding. No special trips in the preserve for politicians, their yes men, hangers on, extended family, donors, observers, etc. Make a true refuge where people are the intruders.

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

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