Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Take short showers, and pray for rain

December 22, 2013

A winter's day in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The stuff of dreams.

A winter’s day in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The stuff of dreams.

Today could be described as one of those event-filled rides you dream about. Under clear skies that included, for the first weekend in a while, clean air, I headed up Hwy 9 from Saratoga.

Right off the bat I was pleased to see road crews have widened the shoulder in many locations. Or am I just imagining? They also put up the new “bikes can use full roadway” signs.

I’m so accustomed to riding here that I don’t pay much attention to the road. Anyway, they put out some straw-filled dividers and sprayed green stuff. I think it’s all about erosion control, but feel free to chime in.

Someone at Caltrans has a benevolent view of bikes on Hwy 9. Nice widening and greatly appreciated.

Someone at Caltrans has a benevolent view of bikes on Hwy 9. Nice widening and greatly appreciated.

On Skyline the wind picked up and so did the temperature (mid-50s). I met Brian and we headed off on our ride. Trail conditions couldn’t be much better, although they might benefit from a little more rain.

As part of our volunteer trail maintenance duties, we removed a downed tree. It was decidedly bigger than the photo indicates. It took us a good 20 minutes to muscle it off the trail. Brian hacked away with his portable hand saw, having forgotten once again to bring his Oregon 40V PowerNow CS250E chainsaw.

Doing our part to keep trails open and safe.

Doing our part to keep trails open and safe.


On the way home I checked out Stevens Creek Reservoir to see what happens when it doesn’t rain for two years in a row. It’s pretty much a mud puddle.

I think Jerry will be declaring a water emergency after the Chistmas holidays. I hope you don’t mind a dead lawn and 5-minute showers. Lawns should only be allowed in England.

Maybe we don't get drinking water from Stevens Creek Reservoir, but it tells the story. Mega-drought.

Maybe we don’t get drinking water from Stevens Creek Reservoir, but it tells the story. Mega-drought.


Finally, I stopped by to see the new Cupertino Bike Shop at McClellan Road and Stevens Canyon Road. It looks like it’s still weeks away from completion, but be sure to visit Vance Sprock and dog Daisy when the shop opens. Local residents are fortunate to have three outstanding pro shops within three miles of one another: Cupertino Bike Shop, Chain Reaction Bicycles, Bicycle Outfitter.
Cupertino Bike Shop's new home on Stevens Canyon Road at McClellan, opening soon.

Cupertino Bike Shop’s new home on Stevens Canyon Road at McClellan, opening soon.

Upper Alpine Road repaired

December 15, 2013

Upper Alpine Road (dirt) has been repaired.

Upper Alpine Road (dirt) has been repaired.

A friend told me the upper section of Alpine Road that had a washout has been repaired, so I checked it out. It’s about a half-mile down from Page Mill Road in the “freeway” section.

Eons ago there was probably a washout in this same location and San Mateo County repaired it by widening the road. The culvert plugged up again and washed out a year or so ago. In wet years this ravine has a decent flow, but since the Great Drought it hasn’t seen much water.

I’m told Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District made the repair, even though the road is still under the jurisdiction of San Mateo County. But don’t hold your breath that the county would do anything to fix Alpine Road.

The “road” is in the best shape I’ve seen it, all things considered. It’s a far cry from what it was in the late 1980s when it was graded for the last time and there weren’t any washouts. The bypass trail is still an insult to cyclists. Elite mountain bikers and hikers (not than anyone hikes here) wouldn’t think so though.

Invisible bike helmet a Swedish invention

November 10, 2013

My helmet after a crank failed while I was sprinting.

My helmet after a crank failed while sprinting.


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.

Peters Creek Trail – still there and not much changed

November 10, 2013

 Nice day on the Bay Area Ridge Trail near Hickory Oaks Trail.


Nice day on the Bay Area Ridge Trail near Hickory Oaks Trail.


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.

Enlightened government – Marin Municipal Water District

November 5, 2013

Pine Mountain Road descent to Kent Lake.

Pine Mountain Road descent to Kent Lake.


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.

MROSD – from Vision Plan to ballot measure…maybe

November 4, 2013

Mindego Hill off Alpine Road. Will it ever be open? How about Big Dipper Ranch nearby? I've seen plenty of cow pies in the East Bay Parks. They don't have a problem with public access and open range.

Mindego Hill off Alpine Road. Will it ever be open? How about Big Dipper Ranch nearby? I’ve seen plenty of cow pies in the East Bay Parks. They don’t have a problem with public access and open range.


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.

Ballot measure
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…

My day in court

November 2, 2013

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.

Court appearance
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…

MROSD ticket

MROSD ticket

Loma Prieta Road has a long history

October 30, 2013

Jobst and riders on Loma Prieta Road circa 1974.

Riders take a photo break on Loma Prieta Road circa 1974. Jobst Brandt photo


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.

Loma Prieta Road on a 1919 USGS map

Loma Prieta Road on a 1919 USGS map. Click on map for full size.

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…

Open Space District gets the message – increase public access

October 29, 2013

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.

Kickstarter gives small bike businesses a push-start

October 11, 2013

By now you’ve heard of Kickstarter and how it’s helping individuals launch businesses with a grassroots appeal.

It’s a perfect fit for bicycle products because the bike industry has always been about the little guy. Sure, we have large bike factories around the world, but they pale in comparison to the car or other more complex products.

Bikes are simple machines, as much as we try our hardest to make them complicated and futuristic. On Kickstarter, for example, there’s a lighting system you can have, turn signals, etc., along with bike computer functions, built into the handlebar. While that’s cool, I’ll pass.

After wading through the selections, I found two I like.

Rideye “Black Box”

Rideye's black box video recorder is built to last.

Rideye’s black box video recorder is built to last.

Cedric Bosch, who built this video black box after a friend was hurt in a hit-and-run accident, has a passion for technology. The recently graduated mechanical engineer knows his way around a machine shop as well as electronics.

While you can buy a Go-Pro or other video recorder, Cedric’s will cost you less and it’s exclusively built for recording and capturing video footage in the event of an accident. An accelerometer activates and stops recording when there’s a sudden event.

The small box mounts on your helmet, handlebar, seatpost, pretty much anywhere you want it. It records for up to a month, assuming a daily one-hour commute, before needing a charge.

You can download up to 2.5 hours of video via a USB cable.

I have no doubt Cedric’s camera will work as advertised, so I made a commitment to purchase one. Once a project meets its funding goal, your credit card is charged. Only in a few instances has a project failed to produce the goods. Whether or not you’ll like what you buy is a different matter. That’s the risk you take.

Bikes vs. Cars offers a compelling look at what cyclists are up against.

Bikes vs. Cars offers a compelling look at what cyclists are up against.

Bikes vs. Cars – We are Many

I’m not a big fan of bike documentaries because I’ve seen it all. However, Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten offers something compelling in his movie teaser.

It’s a first-class effort and one that compelled me to make a donation in hopes he’ll raise enough money to make a full-length documentary.

The video footage of Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford bashing bicycles had a galvanizing effect when I watched it. His message needs to be seen and heard. It exposes the unvarnished truth about how much some people hate bikes. For that reason alone, I hope Gertten’s movie is made and seen around the world.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 61 other followers