Neighbor Jean Paul Coupal, a resident for seven years, said the traffic and parking issues along the northern end of Golden Oak Drive, across the street from the Alpine Inn and Rossotti Field, have gotten worse since the popular restaurant reopened in 2019 after a major renovation. The situation is a "hazard in the making," he said.
"It's been a nightmare," said Coupal, who said he's spent a year asking the town to stop letting cars park along the Golden Oak Drive shoulder. "The worst of the problem is the town does nothing to resolve this. (About) 5,000 people live here, so you're not running a city, just a small town."
He said the problem is worse on sunny weekends when people come out to eat brunch at the Alpine Inn and on Friday or Saturday nights. The Almanac observed a packed parking lot during some of these times, but there was little overflow onto Golden Oak Drive. Coupal and his neighbors shared photos of more than seven cars parked on Golden Oak at the end of September, with some cars blocking about half of the lane heading down the hill.
Neighbor Markus Ogurek and others said they have gotten used to cleaning up trash drivers leave behind.
Safety is their greatest concern for residents, they told the town's Bicycle, Pedestrian and Traffic Safety (BPTS) Committee in August. Over the summer, a car hit a cyclist going down Alpine Road, leaving Golden Oak Drive, in what San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Andy Hui described to the committee in September as a "major collision."
"Until there's an accident, until there's blood, they're (the town) not going to react," Coupal said. Coupal said he plans to start a petition to put landscaping or logs on the shoulder to prevent people from parking there. Neighbors are willing to pay for them, he said.
Neighbors say hazards include:
• Cars have to go over the double yellow line to pass parked cars
• Cars make U-turns on the Golden Oak Drive hill to park
• Drivers may be impaired after drinking alcohol at the Alpine Inn
• Visitors are parking on Golden Oak Drive not only to visit the Alpine Inn, but also to smoke cigarettes.
Those parking on Golden Oak Drive also have to walk across the busy Alpine Road to get to Rossotti soccer field or the restaurant, which doesn't have any crosswalks or pedestrian lights, Coupal noted.
"It's a tricky situation," he said. "The Alpine Inn is so successful, and we love their success, and we can't hold the Alpine Inn responsible for where their clients park."
Greg St. Claire, managing partner of the Alpine Inn, said it is important for the business to be sensitive to neighbors' concerns while supporting the town's policies.
"Our hope is that as COVID restrictions and fears subside, people will resume carpooling and ride-sharing, which is really the best thing for everyone," he said. "We share this lot with hikers, bikers and a robust youth soccer league. Like almost every other park or hiking spot in the Bay Area they are overwhelmed with demand of people wanting to be outside. This spike happened literally everywhere with the onset of COVID and the loss of normal activities. We are hoping that as time goes on and the pandemic is finally under control the demand will return to normal."
Neighbors placed logs along the road's town-owned shoulder to prevent parking, but the town removed them, at a cost of $500.
The town placed a large log to define the shoulder, which doesn't prevent people from parking on Golden Oak Drive. Vice Mayor Craig Hughes said the goal is to define the shoulder and make sure the parking doesn't cause problems by cars going into the ditch or fence. The town plans to allow parking to continue on Golden Oak Drive.
"It is hard for us to comprehend why the legitimate concerns and anxiety of tax-paying Portola Valley residents are considered to be less important and significant than the mere convenience of visitors to a commercial enterprise," five neighbors, including Ogurek and Coupal, wrote to Mayor Maryann Derwin in August. "It feels as though the town's administration has its priorities upside down. This situation needs no time-consuming study, but rather a reasonable and intelligent decision to prevent the parking for the rest of this location. We ask that you act with the same speed and urgency that you exhibited in removing the additional logs recently placed there!"
BPTS committee Chair Ed Holland acknowledged that there have been many close calls with respect to fire safety at the location, according to August committee meeting minutes.
Bill Leckonby, who has lived in town over 30 years, said "no parking" signs wouldn't be enough to stop drivers from parking along the stretch. He'd rather see rocks or logs block people from parking there.
"I've screeched to a halt multiple times (driving down the hill) with people making U-turns (to park on Golden Oak)," he said. "It's frustrating."
The town can't put up no parking signs unilaterally, said Town Manager Jeremy Dennis. The transportation committee would have to make a recommendation to put up such signs, he said. The BPTS committee has not made recommendations on parking in this area.
"Parking is a sensitive issue in town," Dennis said. "We have to be careful; it has to be (parking restriction) related to an issue that has to be resolved."