Neighbors protest open space district's plans for red barn site

Public meeting on proposed project Tuesday night in La Honda

The red barn visible from Highway 84 on the drive between La Honda and Skyline Boulevard has become iconic. The open space district says it was built in 1892, and it is now part of the La Honda Open Space Preserve. (Courtesy Mideninsula Regional Open Space District)

Residents of the La Honda area and communities nearby are unhappy with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's plans to build a visitor center near the iconic red barn off Highway 84/La Honda Road, and intend to air their grievances at a public meeting of the district's board Tuesday night, June 12, in La Honda.

Residents say they have more than 600 signatures on a petition opposing the plans, which are currently in preliminary stages.

Using funding from the $300 million bond measure approved by voters in 2014, the open space district wants to make the area around the red barn -- a prominent and frequently photographed landmark on Highway 84 between Skyline Boulevard and La Honda -- into a visitors' center with a parking lot for up to 75 cars and a driveway off Highway 84.

The district's timeline shows the board approving a conceptual design for the project at the June 12 meeting and then beginning the environmental review process, which would take about a year. Construction would begin in fall of 2021 and would take about a year.

The district is looking at three different conceptual plans for the area. One plan, Alternative 3, is divided into two phases and would eventually add parking for 75 vehicles. Two other alternatives allow parking for three horse trailers and 25 to 30 other vehicles.

The district's website shows its goals for the red barn area are to:

•Establish new public access in the central portion of La Honda Open Space Preserve.

•Design elements to reflect the rural character of the site and the red barn.

•Balance public access with grazing activities.

•Include amenities that facilitate environmental education.

•Protect scenic views of and from the site.

•Construct by fall 2022.

But opponents of the visitors' center say in a letter to the district's board that the plan is not consistent with the open space district's mission to "protect and restore the natural environment, (and) preserve rural character" of its preserves.

Opponents say the local community was not given sufficient notice of the project and that more traffic studies need to be done. They also cite increased risk of fire danger and the potential impact to sensitive species and wildlife habitats in the proposed access area.

Most of those issues will be examined in the state-required environmental impact report.

The opponents say alternative access points to view the red barn area are already planned, such as the trails from the La Honda Creek open space area's parking lot on Sears Ranch Road.

They ask for limited permit-only parking at the site or docent-led access to and from the existing driveway.

The site is approximately eight acres and was part of the former Weeks Ranch, settled by the Ronald J. Weeks family in the 1850s. The barn, the only structure remaining on the ranch, was built in 1892.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at La Honda Elementary, 450 Sears Ranch Road in La Honda.


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25 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2018 at 3:06 pm

Sounds like simple NIMBYism - trying to keep local residents from visiting publicly owned lands. Would they rather that the property be converted to industrial use? Or condos? If they want to turn it into their own private park, they should have bought it with their own money.

3 people like this
Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 12, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Sounds like a public agency with too much money looking for a way to spend it.

8 people like this
Posted by Hill Mom
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 12, 2018 at 1:37 pm

To clarify, the original owner was Robinson J. Weeks.

The folks in La Honda and surrounding areas only have to look at your Wunderlich Park on weekends to feel very nervous about the plan for the red barn property.

19 people like this
Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jun 12, 2018 at 2:44 pm

I would caution the Open Space Committee against making the car park too small, whatever residents think. The number of visitors is sure to outnumber the number of local residents, but they are unlikely to comment on this forum or at planning meetings as they are scattered. The Windy Hill car park in Portola Valley was built to be small to be in line with the rural nature of the town, however as the trails have become more popular, the car park is woefully inadequate and the town had to make space at the side of the road for more cars. On 84, it would be a disaster to have cars parking outside the car park. So I recommend the planners consider how use will grow over time and build an adequate car park from the start. It would be very easy to create a large car park and hide it from the road with bushes, hedges and trees. Also in Portola Valley the Windy Hill car park has areas for trees that take up car parking space making it an inefficient use of the available space. So we need to remember, that even though one might want to discourage car use, that is totally unrealistic. Route 84 is a popular route to the seaside and I can see that if there is fog at the coast many may prefer to hike on the hills. So how about some serious estimates for how many cars are likely to stop, double it or treble it, to allow for future growth, then optimize the space set aside for cars. I am a member of Portola Valley's Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, but I am commenting as myself, not as a member of the committee.

6 people like this
Posted by Theodore
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 13, 2018 at 12:24 am

The straightway road in front of the redbarn on SR 84 is a section of road where motorbikes, and other cars routinely overtake on double yellow lines as they speed along 84. This section of road is already dangerous. I can just imagine the increased chaos and accidents as people pull in and out of the proposed parking lot with their horse trailers, cars and motorbikes.
And the iconic redbarn scenic view would be destroyed and gone forever.
La Honda resident

5 people like this
Posted by What About
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 13, 2018 at 12:28 am

Wouldn't it be nice to not just look at the Red Barn, but use it as a vistor's center, to learn about the history, to learn about agriculture and farming and the local environment? Isn't that a better use of a historic barn than gathering dust?

10 people like this
Posted by Lee
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 13, 2018 at 10:26 pm

50 car spots not enough. Many locals like it too afraid to disagree with vocal locals. Make red barn visitor center. More hiking trails. Trails for dogs.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:30 pm

It would be nice if people did a little research before posting this kind of nonsense. The Openspace constructed a parking lot in La Honda on Sears Ranch Road, just above their elementary school... It's actually in their "backyard".

Additionally, there have been several La Honda locals killed on SR 84 by vehicles crossing the double yellow line. La Honda is a small community so when these terrible accidents happens everyone is impacted. The hazards on these roads are real and they kill people every year. Regardless of what one might feel the proposed parking lot in that location will increase the risk of accidents in that area.

Condos or industrial use is just a cheap attempt to invoke some emotional response. San Mateo county zoning and the Coastal Commission would make this an impossibility.

"Sounds like simple NIMBYism - trying to keep local residents from visiting publicly owned lands. Would they rather that the property be converted to industrial use? Or condos? If they want to turn it into their own private park, they should have bought it with their own money."

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:34 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

We have posted a story about the meeting, at which the open space district board voted to look at other ways to add access to the La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:39 pm

The Red Barn will never be a visitor center. The barn is home to Pallid bats. When bat experts discovered the colony of bats in June 1999, they immediately urged the district to tread very lightly and to protect the colony.

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