Open Space District gets the message – increase public access

By chance I sat at the table with Linda George, foreground left, Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (formerly ROMP) president.

By chance I sat at the table with Linda George, foreground left, Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (formerly ROMP) president.


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.

Electronic voting gave instant feedback at the MROSD meeting.

Electronic voting gave instant feedback at the MROSD meeting.

Sierra Azul

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.

Vote result for the five priorities. Public access ranks first. Male and female were split out, but they were close.

Vote result for the five priorities. Public access ranks first. Male and female were split out, but they were close.

Sierra Azul results indicate a strong interest in more access.

Sierra Azul results indicate a strong interest in more access.

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6 Responses to “Open Space District gets the message – increase public access”

  1. Jim Sullivan Says:

    Mrng Ray,
    Glad you went to the S Bay mtng, I attended the mtng in HMB.
    Sierra Azul will be off limits to bicyclists.
    The master plan process for Sierra Azul is done, no trails for bicyclists.
    La Honda Creek Open Space,5,759 acres, was recently acquired, which stretches from SkyLonda to La Honda(red barn property)
    0 bicycle access in any of the future trails plans process, they toss us a”well maybe if the Bay Area Ridge Trail goes through someday”.
    http://www.openspace.org/preserves/pr_la_honda.asp

    Since the 7 preserve closures of 2000, 0 trails have been opened within mrosd preserves to cyclists.
    Even with MROSD board members Yoriko K+Curt R mouthing themselves as recreational bicyclists,their voting records speak differently, w them siding against bicycle access on every vote within S Bay lands, despite intense participation by the cycling community.
    Board member Cecily Harris has consistently been the lone voice for fair application across user groups of trails use guidelines.
    MROSD is looking to re-up funding for their parcel tax soon.
    As far as I’m concerned, this “vision plan” is a pipe dream to muffle opposition from bicyclists and dog walkers and is simply trotted out to showcase how much the district “listens” to constituents.

    Jim Sully

  2. Jim Sullivan Says:

    Edit’d for accuracy:
    The Sierra Azul trails planning process is on hold until the Mt Umunum planning settles somewhat.
    MROSD is projecting some bicycle access will be included on dirt trails within the over 18,000 acre Sierra Azul parcel.

    http://www.openspace.org/preserves/pr_sierra_azul.asp

    I look fwd to the conclusion of this current mrosd public imagining process.
    I’d like to imagine a Saratoga to the Sea trail,Skyline to Half Moon Bay Ridge Trail connection or Los Gatos to Santa Cruz trail corridor that include bicycle riding, similar to the Skyline to the Sea trail that exists today.
    In our highly populated region, spreading user groups out rather than excluding, what seems every time to be only bicyclists, within our publicly funded lands , imho, is key to best incorporating habitat protection with public access-recreational opportunities.

    How the MROSD board responds in actions to this current visioning process is where the rubber meets the trails…

    Ray, we’ve been riding many of the same trails routes above the peninsula since way back when, to see some of these obscure routes incorporated into public recreational opportunity, never to be fenced or built on, is quite a thrilling prospect.
    Keeping the heat on mrosd to include those of us that choose to pedal these stretches of remote dirt is paramount to the future riders that will follow our tracks.
    Jim

  3. Chuck Diller Says:

    I was there. My concern lies with the Jurassic members of the board. If 100% of the votes say “Allow night riding,” and the board members hate bikers (which they obviously do), then why the #*!#$$ did they waste their time (and $850,000) to ask me/us what I/we wanted?

    That’s my beef: You still have human interference and subjective perceptions that will override objective data any day of the week. This is what that one guy at the end (Larry?) of the meeting implied: Regardless of what the data say, Board members hate bikes and will shoot down any legislation that might yield them more concessions. It’s the same reason politicians ignore the will of the people and go with their “hearts” (ie, prejudices).

    • Paul Nam Says:

      I agree with the majority of the comments here so far.

      The district has adopted a policy of 40% bicycle trail accessibility as a goal. That this goal is currently met is doubtful. That is moot however, because that policy is merely a guideline and some staff have remarked that the idea may be scrapped. If it leads to less bicycle access that would be bad.

      I would like to add a couple of points.

      The objects for which poll participants voted upon in the meeting, as in the style of a reality show popularity contest, were amalgamated from a variety of concerns. The results make it impossible to determine what exactly people were voting for. This lack of precision, combined with the probable misapprehensions of the object, encourages the MROSD to take the results into consideration, and disregard them entirely, yet at the same time, uphold this process as a validation of public influence upon policy.

      The opportunity to be able to submit items for a vote was unprecedented. For example, bike riding until 10pm was one of them. These items submitted by the public were more coherent and relevant than the vague official ones presented.

      One of the submittals was pointedly vague though. “Define appropriate use.” The presentation used this term without definition – a term upon which a significant amount of policy is based upon. Like the poll itself, the interpretation is subjective and indicative of prejudice.

  4. jim sullivan Says:

    Thanx for the post Paul,
    I spoke w my friend who also is involved w MROSD, they clarified that the trails open for mt biking ratio practiced by MROSD is 60% open for cycling,the remaining 40% walker or horse, not vice versa.
    I’ve also not seen any declaration anywhere by any credentialed member of mrosd that this targeted 60% open for cycling with shared use trails is on the chopping block.

    There are 3 more upcoming mtngs counting today’s(Nov 2nd), I’d only say that keeping the comments streaming in via attending these public sessions can only do us mt bike riding types good.

    Date Time
    Regions to be Discussed/Meeting Location

    November 2, 2013 1 – 4 p.m. Skyline and Central Coastal Mountains Regions
    Skyline Field Office
    21150 Skyline Blvd.
    La Honda, CA 94020
    November 4, 2013 6 – 9 p.m.

    Peninsula Foothills and Skyline Regions
    Graham Middle School – Multipurpose Room
    1175 Castro Street
    Mountain View, CA 94040

    November 16, 2013 1 – 4 p.m.
    Peninsula Foothills and Baylands Regions
    Fair Oaks Community Center – Multipurpose Room
    2600 Middlefield Rd.
    Redwood City, CA 94063

  5. L George Says:

    @Jim, I’d like to see that 60% statistic hold across both dirt roads *and* single track trails. I believe we fall considerably short on the latter.

    @Paul, I agree. The amount of input being generated is phenomenal. No question, MROSD is collecting a wide range of input, from varied sources.

    We need a much clearer understanding of how it will be weighed, analyzed, and used to support strategy and decisions.

    “The results make it impossible to determine what exactly people were voting for. This lack of precision, combined with the probable misapprehensions of the object, encourages the MROSD to take the results into consideration, and disregard them entirely, yet at the same time, uphold this process as a validation of public influence upon policy.”

    Paul, I too had this concern while using the keypad device. This also points to the need for transparency in the analytic & conclusion-forming stages of the process.

    In the re-start/launch of SVMTB we are starting to increase our ability to communicate with – and engage – our very large user group. I hope that will make a difference in this process.

    @Ray, great to meet you on Tuesday!

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