Update: A portion of the Bay Trail reopened on Monday, Feb. 12, and the Faber-Laumeister trail will be smoothed out. Read more here.
Users of two popular East Palo Alto baylands trails are angry that a flood-prevention project has led to the trails becoming unusable -- one potentially for the rest of 2018.
The Bay Trail is an important bicycle-commuter route, local residents say. It leads from the Friendship Bridge in East Palo Alto over San Francisquito Creek to the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, Geng Road and East Bayshore Road. East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Mountain View commuters use the trails to get to and from work, including to Google and Facebook.
Sections of the Bay Trail were closed last fall to allow Pacific Gas & Electric to remove an abandoned gas pipeline and to do other work that will increase the floodwater capacity and the movement of water in the marshlands and out to the bay. The trails were to reopen on Feb. 3, but the contractor informed Santa Clara Valley Water District officials in mid-January of plans to keep the site closed through Dec. 28 due to technical and liability concerns.
Meanwhile, the adjacent Faber-Laumeister Trail, which stretches from the end of Runnymede Street and the Bay Trail to the San Francisco Bay, has become a choppy stew of dirt clods and mud after a federally mandated revegetation project.
The trail, located on top of a berm, was closed until early February for replanting with native flora, which was a requirement of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority's (JPA) flood-prevention project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandated that the JPA add native plants to the berm to create habitat for endangered species, including the Ridgway's rail, an elusive bird that lives in the marsh, and the salt-marsh harvest mouse. The species need high locations during high tide and flood periods with adequate cover from predators.
Now open again, the formerly hard-packed, meandering trail is impassable, users say.
The loss of both trails has irked those who use them for commuting and recreation.
"Our community really relies on the (Bay) trail and bridge for safe passage out of our neighborhoods," East Palo Alto resident Danielle Goldstein said in an email.
"East Bayshore is still in a dangerous condition (because of reconstruction of a bridge) and is extremely narrow and not safe for cyclists -- there is barely enough room for cars, let alone a shoulder," she wrote. "For many people, including me and my husband, there is no alternative."
Terry Barton, a longtime commuter, has used the Bay Trail for 18 years to get to his office in Menlo Park.
"The trail closure has forced me to use East Bayshore Road. ... Even at its best, this route has hazards. Given the lack of a safe alternative, keeping the trail close seems unwarranted," he said in an email. "The benefits of safety for commuters and reduced traffic along with the recreational resource used by people living nearby don't seem to have been taken into account."
Uriel Hernandez has forsaken his 15-minute bike commute to drive instead.
"I would rather sit in traffic for 45 minutes for a three-mile drive than risk getting hit by a car making a forced detour," he said by email.
Although the Faber-Laumeister Trail is technically open, it is in such poor condition as to be unusable, residents said.
"It is inexcusable that the JPA destroyed a heavily used recreation trail in East Palo Alto to compensate for habitat loss in Palo Alto," East Palo Alto resident Mark Dinan said. "The Faber-Laumeister Trail is now unwalkable 200 feet past the entrance, and what was once used by hundreds of people every week is now a hazard.
"Everyone is happy to see flood protection work being done, but the JPA needs to respect East Palo Alto in the process -- something I am not seeing from my point of view," he added.
Although the berm work is being conducted by the JPA, Jared Underwood -- marsh manager at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, in which the berm is located -- said he knows of no plans for the path to be graded. Staff has spray-painted a line through the new plantings, which they hope people will follow to delineate a new path in the way the old path was created: by foot traffic.
To address public concerns about the trails, JPA officials will hold a community meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto YMCA, 550 Bell St., East Palo Alto.
Though the Bay Trail contractor notified the Water District of postponement of the trail's re-opening, officials of the district, JPA and city of East Palo Alto met on Monday to try to figure out a way to keep the trail segments open.
"We realize it's a substantial inconvenience to go to East Bayshore Road, and it's not an ideal route. We're trying to find a solution," Materman said.
Gary Kremen, board chair of the JPA and Santa Clara Valley Water District, said the site is being used by the contractor as a staging area for trucks and equipment. He and the JPA are working hard through negotiations to get the trails reopened, hopefully very soon, he added.
The contractor has to take a hiatus from the work from now until through September anyway due to the Ridgway's rail mating and nesting season, which requires that the habitat not be disturbed, but the trail would have to be closed again from September through January, according to the JPA.