Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

MTB: La Honda OSP General Planning Meeting

I went to the La Honda Creek Open Space Master Plan public hearing held in Half Moon Bay. The public access (user conflict) issue has always been a sensitive subject in meetings like this one. From what I heard, it had been the norm that mountain bikers were portrayed as the ugly monsters out on the trails to scare every horse and little kid in the way. Well, not in this meeting. Imagine a rosy we-can-all-get-along picture. That’s what I saw tonight. Before I lost the notes I scrambled down, let me organize them a little bit for the people who did not make it to the meeting.

Here are the people who sat in the front.

On the left side were the planning staff (from left to right):

  • Anna Jatczak, Clerk
  • David Sangninethi, Operation Manager
  • Ana Ruiz, Project Manager
  • Kirk Lenington, Resource Planner
  • Stephen Abbors, Genereral Manager
  • Susan Schectman, General Counsel

On the right side were the directors on the OSP board (from left to right):

  • Curt Riffle, Ward #4
  • Cecily Harris, Ward #7
  • Pete Siemens, Ward #1
  • Nonette Hanko, Ward #5, President
  • Larry Hassett, Ward #6
  • Mary Davey, Ward #2
  • Jed Cyr, Ward #3

The meeting agenda looked like this (excerpt from their flier):

  1. Welcoming Remarks – N. Hanko
  2. La Honda Master Plan Ad Hoc Committee Remarks
  3. Purpose of the Public Hearing – S. Abbors
  4. Meeting Procedures – A. Jatczak
  5. Presentation of the Draft Master Plan – A. Ruiz and K. Lenington
  6. Additional Remarks of the General Manager – S. Abbors
  7. Public Comment
  8. Board Discussion
  9. Motion to Close the Public Hearing

For the current Master plan, please refer to their document online. For public access proposals, take a quick look at Pages 74-79 out of 402 in that plan (including two blank pages and two maps). During the Public Comment session, many references were made to Options One and Two listed in the Bicycle Use section of the plan. Here are some highlights on these two options:

  • Option One : Allow docent-led bicycle rides on designated trails at La Honda Creek OSP…all rides will need to be coordinated through and approved by the District. Open the Bay Area Ridge Trail alignment to bicycles once this trail is established…
  • Option Two: Open the ranch road that extends from the Sears Ranch Road trailhead to the northeastern boundary of the Driscoll Ranch area to bicycles. Construct a new multiple-use trail west of La Honda Creek in the northeastern corner of the Driscoll Ranch area to establish a loop trail…. Open the ranch road that extends from the northeastern boundary of the Driscoll Ranch area to the Red Barn to bicycles… Open the Bay Area Ridge Trail alignment to bicycles once this trail is established …

Twenty one people provided public comments. Some are locals living as close as on the boundary of the Open Space, and some come from as far as San Jose; some (4) are equestrians, and some (15) ride bikes; and two are from environmental agencies. One local resident (near northwest end) does not ride anything, and he was mainly concerned about potentially crowded parking near his property. The two environmental agency directors, if I had understood them correctly, believe that the plan places higher priority on public access than on environmental concerns and would like to see the Open Space not open to public. One equestrian just wanted to point out that horses are not disease causing live stocks and they are just recreational animals. All the rest, that is 17 of us, who spoke support Option Two, and even those equestrians would like to see more multi-use trails. Many mountain bikers suggested expand bike access to include those trails that lead to landmarks, e.g. Ray’s Peak, Vista Point, etc. and around Driscoll Ranch. Alternate Day approach was brought up and received broad support.

The board members expressed their confusions — So, now suddenly we can all get along? (“Yes, we can!” Many from the audience responded in synchronization.) But mainly, they asked questions, and IMHO those were genuine and valid questions. Some of the questions were directed at the staff, and some were for the public to answer. If you would like to address some of those questions, please be sure to contact them. Here are a few questions from the board memebers that I jotted down:  (Note: I also included my comments. I was able to talk to a few board members right after the meeting to provide my comments, but not all of them.)

