The Los Altos City Council last week voted 3-2 in favor of scheduling a future public meeting – likely in early 2014 – to discuss the final outcome of a four-cities Stevens Creek Trail Feasibility Study.
Councilwomen Val Carpenter and Jan Pepper cast dissenting votes Oct. 22 after each expressed a desire to eliminate Fallen Leaf Lane as a possible connection for the trail between Mountain View and Cupertino. Fallen Leaf is one of the routes under consideration as the study seeks to find a technically feasible way to align the trail through Los Altos or Sunnyvale.
A group of residents – including members of the Fallen Leaf Lane Neighborhood Association (FLLNA) – recently urged the council to remove the street from consideration as a connector by the study – which includes the cities of Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino and Sunnyvale. A handful of FLLNA members asked the council Oct. 8 to adopt a policy requiring a 75-percent approval rate by affected residents before a trail is designated in Los Altos. The group has presented the council with two petitions totaling approximately 800 residents signatures opposing a Fallen Leaf trail.
Carpenter and Pepper cast “no” votes after many of the 30-plus residents in attendance spoke out against the study listing Fallen Leaf Lane as a potential trail route.
“I’d like to remove the angst that the residents of this neighborhood are feeling and stop the time and effort that is being spent on this option,” said Pepper, who unsuccessfully sought council support in scheduling the item for further discussion in November.
Carpenter, meanwhile, told her colleagues that while she continues to support the goal to connect the regional trail, she couldn’t support any new trail options in Los Altos.
“At this point, I really lack confidence that the process will result in an outcome that works for the people who live in the city of Los Altos, especially in view of the petitions we’ve received and that have been signed by more than 800 of our residents,” she said.
Residents voice concerns
The council’s decision came after several Fallen Leaf Lane residents told the council that they do not want a trail connection on their street. Several said they favor a 2008 feasibility study by Los Altos that lists a preferred trail connection using Fremont Avenue, Grant Road and Foothill Expressway.
“We don’t want this bike trail. We don’t want it going down Fallen Leaf Lane. It’s as simple as that,” Fallen Leaf resident Nancy Claunch said.
Some residents who spoke said the ranking criteria that lists grades for possible connector routes is flawed, while others cited the potentially increased liability for the city if a trail connector is established through Los Altos.
“You owe it to all of us to get independent individuals to come in and look at what’s going on here, in terms of how these decisions are being made,” said Fallen Leaf resident Larry Thompson, who added that a trail connection on the street would be “highly destructive to a substantial community in Los Altos.”
Local realtor Kathryn Tomaino said such a trail could negatively impact home values in the area.
“Never do (buyers) request to be adjacent to a bike path … buyers will buy in spite of bike paths, but not because of bike paths,” she said.
El Sereno Avenue resident Susan Murphy, however, offered a different take on the matter, noting that having Stevens Creek Trail run through the city would leave a “positive legacy for families in the future.”
Dissenting council views
Despite concerns by Carpenter and Pepper, the remaining members of the council – Megan Satterlee, Jeannie Bruins and Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw – said they favored completing the study first before making any decisions.
Satterlee noted that while she wasn’t certain the study would end up with a clear solution, making changes midstream could result in a negative outcome.
“If we are to take action before we know where the (trail) connection is, we may very well go in a direction that doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “To me, that would be a waste of the money that has been spent so far. … I just think this is the wrong point in time to be making a decision.”
Fishpaw added that other cities in the study would likely follow suit if Los Altos started picking out which connections should be considered.
“Personally, I have concerns with taking any particular street off this study, because I don’t want other cities to take streets off the study,” he said. “I want to understand what is technically feasible.”
Bruins, who represents the city on the four-city study, conceded that it “remains a work in progress” but urged patience and trust in the process. Bruins noted that study elements, such as ranking criteria, have yet to pass her “sniff test,” and that it appears that the study will “probably not” put forward a specifically preferred route recommendation.
“We haven’t finished fleshing this out and we have a lot of questions,” she said of the four-city group conducting the study. “We have more questions than answers.”