It's an old story for residents, and there are inflexible realities that bear on it, including narrow roads and fixed rights of way. A knotty problem, to be sure. Sounds like a job for a citizens advisory committee, the Town Council said at its April 10 meeting.
Citizens advisory committees happen to be on the minds of council members. With the town's general plan recently revised, it is an opportune time, they said, to consider the missions of the nine advisory committees and whether they line up with the goals in the revised plan.
One goal addresses the issue of getting around town, referred to as circulation: "Improve the circulation system to balance the needs of motorists, bicyclists, equestrians, and pedestrians." The council considered the idea of a Circulation Committee that could perhaps absorb purviews of the Trails Committee, which tends to focus on equestrian issues, and the Bicycle Committee.
If there is a third rail in Woodside politics, it is equestrian issues. The council touched it, albeit gently, in appearing to question the existence of the generically named Trails Committee. An equestrian focus, council members said, may be better suited for a new committee dedicated solely to equestrian interests and heritage.
Then there are the cyclists. If there is a thorn in the side of Woodside culture, it is out-of-town cyclists. The town is inundated with them on weekends and visited by a knot of 50 to 100 every weekday around noon.
The Bicycle Committee rarely meets; reaching a quorum is reportedly difficult. Significantly, observers have described the bicycle and trails committees as not on speaking terms. A Circulation Committee could start a dialog.
Go for it, said Bicycle Committee Chair Millo Fenzi and some 12 other residents in a letter to the council. A postscript names 30 more residents who wrote letters for the record, including "concerned parents" and members of the local school board and PTA.
Not so fast, said Trails Committee member Mary Fentress Hall, who said she was speaking for herself. The Trails Committee embodies important and esoteric knowledge on how to oversee a complex system of horse trails.
Pedestrians are "in the mindset" of the committee, but because pedestrians never attend meetings, "something is getting lost," Ms. Hall said. "If the pedestrians don't feel represented, they need to come to the meetings and tell us what we're not doing properly."
"Bicycles, I admit, we've done nothing for," she said. "The Bicycle Committee needs a lot more help in trying to solve their thing with cars."
"The situation around Town Center ... is a disaster for everybody," Ms. Hall added. "I know what the solutions are, it's just that the California Department of Transportation doesn't want them." (Caltrans regulates state Highway 84, Woodside's artery.)
Fighting it out?
On the council, Mayor Dave Tanner and members Ron Romines and Deborah Gordon expressed support for the idea of re-examining committee missions. Councilwoman Anne Kasten said she wanted to hear more from the committees. (Councilmen Dave Burow and Peter Mason were absent.)
Councilman Tom Shanahan spoke up for preserving the committees as constituted, with a trial run for a Circulation Committee focused on congestion in the center of town. If interests on the circulation and trails committees were to overlap, "let them fight it out," Mr. Shanahan said. "I think you guys are in a cloud of never-never land."
Don't disband what's working, said Alexis Bartlo, of the Livestock and Animal Control Committee, whose members are mostly equestrians. Equestrian concerns are the ones "most endangered when it comes to pragmatic solutions," she said.
Mayor Tanner asked her how she would deal with an overlap in committee interests.
The Circulation Committee should focus on Town Center congestion, Ms. Bartlo replied.
Mr. Romines asked about the idea of creating an Equestrian Committee.
"My concern is that if it's not broke, don't fix it," Ms. Bartlo replied, and suggested that the Trails Committee simply contribute two members to the Circulation Committee.
Centers of passion
Mr. Fenzi said the council should think about committees as serving centers of community passion, one of which is the convenience or lack of it in getting around Woodside.
As for equestrian concerns, they represent "an immense passion that needs its place to be," Mr. Fenzi added. Bicycle issues are a four-watt bulb compared with the 5,000 watts around equestrian concerns, he said.
There's more to come. Town Hall staff will be developing a draft charter for a Circulation Committee, based on Portola Valley's recently formed Bicycle, Pedestrian & Traffic Safety Committee.