The Laurel train tunnel has never been easier to see from the road. Someone cleared out the brush leading to the tunnel. If you want to see what the original Old Santa Cruz Hwy looked like, cross Summit Road and continue to Hwy 17. It’s in amazingly good shape for being so old.
Today’s ride was nothing special, but here’s what makes cycling fun:
- Riding across Silicon Valley early on a Sunday morning. Not much traffic.
- Picking up Coyote Creek Trail on Tully Road and knowing someday it will make it to the Bay.
- Riding past Hellyer Park Velodrome
- The crunch of sycamore leaves on a remote section of Coyote Creek Trail
- Santa Clara County Model Aircraft Skypark
- Hawks soaring
- Seeing the windsock at the Metcalf 600 megawatt power plant blowing north
- Riding up to Anderson Reservoir
- Watching migrating Canadian geese land in Anderson Reservoir
- Crossing Hwy 101 on Burnett Avenue with no ramps
- Riding north on Hale Avenue at 24 mph with a tailwind
Enjoy your ride.
I predicted airbag protection in my 2008 futuristic story about using trucks as wind breaks on freeways. I think that will come to pass as well, but not in my lifetime.
Now some women in Sweden have developed an airbag helmet that wraps around your neck. That may be fine in Sweden where it rarely gets above freezing, but not elsewhere.
Still, it’s a start and they’re on the right track.
I haven’t ridden Peters Creek Trail single-track in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for about a million years, so today was as good a day as any to see what it’s like.
Starting at Grizzly Flat the trail descends on a hillside over some rocky sections and then smooths out entering the trees. It’s part old road and part single-track for a mile or so before reaching Two Moon (Green Scum) Lake and Jikoji Zen Center. Having ridden here since the mid-1980s, I can say the trail/road is in about the same shape I remember it. There is ongoing trail maintenance.
We saw a gaggle of hikers and some cyclists, and everything was Kumbaya. Most cyclists in this area know there are hikers, the trail is not steep, so they are well behaved.
I’m not sure what was going on with the air quality, but it smelled and looked like a forest fire had turned the air smoky. I think it was the inversion combined with people using their fireplaces.
Speaking of fires, residents in the mountains from Pescadero to Half Moon Bay area may feel they’ve been burned when they find out they’re going to have to pay fire protection of $150 a year per building on their property, according to the Half Moon Bay Review. The State of California says it needs to make up a Calfire shortfall somehow.
Water districts are no friend of cyclists around these parts, except in Marin County. The Marin Municipal Water District takes an enlightened approach to managing its 18,000 acres.
No doubt they realize that trying to keep people out is a lost cause when Marin County residents’ backyards border district land, so they make the best of it.
There’s plenty of bike riding. Not to be missed — Pine Mountain Road and San Geronimo Ridge Road. Of course, there’s also the railroad grade up Mt. Tamalpais. We’re talking Shay locomotives, so the grade can be 8 percent. It’s no wonder the mountain bike got its start here.
San Jose, San Francisco disappoint
The same cannot be said for the San Jose Water or San Francisco water departments. They must own stock in a razor-wire company.
After decades of public pressure, San Francisco finally allows people onto the peninsula watershed overlooking Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir, but it’s docent led. I find this description particularly offensive describing Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail. “Because of environmental restrictions within our fragile ecosystem, groups must be accompanied by a volunteer trail leader.”
Marin County’s watershed isn’t fragile?
San Jose Water Department, in business since 1866 and publicly owned (listed on the NYSE), is even worse. They took over the South Pacific Coast right of way at Aldercroft Heights in 1947 right under the noses of Santa Clara County officials.
The right-of-way runs through a narrow canyon cut by Los Gatos Creek between Aldercroft Heights and Wrights Station Road. It’s one of the more spectacular roads you could ever hope to visit, but today it’s off limits with high fences and frequent guard patrols. Paranoia runs deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
If you think the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) has a hidden agenda for its well-managed Vision Plan, you’re entitled to that opinion. I don’t believe that’s true because MROSD strictly adheres to the Brown Act, making available its finances and meeting notes on its website.
Few people attend MROSD meetings, so unless you go to the effort and look at the website, you’re missing out.
After looking around I noticed that the District is moving closer to a funding measure on the local ballot, which was reported by the San Jose Mercury News (7/14/2011).
At the Sept. 25, 2013, meeting they contracted with George Gary Manross, Ph.D., who owns Strategy Research Institute (SRI), to monitor their vision plan. Manross was contracted by Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) to conduct a benchmark study to assess likely voter opinion regarding the District’s Vision Plan and related themes, as well as the feasibility of placing a successful funding measure on the local ballot in the near future.
