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October 01, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, October 01, 2004

Los Altos kills path plan Los Altos kills path plan (October 01, 2004)

Residents' fears of crime from MV cancels grant

By Jon Wiener

Los Altos residents concerned about increased crime seeping over the Mountain View border have succeeded in killing a project that would have extended a path to El Camino Real near San Antonio Road.

The path would have connected an existing trail, which runs along the Hetch Hetchy corridor from Arastradero Road in Palo Alto to Los Altos Avenue, and then to the residential and commercial developments along El Camino. But the Los Altos City Council, after months of listening to the fears of dozens of angry residents, decided on Sept. 14 to let a $335,000 grant from the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) expire.

The decision marked the close of an interesting chapter in Los Altos' relationship with Mountain View, just as another was beginning. At the same meeting, the council went against the recommendations of its own public works department and voted to proceed with a feasibility study on the Stevens Creek Trail on the other side of town, which also could eventually connect with a Mountain View section of the trail.

Residents said the Hetch Hetchy path was a poorly conceived project from the start, unnecessarily connecting to El Camino in order to get VTA funds, when the city's real objective was to build a park that neighbors have said they do not want.

But their biggest objection was the prospect of criminal elements in the San Antonio commercial area being able to use the path to get to or from their backyards.

"You don't build, from a secure neighborhood into a high crime area, yet another avenue of escape," said Tod Gamlen, who lives on Via del Pozo, a cul de sac that intersects the proposed route. Gamlen was among the dozens of Los Altos residents who spoke out at city council meetings, launched a Web site and hired a lawyer to help fight the project.

Jim Bennett, spokesperson for the Mountain View police department, confirmed that the areas across El Camino from where the path would have ended generate among the highest number of calls to police in the city, for things like shoplifting and embezzling.

"I wouldn't connect that to a trail opening," said Bennett. "Those are crimes that take place within the retail area and have nothing to do outside of it."

Bicycle advocates in both Los Altos and Mountain View said they were dismayed to see the fear of increased crime become the leading reason for the Hetch Hetchy trail extension's downfall. They criticized residents as not-in-my-backyard isolationists, even suggesting that "criminals" was a euphemism for people from Mountain View.

"It almost seems that there is a business that coaches these opposition groups, as everything seems to be off of a template with spaces for inserting proper names," said John Carpenter, vice chair of Mountain View's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition board of directors.

Gamlen and other residents maintain that the project would have done little to aid bicyclists, who already have safe access to the neighborhood via local roads, particularly the bike lanes on Los Altos Avenue.

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