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 defines open space

November 1, 2013

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.

Iron 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.

Loma Prieta Road starting at Summit Road.

Loma Prieta Road starting at Summit Road. Dirty bump just ahead.


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.

Loma Prieta junction with Loma Chiquita Road.

Loma Prieta junction with Loma Chiquita 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.

Drinkable water at the spring.

Drinkable water at the spring.


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.

Jobst Brandt stops for a drink on a flat section at an old chestnut orchard.

Jobst Brandt stops for a drink on a flat section at an old chestnut orchard.

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.

Final climb to Mt. Umunhum Road.

Final climb to Mt. Umunhum Road.


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.

Flat repair on Mt. Umunhum Road.

Flat repair on Mt. Umunhum Road.


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.

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.

Saddled with a pain in the rear

October 27, 2013

Montebello summit had plenty of sun today. Not so north of Page Mill. Fog socked in Skyline.

Montebello summit had plenty of sun today. Not so north of Page Mill. Fog socked in Skyline.


As we age, saddle comfort becomes more of an issue. Muscles weaken and can no longer provide the padding that protects the ischium from getting sore. The same goes to the hands. I used to never wear gloves. Now I have to.

I’ve been experimenting with saddles, but I keep coming back to the Avocet Gelflex. Even though my saddle is 25 years old, it’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve used. I think it’s the gel, which is similar to silicone rubber. It seems to last forever.

So what hasn’t worked? I gave up on the Avocet Racing II by Sella Italia. It has the same shape and size as the Gelflex, but it didn’t have the silicone. It’s fairly comfortable, but caused minor pain on long rides.

WTB’s Pure V looked promising, but it’s a little too wide and after a 60-mile ride both ischium were more sore than any saddle I had tried.

Bike saddle comfort is an individual decision. Everyone is built differently.

I think gel is the way to go. Selle Italia makes a gel saddle that look promising. The problem is that you really need to test a saddle on a long ride before you’ll know if it’s for you. Does anyone want a WTB Pure V?

Santa Clara Valley from Montebello Road. I haven't seen fog this thick in late October.

Santa Clara Valley from Montebello Road. I haven’t seen fog this thick in late October.

Hearst Castle by Bike – Dream On

October 15, 2013

About 17 miles north of San Simeon the climb begins on Hwy 1.

About 17 miles north of San Simeon the climb begins on Hwy 1.


Unfortunately cyclists will never experience Hearst Castle by bike, and what a ride it would be. It’s five miles from park headquarters to the footsteps of La Cuesta Encantada at 490 meters (1,600 feet) overlooking the rugged Santa Lucia Range. The first mile climbs gently but after that it’s a lung-buster with sections of 15 percent or more.

Well there’s always the coast highway. Highway 1 offers some spectacular views of the rugged Pacific coast, but that would not be a 20-mile stretch heading north from Cambria. It’s mostly flat. On a gloomy cool day with the hills shrouded in fog, the ride does not inspire. You’ll have to visit Hearst Castle for that; you will not be disappointed.

Not to be missed are the elephant seals that reside on the beach five miles north of San Simeon. Nearly hunted to extinction for their oil, they’ve made a healthy comeback. Now at least 10,000 seals live in the vicinity. They don’t seem to mind humans behind fences peering down.

Elephant seals like to sleep on the beach a few miles north of San Simeon.

Elephant seals like to sleep on the beach a few miles north of San Simeon.

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.

Bayland trails fall victim to government shutdown

October 6, 2013

Our San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is closed from the Federal shutdown.

Our San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is closed from the Federal shutdown.


I thought I had nothing to worry about from the government shutdown when it comes to bike rides. Wrong. It turns out the bay is one giant Federal national wildlife refuge.

I knew that, but it’s easy to forget with so many government agencies in play around here.

I arrived in Alviso ready to ride around the outer levee only to see the closure sign. The same goes for the trail around Moffett Field. Where possible, the Feds closed gates to keep people out and that seems to be the only thing that’s keeping people from enjoying a walk, jog, or bike ride on the levees even with the signs.

Now that I know what’s up, I’ll stay away until the trails re-open. Let’s hope that’s soon. Last I heard governments exist to serve the needs of the people.

Since we’re all caught up in the government shutdown, and my cycling enjoyment took a hit, I’ll weigh in with my opinion.

Tea Party Republicans, the train has left the station on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was voted into law and confirmed as constitutionally legal by the Supreme Court.

We need auto insurance to drive. We should have mandatory health insurance. Let’s give it a try and see how it works out. I had a catastrophic accident when I was 28, but I had Blue Shield health insurance. The bill came to $40,000 in 1981 (it would be about $500,000 now). I paid almost zero — just the ambulance ride for $250. Today the same accident under the new insurance plan would wind up costing someone $6,500. That’s not as good as zero, but those days are behind us.

Republicans should move on to helping balance the budget. You’ve got a little more sympathy from me here. We can start by making personal economics a mandatory class in high school. Let’s teach kids that living within one’s means is the right thing to do. An economy built on credit cards and IOUs is doomed to collapse. Too many people live like there’s no tomorrow. Our government spends too much. Do we need 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers?

Finally, Social Security needs fixing. Many proposals have already been made by bi-partisan committees, all of them ignored. I’d start with this: You only get back what you put in, with interest of course.

By law bikes are not vehicles

October 2, 2013

Flashing lights are OK to use on bikes.

Flashing lights are OK to use on bikes.


I didn’t know this until today: According to California’s vehicle code, bicycles are not vehicles, at least when it comes to certain sections of the code.

That caused me to make a mistake in a previous blog when I said flashing lights are not technically legal on bicycles. I went back and fixed that comment, but it’s important to call it out here since it has major implications.

Here’s what VC Section 670 says: A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

Flashing lights are only allowed on emergency vehicles, but since a bike is not a vehicle, they’re OK to use.

My only objection to flashing lights is front lights that emit a blinding white flash. You want to be seen, not be a visual distraction that blinds drivers.


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