Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 8, 2010

Locked gates do not make good neighbors

It is a shame that city zoning officials could not come to a decision last month that would preserve public access through a subdivision gate at the north end of Ortega Avenue, not far from Rengstorff Park.

The issue began when the homeowners association at Ryland Towne Court, a townhouse development at the north end of Ortega and Leland Street, decided to block a pedestrian access point in the fence around their 60-unit complex. They later asked the city for a permit to install a locking gate for residents only, in order to keep out users who they said had a history of engaging in vandalism, theft, littering, loitering and other unwanted behavior.

At a hearing attended by some 40 residents, Zoning Adminstrator Peter Gilli said the 24 people testifying were about equally split, but that his final decision — to permit the installation of a locked gate — was based on Towne Court's original approval documents, which say nothing about public access through the back fence of the complex.

Closure of this gate will definitely be a hardship on residents who live at the Crossings, or other subdivisions west of Ortega, and who want to walk to Rengstorff Park or downtown. Now, instead of taking a relatively straight path through Towne Court's back fence, they will have to backtrack to California Street and then work their way back north to the park.

In his notes on the meeting, Gilli noted how his decision runs counter to the city's current policy, and that if a similar project were proposed today, public pedestrian connectivity would be part of the discussion.

The only hope for the Towne Court neighbors who have been locked out is that the city is exploring alternatives to get pedestrians from the Castro City area to Ortega. Whatever options are discovered will be presented to the City Council, Gilli said, although he cautioned neighbors not to hold out hope for an easy solution.

That may be true, but we urge the council to make it a priority to save a way for pedestrians and cyclists to get through this neighborhood without infringing on the rights of Towne Court residents. Surely there must be a way to give "outsiders" a way to walk or bike through this north Ortega neighborhood.

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