Should the District move forward with a ballot measure, it would retain SRI’s services for writing the ballot language, as well as handling the data management and statistical analysis of District public surveys. Manross is an influential figure in California politics, according to Wikipedia. He predicted Chuck Reed would win the race for mayor of San Jose against Cindy Chavez (I could have predicted that one).
Property tax increase?
The bulk of the District’s revenue — 73 percent or about $30 million — comes from property taxes, with the rest from “transfers in” and “other.”
We all want open space, no denying that. How much the public is willing to pay for it when it’s off limits to humans is another matter.
POST received about $13 million in 2102, $16 million when you add interest and other commitments, which isn’t bad for a non-profit that keeps a low profile.
Now if only we could enjoy the land instead of just looking at it on a map.
Next up, at least there’s one enlightened water district…
I’d like to see a show of hands: How many have received a traffic ticket? Quite a few. How many contested the ticket in court? Not so many hands this time.
Entering a closed area of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) may get you a traffic ticket. The fine is $50, but by the time all the public agencies add their fees, it comes to $281. Ironically, the MROSD receives little, if any, of the fine (according to a ranger), which goes into the county general fund, to pay for a new courthouse, or whatever other use the county sees fit.
Our date with destiny took place on Oct. 28, 2012. On a beautiful warm fall day we four approached Loma Prieta Road from the southwest, taking the traditional route pioneered by Jobst Brandt in the late-1950s.
I noticed for the first time the new MROSD signs. We stopped to take photos at the base of Loma Prieta summit where we saw some youths tearing up the hillside in their 4-wheel drive truck. Later we saw an SUV with off-road motorbikes parked on the road.
At Mt. Umunhum Road we turned right to head down when we encountered about a dozen hikers being ticketed by several MROSD rangers and a county sheriff. One hiker, wanted on a parole violation, was handcuffed. So we joined the fun and got our tickets.
The hikers had unwittingly hiked up to the closed military base and were seen on camera. I’m told it’s a private camera (probably McQueen family, based on this account and image from the other approach to Thayer) and not MROSD’s. I don’t know if they entered the base, but if they did it was a misdemeanor, which is a more serious offense than a traffic ticket.
We stood around and had a friendly talk with the MROSD rangers while Ranger Mike Perez wrote out the tickets. I was the only one without ID so he had to take my word that the information I provided was accurate. Mike became MROSD peace officer number 25 in 2006 and has a masters degree in U.S. colonial history. I figured him for ex-military based on his demeanor.
Once we had our tickets, we headed down Mt. Umunhum Road and home. I would prefer taking Loma Prieta the entire way, but it runs past the base, so Mt. Umunhum Road is the only other option.
I had never been to court, so I figured I should go through the motions, especially since the courthouse was only two miles from where I live and I’m paying for the privilege with my taxes.
I won’t go into all the legal options, of which there are many, including filing a plea online. Back in the early 1980s you might have been able to write a letter and have a ticket dismissed (as I have done), but these days with so many people in the system, you’re just a number. Get in line.
I showed up at court and sat right next to Officer Perez as we waited for the trial, but because he was wearing a suit and so was I, we didn’t recognize one another! Otherwise I would have introduced myself and we could have had a friendly conversation.
While waiting in the court room I observed the routine. Judge Stephen Yep has a disarming way about him that puts people at ease. He quickly dismissed a couple of cases because the accusing officer did not show. A fine is dismissed when that happens.
My case came up and I stood in front of the judge at a podium, Officer Perez to my right. Perez started by describing what happened. Judge Yep asked me if what he said was accurate and I said yes.
I then told my side of the story, which was to argue that the road was public. The judge asked me a couple times if I had seen the MROSD signs, perhaps offering me an “out,” but I was not there to avoid the fine. The judge did show some interest when I described Jobst Brandt’s early day rides. He asked who he was, so I gave a little history. However, he wasn’t interested in seeing photos I brought.
The judge then said that while he respected my right to exercise my constitutional rights, I was guilty. I had already paid the fine, so there was nothing more to do.
One other rider went to court a month later and had the same judge. Brian’s fine was reduced to $150 and the judge twice told him that he could appeal. He said that a traffic court couldn’t rule on his claim that the roads were public and/or county. He also asked the ranger if he thought that bikes were damaging the road, a question that Brian interpreted as the judge being puzzled as to why the roads have been closed for so long.
When I think about government, how it operates and what people expect from it, it raises a lot of philosophical issues about humankind and how we interact. More on that later…
Since so few people have traveled the length of Loma Prieta Road, and probably never will the way things are going, I’ll give you a tour.
I’ve been riding on the road since 1981 and in that time it hasn’t changed much. When Jobst rode it in the early 1960s it wasn’t much different either, except for the gates.
