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.
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.
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.