It looks like they won't be -- to paraphrase Joni Mitchell -- paving paradise to put up a parking lot, at least not next to the iconic red barn off Highway 84 between Skyline Boulevard and La Honda.
After receiving public comment from 37 of the 125 people at a public hearing in La Honda on June 12, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District governing board voted to step back from plans to install a driveway and parking lot next to the iconic red barn off Highway 84 between Skyline Boulevard and La Honda.
More than 900 people also signed a petition protesting the plans. Petition organizers said 532 of the signers were from nearby La Honda, San Gregorio, Pescadero and Loma Mar, a considerable percentage of the 1,898 residents of the area. Another 100 signers came from the Woodside or Skyline area, they said.
The red barn, which the district says was built in 1892, is a prominent landmark from Highway 84 on the drive to the coast between Skyline Boulevard and La Honda. It has been a favorite subject of artists and photographers for decades.
After hearing their concerns about traffic and safety, but mostly about marring the iconic view, the open space board voted unanimously to consider other ways to improve access to its 6,100-acre La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve.
A treasured view
It was obvious speakers treasure the view of the red barn.
Dana Pitchon, a 30-year local resident, said she is originally from Prague where they "have lots of monuments. Here we have one," she said. "Basically, the red barn is our monument," she said.
Lilia Lopez, who lives near the site, compared the barn to one of the world's most famous artworks. "You wouldn't put a hat on the Mona Lisa, why would you put a driveway in front of the red barn?" she asked.
Linda Huntimer, who said she remembers the 1972 election that formed the open space district, said the district had promised voters to preserve open space for perpetuity. "This is supposed to be a preserve. Can we please preserve it?" she asked.
"I love it because it's beautiful," she said of the barn. "I want it to stay that way."
Jeff Croke said that as the Bay Area has changed, "I can't tell you how many people come over here because it hasn't."
"Don't change the red barn site," he said.
When a consultant showed a digital simulation of what the barn would look like with a new driveway and parking lot, and said the impact could be lessened with tinted asphalt, new white three-board fencing and plantings, there were groans and an audience member yelled out, "You guys must be kidding!"
'Your opinions matter'
"Your opinions do matter," said director Larry Hassett, an 18-year district board member and Skyline area resident who represents the La Honda area as well as Atherton, Menlo Park, Woodside and Portola Valley, and much of the rest of the Midpeninsula.
After spending a lot of time during recent weeks at the preserve, and a weekend hour counting cars and scores of vehicle transgressions from the pull-off in front of the red barn, "I'm in pretty much complete agreement with every person I've heard speak tonight," Hassett said.
Yoriko Kishimoto, the director who represents Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Stanford and Sunnyvale, said the comments at the meeting are "the reason why we hold public hearings."
However, she added, "I have to weigh the passionate comments of the neighbors with the needs of the 700,000 residents of the district."
Director Curt Riffle, who represents Los Altos and Mountain View, said while he is a "flatlander," not a mountain resident, "I love the red barn, too." While he represents "the other 650,000 people who love this place" but don't live nearby, Riffle said he also appreciated that many of the speakers had lived in the area for decades. "I think there's about 750 years of experience that spoke tonight," he said. He supported going "back to the drawing board (to) take a look at some other options."
The directors voted unanimously to step back from the plans for changing the red barn area and look for a new public access plan. Adding a parking lot to the Driscoll Ranch event center and enlarging the existing parking lot off Sears Ranch Road were named as possibilities.
The directors also voted unanimously to form a committee of local residents and board members that would work on the new access plan.
Director Cecily Harris, who represents El Granada, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Moss Beach, Redwood City, San Carlos and Woodside, was not present.
Goal was access
District representatives said their major goal was to provide access to more of the La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, which was only opened to the public in December. The preserve currently has parking at Sears Ranch Road in La Honda and parking accessible with a permit from the district on Allen Road, off upper Bear Gulch Road in Woodside. Equestrians with a permit can park at the Driscoll Ranch event center, off Highway 84 just west of La Honda.
The district's acting general manager, Ana Montano Ruiz, said in a report to the board that she had two recommendations for the board to choose from: either approve a conceptual design that had been refined after several previous public meetings that could go on to environmental review; or evaluate other parking options that would allow the public to access the central part of the preserve and connect its upper and lower areas.
The conceptual design recommended by district staff called for a new driveway, a total of 50 parking spaces, a picnic area, restrooms, bus parking, a one-mile wheelchair accessible trail and trailheads leading to other parts of the preserve. A second phase of the plan showed 25 more parking spots if the original spots filled up.
Many of the speakers spoke of the danger they thought would be posed by a new driveway in the location planners said was the only place with sufficient line of sight to meet state regulations. "There's almost no shoulder there," said Robert White. "I have been passed by cars while being passed by motorcyclists (in that area)," he said. "I just don't think an entrance there could be managed safely."
Barbara Hooper, one of the main backers of the petition presented to the board, asked for more cooperation with the local community. "Work with the community to deliver on the master plan" the district has for the preserve, she said, including safe public access, protecting scenic views and protecting the rural character.
Patty Mayall, another nearby neighbor of the red barn, said she hadn't been to earlier meetings on the plans because "I trusted you to take care of this treasure."
"I trusted you to take care of this, not to put a parking lot here," she said.