The Woodside Town Council has approved a conditional use permit for a bridge that will enable equestrians to bypass a washed-out section of a trail that the Planning Commission failed to recommend.
The bridge to be placed across Bear Gulch Creek near the intersection of Woodside Road and Why Worry Lane will reopen the Center Trail, a riding trail that has been in use for more than 100 years, according to the staff report on the project. The trail closed following a storm in 2017.
The proposal calls for a $35,000 investment from the town's general fund and $50,000 from fiduciary funds that have been donated by equestrians, along with $115,000 that has been raised from equestrian groups.
After a contentious hearing on Oct. 22, the Town Council unanimously approved the permit, months after it approved the town's portion of the funding at a sparsely attended council meeting in May.
But opposition gathered steam when the Planning Commission voted 3-3 with one member absent on Sept. 4 not to recommended the permit on the rationale that the bridge would not benefit all the town's residents.
Planning Commissioner Sani El-Fishawy, who led the argument against approving the project at the Sept. 4 meeting, came to the council meeting to repeat the reasons why he's opposed to using public funds for horse trails.
"There's a yawning gap between horse people and non-horse people," El-Fishawy said. "The bridge project doesn't meet the condition of a public good, and it divides the community and exacerbates tribalism."
In attempting to refute other arguments, El-Fishawy said there is no comparison between a horse trail and a community soccer field, for example, since a soccer field can be used for a variety of activities that don't involve a lot of expense and aren't exclusionary, while horseback riding is an expensive specialized use.
He compared horse trails to "a special ball that only kids with rich parents get to play with."
Fellow Commissioner Aydan Kutay, who voted with El-Fishawy on Sept. 4, repeated her concerns at the council meeting.
Kutay, who grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, said that the idea of using public funds for private uses is a foreign concept in most countries that she's aware of.
However, the majority of about 25 speakers at the meeting some but not all of whom said they were horse owners and riders came down on the side of approving the permit and the public funding.
"I'm not rich, but I worked my ass off to live in Woodside for the equestrian lifestyle," said horse owner Maggie Mah. "We need dedicated trails that don't allow all forms of traffic."
Mah and others also pointed to the easements granted by neighboring homeowners for the Center Trail that restrict uses to riding.
"If the trails are open to everyone people from (other communities) can come here and walk through your yard," resident Carleen Whittelsey told the council.
Before the vote was taken, Councilman Dick Brown summed up his reasons for voting for approval.
"The miles of horse trails within the community are the heart and soul of Woodside," Brown said, pointing to the community's "equestrian tradition" that is established in Woodside's general plan.
Brown also cited what he referred to as community assets such as Folger Stables that provide horse boarding and recreational activities including trail rides, camps and riding lessons and depend on access to trails.
Woodside also has the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy that provides services primarily to developmentally and physically challenged children, and some services to adults, through programs involving horseback riding and working with horses, he said.
Horse-oriented businesses "are the single largest employer in Woodside," Brown said. "$35,000 is a small investment in this industry."
The proposed bridge, made of a Fiberglas composite, will be north of a washed-out portion of the trail that cuts off access to an existing metal bridge, according to the staff report.
The new bridge will be 50 feet long, 6 feet wide and 12 to 13 feet above the creek bed, according to the staff report.
The heaviest bridge component will be 90 pounds, which will enable workers to carry the parts to the site by hand, eliminating the need for a construction crane, according to the report. Construction is set to begin in spring 2020 and be completed that summer.
The site is immediately east of a residence at 60 Why Worry Lane and to the south of another home at 3411 Woodside Road.
The street name Why Worry itself comes from the Why Worry Stables that were maintained by the Roth family of the Filoli Estate in Woodside and remain in private hands.
Woodside Glens resident Don Pugh, a member of the Woodside Trails Committee and the head of the Mounted Patrol Foundation, said he sees the conflict as another example of a disagreement between newer and older town residents, similar to the battle over zoning and home expansion in the Glens.
"When I moved here in 1972, I paid $38,500 for my house and had difficulty coming up with the down payment," Pugh said. "Now people are paying $2 million, and they want to do whatever they want."