From Ward #1, Jed Cyr: What’s the distance we are talking about to those landmarks, for example Ray’s Peak? Is it do-able to just park and hike up to it?

My comment: I’ve never been to Ray’s Peak, but according to the map, it is not very far from one of the entrances. However, I will most likely have to drive over to the entrance before I start hiking. However, if I am given bike access to Ray’s Peak, I guarantee that my visit will be as simple as getting on my bike at the house and riding straight over.  That is one fewer car on the road and in the parking lot.

From Ward #2, Mary Davey: How do you explain the constant user conflicts we hear about? If they do exist, how do we minimize them? Will signage help?

My comment: I will not deny that user conflicts do exist. However, 95% of the time, all users get along. It’s the remaining 5% that get reported though. And there are always those few within each user group that would not abide by the rules. Education is more important than anything else. If complaints are about some mountain bikers going too fast on straight and steep downhill slopes, for one, they do not represent the majority of the mountain biker community who just enjoyed being out in the nature at a leisurely pace, and secondly, that situation can be mitigated by a better trail design — try to replace a wide straight chute with a twisty singletrack that will naturally slow most people down.

From Ward #6, Larry Hassett: When cattle go through the grass land, they leave a trace of rough terrain behind them. Will mountain bikers be okay to ride on these rough terrains, or will they require the ground to be smoothed and graded? If so, the cost associated with such maintenance will be too high.

My comment: No, no, no. That is a major misconception of non-mountain bikers that we mountain bikers demand smooth trails. Take the newly opened Giant Salamander trail at El Corte de Madera for example, yes, it’s smooth now and fun to ride, but it looks very expensive. We appreciate the district’s effort to make it a more friendly trail; however, we mountain bikers could do with a lot less. We can still have fun even if it is scattered with rocks and roots and occasional hike-a-bike sections. If maintenance cost is a concern, which is pretty much a sure thing, please do not take away the access from moutain bikers because you feel that the trails might not be safe enough for everyone to ride and too expensive to be “fixed” — we can exercise our own judgement. And trust me, many of us will enjoy the challenges that rough terrains offer. Plus, the rough terrains naturally slow bikers down — isn’t that what other people wanted?

From Ward #5, Nonette Hanko: If we attempt to keep user groups apart, for example, keep some trails closed to bicyclists, how do we enforce that? Signage? More Patrol? I received a map from a mountain biker who proposed extending the multi-use trail down to Driscoll Ranch. But then where do you go after you get there? Hwy 84 looks dangerous to ride on. Oh, we talk about all these trails and future staffing needs for the trails. Where will the money come from? Please brainstorm.

My comment: Yes, it will be ideal, if we can have off-road access all the way from Skyline to the coast. However, that is not a possibility now. The nice thing about Hwy 84 from Driscoll Ranch Event center down to the coast is it actually has wide shoulder on both sides of the highway. So, if you can grant us access to the offroad trails on the Open Space so that we do not have to ride on Hwy 84 between Skyline and Driscoll Ranch Event center, you are already making it a lot safer for us mountain bikers as well as for the cars driving by us. As for the cost and budget, I’m all for cost cutting. First of all, I do not think the trails need to be manicured (like some trails at ECdM) that no doubt will cost more. Secondly, a lot of trail building work can be put out there for commercial bids (I borrowed this idea from Patty) that will result in less expenditure than if the district does everything itself.

From Ward #1, Pete Siemens: Even with Option #2, Ridge Trail does not go all the way to the coast. What’s the plan on extending that to the coast. (This was a question for the planning staff. The answer was, for now, it’s all private property between La Honda OSP and the coast, but reviews take place every 10-15 years to explore the possibilities of acquiring some of those properties into the Open Space.)

From Ward #7, Mary Davey: Seven people brought up the Alternate Day approach for public access. What does it exactly mean? Do you mean bikers-only one day and equestrians-only another day, or equestrians are always allowed and bikers have access on alternate days? How do other agencies implement and enforce it? (The answer from the Operation Manager, David Sangninetti, was, the approach will not suit this Open Space due to its multiple entrances and staffing overhead will be too high to enforce compliance.)