Two iron gates were added where Loma Prieta Road joins Summit Road. One or more were added where Loma Prieta Road joins Soda Springs Road and one at Mt. Umunhum Road.
This is speculation because not even Jobst mentioned when they went in, but it was probably in the late 1960s at the height of the dirt motorbike boom.
The gates are still there, but the ones at Summit Road are open all the time for residents from Loma Chiquita Road. That’s right. They can drive their vehicles on the road, but bicycles are banned. At numerous locations MROSD recently added big red “keep out” signs.
Over the decades we would see on average one vehicle. In the 1980s, especially after the Lexington fire, we were verbally harassed. “This is a private road,” was the mantra. In the 1990s we saw vehicles only occasionally and they usually didn’t stop.
Approach from south
We almost always approached from the southwest on Summit Road. Loma Prieta Road is well maintained as dirt roads go. It starts out with a fairly stiff climb that gets steep, around 16 percent. In the late 1990s that short, steep section was paved, thus eliminating its affectionate name — dirty bump.
Once over the dirty bump the road levels and heads through thin chaparral and brush. There’s a road junction at the base of Loma Prieta, which has radio antennas on the summit. Off to the right is Loma Chiquita Road, which is gated, paved and private. Workers occasionally drive to Loma Prieta summit to maintain the radio towers. One time they asked me the way to Loma Prieta as I was riding up Mt. Bache Road.
Spring watering hole
Staying left on Loma Prieta Road, passing a MROSD keep out sign, the vistas open up looking north toward Mt. Umunhum. It’s spectacular countryside broken by drainage basins. In a quarter mile there’s a spring and a small stone basin, used by early cars that needed to fill their radiators.
A modern water tank, which supplies the spring, can be found a short distance up the hill. The spring is always running.
The road follows a ridgeline so there’s not much climbing or descending. There’s one junction at a sweeping left turn you need to avoid. Heading straight and downhill would not be a good idea because it descends steeply to Alamitos Road. A couple miles farther on, the road smooths out and there’s a former chestnut orchard. Up until around 2005 the only residence next to the road was a trailer here. I never saw the owner but I did see his black dogs. They were none too friendly, but they kept their distance. Shortly after that there’s an MROSD gate with its usual access signage, including the “bikes OK” symbol.
After a long descent, the road levels and there’s the Cathermola Road junction on the left. Keeping right, the road climbs and gets steeper until it’s about a 10 percent grade for a half-mile or so. The only residence near the road is just before Mt. Umunhum Road on the right up a short hill. I know the owner, but he shall remain nameless.
MROSD does not own the entire road, but it’s close. As I’ve noted before, all roads cross private property, but we have easements so people can get around. Public roads are roads that have been in use by the public for long stretches of time. Determining what makes a road public is where attorneys make their living.
Once at paved Mt. Umunhum Road, a left turn takes you to the former radar base. There’s a camera mounted above a high gate. I haven’t been there in eons. Presently the District is removing all the toxic waste from the base. They planned to do that work in 1986, but a lawsuit and a host of other obstacles stood in the way.
Turn right and it’s all downhill on the aging road with some deep fissures hidden in the shade of pine trees. A gate about two miles down is the official “keep out” location where nobody is allowed to pass. The road is steep in many locations, although not as steep as Hicks Road.
I’ve ridden this route about 16 times and only once saw other cyclists, riding mountain bikes.
Back in 1880 the Aptos Lumber Company set up the Loma Prieta sawmill to log present-day Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It wasn’t long before residents of Santa Clara Valley started looking for a direct route to the mill.
Some enterprising citizens built a road starting in Los Gatos at least as early as 1915 according to a USGS map, but it may have been a trail before that. It climbed the beautiful Los Gatos Creek Canyon and headed steeply up present-day Soda Springs Road. From there it followed a series of ridges over to today’s Highland Way and then descended to Aptos on San Jose-Soquel Road or on what’s now Aptos Creek Fire Road.
Ranchers and farmers had already settled the rugged hills, growing chestnuts, grapes, apples, and more. They welcomed Loma Prieta Road as a commercial route. With the advent of cars, motorists explored Loma Prieta and Mount Umunhum via Loma Prieta Road, enjoying spectacular views of Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Over the decades the first- and second-generation of mountain residents died off, and their children had no interest in scratching out a living in the remote mountains subject to fires and assorted other hazards. They sold the land and often subdivided.
In the 1950s a different sort of people moved into the mountains, loners, nature lovers, commuters looking to save a buck. By the 1970s the Sierra Azul area had many homes built without permits. Illegal agriculture became a cash crop in the Sierra Azul.
