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By Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly
Bay Area residents could gain access to much more open space, including more family-friendly areas, according to a new Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District "vision plan" unveiled Oct. 2.
The district's long-range plan encompasses its 62,000 acres of mountainous, foothill and bayland open-space preserves and considers how it should approach buying and managing new properties.
The open-space district preserves and encompasses natural areas from Half Moon Bay to Los Gatos.
The preliminary Vision Plan Project includes outdoor and recreational opportunities, enrichment experiences such as education and interpretive centers, the improvement of plant and animal habitats, maintenance of coastal agriculture to provide jobs and locally grown food, and protection of culturally significant areas that are at risk of development.
The Community Advisory Committee, a group of consultants, nonprofit organizations and members of the public, developed the plan over 14 months and identified 74 potential projects in specific open-space areas in order of their priority.
The district will hold a series of community meetings to gain public input in October and November; its board of directors will view the finalized plan in December.
Directors on Oct. 2 agreed that the district's preservation of more than 500 square miles since its founding in 1972 has been a major accomplishment in preserving the area's natural heritage. But about half of the land does not have improvements, such as trails that make them accessible to the public. The plan would prioritize opening some currently closed areas and improving others for the enjoyment of families.
Top priorities include:
● Opening the Hawthorn area of Windy Hill with new trails to the Portola Valley trail system.
● Improving access to the Spring Ridge Trail at Windy Hill.
● Reopening closed areas at Russian Ridge and increasing access to vistas and other areas through new trails.
● Reopening a closed section of Alpine Road as a regional trail connection between Portola Valley and Skyline Boulevard.
● Improving trail connections and completing the Bay Area Ridge Trail near La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve.
● Fully opening La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve to the public.
● Developing new El Corte Madera Creek trails at the parking area.
● Improving baylands trail connections with East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
● Working with East Palo Alto on its Cooley Landing project.
The directors suggested adding a provision to work with cities on wildlife corridors in urban areas and to locate and save more open space within cities.
Making improvements to open space, such as interpretive centers and other educational features, is important, but director Larry Hassett cautioned against creating too many facilities that would detract from the core value of open space: creating open, free green corridors.
General Manager Stephen Abbors said the plan's concept of additional "facilities" means designing more family-oriented spaces such as trails that lead to open fields to allow children to romp freely -- adding "trails and a bench -- not gazebos."
Board members agreed.
"This is an area of different cultures," director Jed Cyr said. "Families aren't four people anymore; they are 20 people getting together for gatherings."
The board also considered the pitfalls of too widely expanding the district's role. A vague definition of what the district would protect as "culturally significant" could quickly lead to confusion. While most people would agree to preserve a Native American burial ground, deciding which structures on acquired properties would be saved or razed is a more complex issue, directors said.
The workshop will continue on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. with directors reviewing the 74 specific projects. A series of public workshops begins on Oct. 21. Workshops take place as follows and will focus on preserves in these specific areas:
● Oct. 21: San Mateo Coast/Half Moon Bay regions Hatch Elementary School, 490 Miramontes Ave., Half Moon Bay, from 6 to 9 p.m.
● Oct. 28: Los Gatos Foothills and Sierra Azul regions West Valley College, 14000 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga, from 6 to 9 p.m.
● Nov. 4: Cupertino Foothills and Skyline regions Graham Middle School, 1175 Castro St., Mountain View, from 6 to 9 p.m.
● Nov. 16: Cupertino Foothills and Bayfront regions Fair Oaks Community Center, 2600 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Visit openspace.org/imagine for more information on the vision plan.