New open space preservation plans slated for Peninsula 

After almost a year and a half of soliciting opinions from interested residents, the multi-county organization that preserves open spaces on the Peninsula and in the South Bay is about to lay out its vision for the next several decades.

The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is finalizing its Vision Plan, which will codify its priorities for the next 20 to 40 years and beyond. On the table are 54 proposed projects designed to protect, restore, or upgrade open space preserves in the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz. The district’s goal is to identify and focus on the top 23 projects that Peninsula and South Bay residents and stakeholders said were most important to them in regards to open space.

At a recent meeting in Los Altos, the organization’s board of directors and members of the public weighed in on the district’s findings that resulted from a 16-month process. The plan incorporates scientific resource studies, public workshops, telephone polls, an online forum, focus groups, one-on-one interviews and input from a 25-member community advisory committee.

Senior Resource Planner Kirk Lenington said that with the exception of the phone surveys, the results did not reflect a statistical sampling of the general public, as many study respondents took part specifically because they were interested in open space issues. There may also be factors that could cause a project to be rated highly by one study group but receive low marks from others, he said. One example he cited was a proposal to open up access to Rancho de Guadalupe, a section of the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve currently off limits to the public.

Lenington said the Sierra Azul proposal was not rated highly by workshop and Web forum participants, presumably because they were unfamiliar with the location but the community advisory committee, whose members had toured the site, gave the project a much higher priority.

Lenington stressed that projects that didn’t receive top priority for open space would not be shelved. According to board of directors president Cecily Harris, the top-tier projects might get done sooner, but the timing of projects outside the top 23 choices could be accelerated by new funding opportunities or partnerships with other organizations.

The studies also asked residents to rank the importance of goals that could apply to all of the preserves under the district’s purview. Among the top goals cited were preventing pollution and restoring habitats, expanding ecologically sensitive area access, fostering the quiet enjoyment of nature and protecting biodiversity, Lenington said.

Other green space projects under consideration include the completion of the Stevens Creek Trail, which starts in Mountain View and could potentially link the Bay to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Another project, at Miramontes Ridge, between Half Moon Bay and Skyline Boulevard, would restore fish and frog habitats, enhance water availability for fish and agriculture, and preserve grasslands and grazing opportunities.

Harris said she sees the Vision Plan making the Peninsula a more verdant place in coming decades, with cleaner creeks and much better integration between the various entities responsible for the preserves.

“If you’re hiking from a county park to a state park, it’ll be contiguous,” said Harris. “You’ll have better connectivity for wildlife and people.”

The district’s board of directors will vote to select its top tier projects and finalize its Vision Plan by the end of the month.

The public is invited to attend the next district meeting on Jan. 29 at 6 p.m., at Hillview Community Center, 97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos.

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