Mountain View Voice

News - November 23, 2012

In a tight spot: residents pitch ideas for Stevens Creek Trail

by Daniel DeBolt

Over 120 people packed a meeting hall in Los Altos on Nov. 14 to discuss the biggest challenges yet in extending the Stevens Creek trail — the last links through Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Cupertino that would eventually connect the Bay to the hills and a trail network to the Pacific Ocean.

The meeting, the first in a series, offered a rare chance for residents to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to design a public works project. Attendees mostly came from Los Altos and Sunnyvale, as well as Mountain View and Cupertino.

Printed maps were given out for people to draw on with colored pencils to show how the trail could be routed around numerous obstacles — mostly private residential property that extends to the creek, as well as freeways, railroad tracks and streets. The maps showed in color where the all important public properties exist; mostly water district and city lands scattered next to the creek. The trail may not be able to run anywhere else.

Sunnyvale and the three other cities have pooled their money to study options for the most difficult segments between southern Mountain View and Cupertino. The goal is to come up with a trail alignment from Southern Mountain View to Cupertino that "all four cities can buy into," said Jack Witthaus, Sunnyvale's traffic and transportation manager.

Environmental planner and consultant Jana Sokale said that 35 percent of the trail users are people getting to and from jobs, shopping and schools.

And surprisingly, there are a lot of steelhead trout spawning in the creek near Blackberry Farm in Cupertino, where Sokale said 1,400 of the fish had to be relocated for a project not long ago.

"We moved 1,400 steelhead," Sokale said. "Did you know you have 1,400 steelhead? Pretty cool, huh?"

Plotting a route

During most of the meeting, attendees met in groups and drew on maps, and discussed possible routes with city officials and consultants.

"You could build a trail there but it depends on what the neighborhood wants," said Sokale to a Sunnyvale resident. The woman was pointing to public land on a map running along the creek for half a block south of Fremont Avenue, which abruptly ends at an alleyway between homes on Bedford Avenue, potentially a place for a trail-head. "If you lived in that neighborhood, would you want neighborhood access to that trail?" Sokale asked.

Private property

South from there the creek runs through dozens of residential properties in Sunnyvale and Los Altos, with only a smattering of public land. In some places there is room for a trail (10-15 feet of width is needed), but the land isn't public or the bank has partially collapsed into the creek. Some attendees marked where the trail should go on city streets while others wanted it to go along the creek, no matter what.

As Mountain View builds the trail closer, the view of residents in the areas just south of Mountain View has increasingly moved to: "No matter what the cost is, we want what we can get next to the creek," said Ross Heitkamp, a Mountain View resident and member of the Friends of the Stevens Creek Trail. Its big change from the past. "At one point, Los Altos' view of the trail was just put a couple signs that say 'Follow it this way,'" on city streets, Heitkamp said.

Los Altos was hamstrung for a while by Sunnyvale's lack of participation. For much of the trail between Fremont Avenue and Homestead Road, the creek is the border between the two cities. But the bits of public property the trail could use are mostly in Sunnyvale.

"My city years ago decided it did not want to participate in building a trail," said Witthaus, Sunnyvale's project manager. "Now the city of Sunnyvale is taking the lead, kind of ironically."

"Its the first time Sunnyvale has studied the trail, except for 25 years ago," Sokale said

The multi-city approach could provide some balance to the heated opposition the trail has seen in the past. Heitkamp says there's much less to be concerned about than some may think. He recalled one very vocal opponent of a trail segment in Mountain View who told him, "Now that it's in, I have no problems and I use it everyday." City officials have also said the trail has become popular wherever its been built.

A long effort

Consultants pointed to documents that showed plans for Stevens Creek trail going back fifty years.

"All the way back in 1962, Santa Clara County planners first envisioned this green corridor extending all the way out from the hills to the Bay," Sokale said.

And it may take many more years to fund and design. To continue the trail south from its current end at Sleeper Avenue and Heatherstone Way, the trail will have to make its way through some very tight spots, Sokale said. Officials would be meeting with Caltrans to discuss a half dozen options for "pinch points" such as where there's little room between the sound wall and the creek. Possible solutions include a platform hung off the side of the highway's sound wall, or even moving the sound wall out of the way.

A bit further south there are only tiny pieces of public property for the trail near Mountain View's southern border just north Fremont Avenue. Sokale suggested that the street bridge there be rebuilt to allow the trail to go down onto the slopes of the creek bank and underneath Fremont Avenue, likely a very expensive proposition.

"This is a very challenging project," Sokale said. "This team of consultants have built this trail in hard, hard areas, but this is even harder."

For more information, including dates of future meetings and property maps, visit the study's website at tinyurl.com/SCTpage.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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