Open space district launches yearslong process to make Portola Valley 'Hawthorns area' public | May 28, 2021 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - May 28, 2021

Open space district launches yearslong process to make Portola Valley 'Hawthorns area' public

by Kate Bradshaw

Many locals are familiar with Windy Hill, an open space preserve in Portola Valley operated by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) that features vigorous trails leading up to the namesake hill's summit and a range of terrains to explore, from dry California grasslands to redwoods and creeks.

But MROSD owns a separate property in Portola Valley that's also considered part of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, and it's easy to miss — mostly because it's not open to the public.

It's a fenced-off 79-acre property known as the Hawthorns area of the preserve, and it is roughly bordered by Alpine Road, Los Trancos Road and Saddleback Drive, near Corte Madera School and the Portola Valley Ranch neighborhood. Its midpoint is across the street from the Portola Valley Roberts Market location.

After taking on responsibility for the property in 2011, MROSD is just beginning to discuss how to open it to the public.

The Hawthorns area was developed in the late 1880s as a summer estate and was granted to the Peninsula Open Space Trust by the Woods Family Trust before becoming MROSD property.

The district has done some work on the property to restore native grasslands, improve fire safety and protect the historic buildings on the property, but now officials are working to figure out how to best offer the public access to the low-intensity recreational uses and improvements that are allowed by the conservation easement that governs the property, according to MROSD staff.

The long process to open Hawthorns to visitors began May 18, when the district's Planning and Natural Resources Committee heard an early presentation by district staff about procedures and a timeline to create a plan and implement it.

It's a process that's expected to take a number of years and will be developed in response to feedback from the community, said Meredith Manning, senior planner with the district. A preliminary timeline MROSD staff presented indicated the agency planned to work through the vision and goals through mid-2022, identify a working group in 2022, spend 2023 developing a plan, spend 2024 working on the environmental review, and work on permitting and approval processes in 2025 and beyond.

Between now and early 2022, the district's Planning and Natural Resources Committee will meet to draft the vision and goals for the project, plus the plan to create the working group. From there, the full MROSD board will finalize those details in early to mid-2022 before the plan is drafted.

Among the topics to be included in the use and management plan are wildland fire protection, structure management and the types of public access that could be offered, she added.

It's one of the last large remaining areas of undeveloped open space in Portola Valley, and "it really is a gorgeous landscape," Manning said.

Allowing the public on the property will require working with the town of Portola Valley to arrange a conditional use permit, she said.

"We stand by to assist in any way, shape or form," Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said.

"Obviously, the town has been, for a very long time, a host of Midpen's (MROSD's) other properties at Windy Hill. We look forward to hosting this property as well," he added.

One matter that staff also plan to iron out through the process of developing the use and management plan is just where the boundary is between Portola Valley and Palo Alto along Los Trancos Road. The border between the communities appears to be right at the Hawthorns area, Manning said.

Commissioner Zoe Kersteen-Tucker suggested that the initiative also provided an opportunity for the town of Portola Valley to work with MROSD on ways to improve safety on its narrow trail along Alpine Road that's shared by bicyclists, pedestrians and equestrians.

"It feels like a real safety issue, if nothing else," she said. "I look forward to learning more about that."

The project is funded by Measure AA, a 30-year, $300 million bond passed by local voters in 2014.

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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