Portola Valley: Overflow parking at Windy Hill; Town Council seeks solutions


Portola Valley's Windy Hill Open Space Preserve -- 1,335 acres of grassy ridges and forests under the stewardship of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District -- is a popular place, perhaps more popular than people had in mind when they laid out the preserve's parking lot at 500 Portola Road.

The gravel lot has space for 25 vehicles, and on pleasant weekends, the lot fills up and multitudes of parked vehicles can be seen lining both sides of Portola Road.

Some may be poorly parked, sitting astride white fog lines that indicate informal bike lanes on a road where there are no formal ones. With shoulders blocked, cyclists have little choice but to go out into traffic.

The Town Council on Aug. 10 appointed a small committee to determine how to proceed on overflow parking issues and asked for recommendations in a month or two.

The town put up no-parking signs on the roadsides in 2014, but they're not the state-sanctioned model and thus are unenforceable. The town has mowed the fringes of grass on the shoulders to encourage parking off the roadway, Public Works Director Howard Young said during a discussion with the Town Council.

The members of the new ad hoc committee are Gary Nielsen, the town's police commissioner and liaison with San Mateo County Sheriff's Office; Ed Holland, chair of the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee; and Dave Ross, chair of the Architectural & Site Control Commission, which has an important role in governing the appearance of the town.

Sitting in as advisers will be Public Works Director Howard Young and Councilman Craig Hughes. The Sheriff's Office has a standing invitation.

Informal signs

Overflow parking is an ongoing issue at Windy Hill, and the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee has not been idle in advising the council.

In 2014, the town installed no-parking signs using the colors brown and white. Town officials, conscious of the town's environmental aesthetic, usually go with earth tones when choosing sign colors, but under state law, no-parking signs must be red and white to be enforceable.

Committee members have also been placing portable A-frame signs, also brown and white, that note the importance of parking off the pavement and the availability of parking space at Town Center about a quarter mile away. But the signs are heavy, according to a staff report. Committee volunteers have to lug them out on weekend mornings and lug them back in in the evenings.

Lugging heavy signs around is an inappropriate activity for committee volunteers, Mr. Hughes said. When the town does find committee volunteers, they should be working on productive enterprises, he said.

"I think we're burned out a lot of great volunteers when they've been working on weekends," Councilwoman Ann Wengert said.

Enforceable signs?

The ad hoc committee's work should not involve a lot of study, given that the town already has enough data for an effective analysis, Ms. Wengert said during the council's discussion.

The council can help by recommending priorities, she said. "We've always placed a very high priority on aesthetics and I'm not sure that's our top priority," she said. The group will have to work it out, but safety should be at the top, she said, echoing a point that Councilman Jeff Aalfs had just made.

"I think it's time we think seriously about the enforceable signs," Mr. Aalfs said.

Councilman John Richards characterized red-and-white signs as "a little annoying," but said that the larger challenge will be informing visitors about parking off the road and at Town Center. "I just hope you can come up with a solution to that conundrum," he said. "It's going to be the biggest problem, I think."

"It's really a matter of getting everybody in a room and hashing it out," Mr. Hughes said. A compromise that is both aesthetically pleasing and effective is possible, he said.

Bicycle committee member Angela Hey recommended that overflow parking be directed to Corte Madera School, by which hikers could get to Windy Hill on a less traveled but more enjoyable path.

Mayor Maryann Derwin asked how the parking lot at Windy Hill came to be the size that it is. The town restricted the size at the time of construction, Public Works Director Young said, recalling what Open Space Preserve officials told him.

Mr. Nielsen asked the council for slack on enforceable versus unenforceable signs. He said he had not seen a lot of problems with parking overflow, adding that cars parked on the pavement are already subject to being ticketed.

Two or three years ago, he said, it was rare to see 25 or 30 cars total on both sides of the road, but now it's commonplace. That's something to consider when thinking about long-term solutions, he said.


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21 people like this
Posted by NIMBYs against safety
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Aug 18, 2016 at 4:33 pm

The town doesn't want to post signs that improve road safety because they are too ugly? What kind of joke is this? Is this the reason some intersections in town don't have any stop signs in any of the directions?

Like this comment
Posted by Linda
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 18, 2016 at 8:01 pm

I heard that the land next to the parking lot is owned by MPROSD and could be a parking lot if Portola Valley consents.

14 people like this
Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Aug 19, 2016 at 8:16 am

it's definitely a safety issue that needs to be resolved now. there's nothing aesthetically pleasing about the current signs which are huge, beat up and awkwardly placed. the smaller common no parking signs would look much cleaner and are enforceable. don't out think yourselves on this one any longer please.

Like this comment
Posted by Trail nerd
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Aug 19, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Woodside needs to look at the overflow parking at Wunderlich on Woodside Road. They have the same issue. Cars are parked over the white line into traffic lanes which are already busy with bicyclist, cars, motorcycles,horses, Sunday drivers, people trying to cross the road. Something is going to happen.

14 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2016 at 4:12 pm

I can't imagine that a No Parking sign would be more "annoying" than a car parked out into the roadway. As a bicyclist I have encountered danger there many times, much to my exasperation. I also hike there and park in the recommended overflow lot if I need to do so. I find it ironic that people going there to hike are unwilling to hike a little more to park in a place that doesn't endanger others.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 19, 2016 at 5:23 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Thanks for the goo laugh folks. Reading the article made my day, lol. However I agree totally with NIMBYS comment. Still laughing!!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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