My comment: I will choose alternate day access to all the trails over all-time access to limited number of trails any day. And I do not even want to request equestrians and other user groups off the trails when I’m there. However, I do recognize that there are a number of people who understandably prefer not having to deal with fast approaching mountain bikers skidding to a stop right in front of them or their animals. If enforcing alternate day access is too costly, how about we mountain bikers give up access two days (e.g. Monday and Tuesday) a week in exchange to accessing to all the trails for the rest of the week?  That way, it is always clear that on Monday and Tuesday, the OSP is offlimit to mountain bikers. Through adequate signage and word-of-mouth propogation of the message, I do not think there will be many violations. On those days, the users who do not wish to see mountain bikers will not see one. And on other days, there will be no need for staffing to monitor access at all because all trails are open to all users.

From Ward #4, Curt Riffle: How about we apply Alternate Days approach to a portion of the trails?

My comment: Please see my comment to Ms. Davey’s question. I believe enforcing alternate day access to some trails but not others could cause great confusions.

If you have any comments, please contact the project manager Ana Ruiz by email or call (650) 691-1200. Or, you can contact the board of directors to directly address their questions. I just have one pledge to make: please be constructive, courteous, and realistic.

Thank you for reading.

2 Responses

  1. Annelieseon 21 May 2009 at 10:59 am

    Thanks for this post. I was also in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting.

    I’m still feeling this out, being an ex-IMBA member and an ex-avid mountain biker, but I’d like to discuss the possibility that there be only hike access to both Vista Point and Ray’s Peak. Bike all one wants on Proposal 2, but leave a few of these “landmarks” as quiet spots (not that a mountain bike is noisy) but I must say that walking lends one a completely different experience in the landscape than one finds atop a bike going at speeds of 10 to 30 mph.

    Separately, the enviros don’t necessarily want to keep LHOSP closed to the public, they were attempting to convey that the proposals both cater to human use, whether that be equestrian, biking, or hiking, and take very little consideration for the species that already inhabit the currently publicly-closed landscape. The idea is to minimize the park-like atmosphere and to keep the landscape as the name suggests, a “preserve.”

    When visiting Purisima during wet weather, for example, when the newts are out and about, I find squished dead newts from the mountain bike tires. Hikers are much less likely to step on a newt as they can see where they are walking, whereas once atop a bike, speed and distance to the ground makes it impossible for a mountain biker to see these creatures who blend so easily into the trail.

    Your thoughts?

  2. mudwormon 21 May 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Anneliese, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments. I completely understand your wish to keep a beautiful place like Vista Point or Ray’s Peak a quiet spot where one can just relax, absorb the view, and exercise self-reflections, etc. I do that very often on my mountain biking rides. I dream of being able to get on my bike after getting home from work, ride up past the elementary school, enter the preserve, up to Ray’s Peak, lay down my bike on the side, sit down comfortably and quietly, and watch the setting sun over the ocean to the west. There might even be some like-minded folks sharing the peak with me who have come by foot or by horses. It won’t matter because we are all there to admire the beauty of the nature. I’ll leave with refreshed mind and content in my heart. Also, since I have my bike, I can return home in time to feed my loving cats. However, this will remain a dream if the trail remains closed to bikers because I cannot leave my bike unattended where the multi-use trail ends (that would be a stupid idea).

    The current plan allows horses to those landmarks. I must point out that I can ride more quietly (up or down) than a horse. Actually, sometimes, I will call out before I go around a blind turn just so that I won’t startle anyone who cannot hear me approaching. Most mountain bikers do not go anywhere near 30 mph (that is insane). And as I pointed out in my post, riders can be slowed down by properly designed trails. The district just needs to put in a little more thoughts to it.

    I personally would not mind if the preserve is closed down to human traffic temporarily during the season if that helps the wild animals migrate safely (one main concern of the environmentalists). And as one speaker pointed out in the meeting, we can certainly follow Henry Coe’s good example of discouraging access 2 days (or even longer) after a rain.

    We are human beings and we are capable of being flexible and accommodating. That’s my belief at least.