2004 San Jose City Council Campaign: City Parks Master Plan
The "Master Plan" for Reach Six of Upper Penitencia Creek
After 18 months of process, the city parks department gave birth in June 2003 to a park and trail "master plan" for one mile of Upper Penitencia Creek between North Jackson Avenue and King Road. This master plan proposes the creation of a large trail from Alum Rock Park to Coyote Creek suitable for carrying all the Bay Area Ridge trail traffic along its banks.
We already have a neighborhood-friendly Upper Penitencia Creek trail (a) that covers about five miles of the creek length, (b) that is habitat and creek friendly, and (c) that receives lots of use by local walkers, hikers, and neighborhood bikers.
The process used to develop the "master plan" was very unsatisfactory and was marked mostly (a) by ignoring potential for damage to the creek banks and habitats by heavy ridge trail traffic and new staging areas for non-neighborhood users, (b) by failing to consider protecting access for the smaller and slower users on the trail, and
(c) by ignoring the city council's failure over the past three years to undertake limited, but appropriate and sufficient, measures to control flooding of the creek. The city council embraced each of these process problems in August 2003 when it unanimously adopted the "master plan."
Problem Number One: Bay Area Ridge Trail Implications
The first problem with the "master plan" is that it completely ignores the impact that the Bay Area Ridge trail will have on Upper Penitencia Creek. Millions of dollars are being spent to develop a huge ridge trail ring around San Francisco Bay, especially for horse riders and speedy mountain bikers. The ridge trail will pass through or near Alum Rock Park where the east end of the Upper Penitencia Creek trail will connect with the ridge trail.
To see an Internet copy of the Bay Area Ridge trail, click here
. You will notice that the Upper Penitencia Creek trail and the southern portion of the Coyote Creek trail are identified as the valley floor ridge trail.
The "master plan" ignores the fact that the ridge trail will not be completed evenly which means there will be a gap of 10 to 40 years when the Upper Penitencia Creek trail will carry the entire load of ridge trail traffic on route to and from the Coyote Creek trail and Anderson Lake County Park.
Generally speaking, master plans are to provide designs and procedures to handle medium and long term issues like this one, but not a word appears in the "master plan" about how ridge trail horse riders and speedy mountain bikers will impact the health and integrity of Upper Penitencia Creek, its habitat, creek banks, and water quality.
Two arguments have emerged opposing my concern about ridge trail implications for Upper Penitencia Creek:
1) Not many horse riders and speedy mountain bikers will use the Upper Penitencia Creek trail so there is no need to include such concerns in the "master plan."
But this is the same as saying that constructing the Bay Area Ridge trail is wasting millions of dollars. All ridge trail information on the Internet and in written publications speaks directly to the expectation of major usage of the ridge trail by horse riders and speedy mountain bikers. And the Upper Penitencia Creek trail will be the actual ridge trail for a significant number of years and not that far into the future.
In addition to ridge trail traffic, staging areas for horse trailers and speedy mountain bike transport are planned for both Upper Penitencia Creek and Coyote Creek trails, as well. A staging area means a surfaced, super-sized parking lot for horse trailers and speedy mountain bike transports. These staging areas are designed to provide additional access to non-neighborhood horse riders and speedy mountain bikers. The impact of this heavy use on Upper Penitencia Creek should be discussed in any responsible "master plan."
2) In developing a "master plan" for a creek trail, it is impossible to look forward 10 to 15 years to address the problems that will arise. Therefore, we shouldn't expect this "master plan" to concern itself with the future impact of usage, trail damage, and heavy traffic.
But this is the entire purpose of master plans, to seek to identify future problems and solutions at this time. To say that 10 to 15 years is too far in the future to explore is to ignore that the first plans for the Upper Penitencia Creek trail were made in 1977, just 26 years ago.
Problem Number Two: Multi-Use Versus Regulated Use
The "master plan" dedicates itself to a theory called "multi-use" -- meaning that many types of users should be crowded on the same trail at the same time. But what "multi-use" really means is that the larger and faster users will crowd out the smaller and slower users. There is no recognition in the "master plan" that the following smaller and slower users deserve special protection and access to the Upper Penitencia Creek trail:
1) neighborhood children walking alone
2) commuters walking to the new light rail station at Penitencia Creek Road and North Capitol Avenue
3) neighborhood people using wheelchairs
4) neighborhood people walking leashed dogs
5) parents with small children in strollers or walking with children to the new children's park at Commodore Drive and North Jackson Avenue
6) students walking to or from Independence High School, Summerdale Elementary School, and Piedmont Middle School
7) people walking to or from the Berryessa Community Center for daytime or early evening activities
I believe that people come first on trails, and that larger and faster users will need regulating to preserve access for the smaller and slower users. Right now (2003), each of the seven user types listed above have unlimited access to the five miles of trail already in place and well-used. This will change abruptly when the "master plan" is implemented.
There appear to be two main arguments against my position on regulated use by larger and faster users.
1) Other trails rely on the "multi-use" concept, instead of the concept of regulated horse riding and speedy mountain biking, and users do not complain.
But this data is obtained after patterns of usage have been settled on trails. That is, the only small and slow users asked about their usage are those who have been able to make an accommodation with the larger and faster users, one way or another. The initial smaller and slower users who have been forced from a "multi-use" trail are ignored -- they no longer use the trail.
2) Mistakes can always be fixed later on, so there is no need to worry about these issues at this time.
But who is to say that mistakes, once made, will not be so destructive of Upper Penitencia Creek that its restoration will be impossible -- at which point we will have a cement canyon creek devoid of nature, habitat, and enjoyment.
Problem Number Three: Flood Control
Flood control is a real issue, especially for years with heavy melt-off and rains. The city council has had several opportunities during the past three years to establish relatively low-cost, low-tech flood control mechanisms like overflow basins, and has declined to undertake any such effort.
Tragically, the city council and this "master plan" utterly ignore these low-cost, low-tech solutions to flood control. Thus, the "master plan" is an invitation to the Army Corps of Engineers to come in with its typical plans for "hardening" the creek floor..
The blame for any effort by the Army Corps of Engineers to cure flooding lies squarely at the feet of a lethargic, unconcerned city council which has missed its opportunities to institute low-cost, low-tech flood control mechanisms over the past three years.
To see what the creek will look like after being processed by the corps, just take a look at the hideous cement canyon for Silver Creek along the west side of King Road for several hundred yards just north of McKee Road -- only a mile from Upper Penitencia Creek. And the corps will kill off the endangered steelhead trout, too.
A leader would lead in preserving the creek, its habitat, its creek banks, and neighborhood use of the five miles of creek trail that we enjoy today.