The Federal government moved in as well, building a radar tower atop Mt. Umunhum in 1957. Land was “purchased” from property owner Loren McQueen, laying the foundation for a feud between McQueen and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) that went on for decades. McQueen owned the mountain tops of Umunhum and Thayer.
A year later in 1958, Jobst Brandt,22, an adventurous cyclist from Palo Alto, rode his bike on a grand loop of about 80 miles, taking Alpine Road to Page Mill Road, south on Skyline Boulevard, Summit Road, up Mt. Bache Road, Loma Prieta Road and down the newly paved Mt. Umunhum Road. He also drove the route in his car. It would be the first of many annual rides following the same route. By the early 1970s, dozens of cyclist tagged along with Jobst to enjoy the wild and scenic Sierra Azul on Loma Prieta Road.
Most riders raced. Jobst and friends rode their racing bikes with glue-on sew-up tires throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, exploring dirt roads and trails before the MROSD had been formed and well before the mountain bike.
When MROSD wound up buying the base in 1983, McQueen must have felt it was a shady deal. He obstructed the open space district at every turn for the rest of his life, filing a lawsuit that went on for years, documented by a government website, and closing Mt. Umunhum Road.
While the district was battling McQueen, a tragic yet fortuitous event occurred in 1985 with the Lexington Fire that consumed 42 homes, 14,000 acres and displaced hundreds who would never return.
MROSD, already on a buying spree in the Sierra Azul, stepped in an bought up many properties from landowners eager to sell.
Starting in the 1980s, the few remaining residents who encountered Jobst on Loma Prieta Road took out their frustrations on him, claiming the road was private, but Jobst knew better. Santa Clara County and California fire department graders maintained the road as a fire break. While they never claimed the road, they didn’t have to. It had been in public use for nearly a century. More to come…
On Monday night some 65 of us spent three hours participating in a democratic process orchestrated by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD). We expressed our opinion, but will they listen?
Out of the district’s five priorities — healthy nature, enriched experience, viable working lands, outdoor recreation and healthy living (public access), natural cultural and scenic landscapes — increased access topped the list. I’m not surprised, not when only 58 percent of MROSD land is open to the public.
This was the second of five public meetings hosted by the district. District Manager Steve Abbors closed by saying the district is on a mission to redefine itself and our input will be key to future management decisions. He made this point, no doubt, because the score on how much we trust the district to listen to our input left a lot to be desired. It was way less than the charitable 8 I gave it.
How much of this is public distrust of government in general or a problem with MROSD is difficult to say. It’s probably a combination. The district will never satisfy everyone in its effort to preserve open space, that’s for sure.
I attended this session because it addressed the Sierra Azul area, the district’s largest preserve located in the South Bay, including Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta peaks.
Ironically, about half of the attendees raised their hands when asked if they were from San Jose, which is not in the MROSD’s purview. The district boundary ends in Sunnyvale. San Jose residents enjoy the preserves but pay no parcel tax for the benefit. The cash-strapped district may one day charge for access to some preserves, but it would be impractical to restrict use to district residents. Palo Alto does that with its Foothills Park.
While I was there for Sierra Azul, the voting exercise included South Bay Foothills — Bear Creek Redwoods, El Sereno Saratoga-to-Sea, Fremont Older, Picchetti Ranch. The questions focused on preferred uses in each preserve (or potential preserve), such as dogs on leashes, preserving historic buildings, family nature opportunities, etc.
Sierra Azul offers the most cycling opportunities for riders, especially those who enjoy remote areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ll go into this more in my next post.
The district asked us to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 most desirable): Loma Prieta public access, Mt. Umunhum public access and interpretation, Rancho de Guadalupe family recreation, Fire management, Kennedy-Limekiln area, Cathedral Oaks access.
I would be willing to wager most people voting have no clue about Loma Prieta Road, but nevertheless they want public access and that’s what matters.
Thanks to electronics, the district and those voting saw the results in real time. This is Silicon Valley after all. It comes at a price. The district budgeted $851,000 (Vision Plan/Strategic Plan) for outreach efforts.
It boils down to money
How much the district can do to expand access to its lands may come down to money. Taken from its revenue projection report:
- At the end of March 2013, the District will have bonded indebtedness equal to approximately 55% of its statutory debt limit. Projected future cash flows would allow issuance of no more than $20 million of additional debt…
- Operating Expenses are budgeted at $17.2 million, or 57% of projected tax revenue.
- The budget assumes acquiring $7.25 million of land in fiscal 2014. These acquisitions would generate an estimated $1.50 million land donations, leaving cash expenditures of $5.75 million for Land Acquisition.
So there you have it. I enjoyed the opportunity to express my support for expanding access to Sierra Azul preserve, but I’m skeptical that will ever come to pass. More on that next.
The district is supposed to post results on its website.