Proposal to expand public access to Peninsula watershed draws opposition


By Sara Gaiser | Bay City News Service

A proposal to further open to the public a large tract of Peninsula open space controlled by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission continues to meet with stiff opposition from environmental groups.

At a recent hearing before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee, groups including the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and the Committee for Green Foothills spoke against a resolution urging the SFPUC to expand public access to trails in the Peninsula Watershed.

Public officials and recreation advocates have pushed for years for increased access to the watershed, a 23,000-acre open space area in San Mateo County that includes the Crystal Springs, San Andreas and Pilarcitos reservoirs. The area has been kept largely off limits in an effort to protect water quality and wildlife.

Currently, the public has access to the Crystal Springs Regional Trail on the eastern edge of the watershed, which is managed by the San Mateo County parks department, and can sign up for docent led walks on the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail within the watershed.

The SFPUC is now considering moving to a system that would allow unlimited trail access to hikers who paid for an annual permit, according to Tim Ramirez, manager of land management and natural resources for the commission. In addition, the agency is working on developing 11 miles of planned trails within the watershed, including a 6-mile extension of the Bay Ridge Trail.

"Development of an annual permit system will increase education and recreation opportunities," Mr. Ramirez said. "We're trying always to work to provide these opportunities for people in a way that is consistent with our goals for the watershed."

At the Sept. 12 hearing, proponents for increased access described the move as a matter of social justice and described efforts by environmental groups to limit access as "elitist."

However, environmental groups said social justice could be served by increasing partnerships with schools and groups in underserved areas, without endangering the watershed.

They warned that hikers would inevitably wander off trails, increasing erosion, harming protected wildlife and increasing the risk of a fire. More rangers and enforcement would be required, at an unknown cost.

"This is a protected watershed and a wildlife refuge," said Lennie Roberts of the Committee for Green Foothills. "It is not a park and it was never contemplated as a park."

"It would take only one match to turn this treasured place into a disaster zone," she said.

The resolution urging the SFPUC to expand public access was introduced by San Francisco supervisors John Avalos, Scott Wiener and David Campos earlier this year. It is nonbonding, and any final decision on access to the watershed will be made by the SFPUC.

Despite a bid by Mr. Avalos and Supervisor Aaron Peskin to hold the resolution over another week for further discussion with stakeholder groups, the committee voted 2-1 to forward the resolution to the full board for a vote on Sept. 27. Supervisors Wiener and Malia Cohen voted in support, with Mr. Peskin opposed.

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6 people like this
Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 19, 2016 at 9:51 am

Lennie Roberts comment that it would only take one match is plain silly. one could say the same for anywhere, yet we have access to many sensitive areas nonetheless. what do you want to bet that Lennie Roberts has a key to the gate and goes out there anytime she pleases.

allowing hikers and/or bikers access isn't going to impact much at all in terms of the environment. if we are truly concerned about the environmental impacts to the watershed, not politics, we should start looking at HWY 280 - it slashes right through the middle and generates massive amounts of polluted runoff that end up in the reservoirs and creeks.

7 people like this
Posted by WP
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Sep 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Agree with PVrez, the environmental extremists opposing the expansion are off the mark. I've done a docent led tour through the park and it's quit beautiful, very similar to Huddart, Phleger Estate, Purissima, Russian Ridge and many other parks that we're able to enjoy on a regular basis. The proposal is a reasonable and prudent way to expand access to nature without causing undo environmental impact. People aren't going to leave the Bay Area anytime soon, it makes sense to keep this as protected open space, but provide more access to the public.

4 people like this
Posted by Clay King
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:16 pm

Opening up this space for limited public access is a very good thing. If there is concern that an access fee would discriminate against low income people I am sure we could set up a foundation that could provide grants.

2 people like this
Posted by PV Rez too
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:17 pm

I agree with Lennie. Is nothing sacred? Leave the watershed alone. I've seen what limited access results in---erosion by mountain bikes and hikers bringing in parties, teen beer parties, and yes, three wheelers. As well, it will become a draw for people from all over. Take a lik around you, people. You have tons and tons of available recreation space. Leave something wild and clean. I am both a mountain biker and a hiker,and we also own horses. I am AGAINST opening the watershed up for recreational activities. You just cannot trust people to take care of the environment.

Like this comment
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 20, 2016 at 8:40 am

A few more hiking trails would be a great use of this land. The NOPEs would find fault with a sidewalk in front of an elementary school. Just don't allow horses (equine emissions should not be in the watershed, provide some basic ranger type patrols / services, and the permit system sounds like a great idea.

4 people like this
Posted by pvrez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 20, 2016 at 8:44 am

@PV Rez too - if it were a sacred and pristine walled garden as you describe, i might agree. but the fact is that is not the case by a long shot. there are existing homes, roads, trucks and other heavy equipment driving around out there. Tom Stienstra has written about this false "pristine" argument for many many years. here's a link to one such article Web Link. all i would like is better access to public lands that we own as taxpaying citizens.

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

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