Outdoor rec boom spurs unsavory conduct in Los Altos Hills

Byrne Preserve
S.M. Lieu/Special to the Town Crier
Signs warn visitors of ordinances against off-leash dogs and bicycle riding in Byrne Preserve of Los Altos Hills.

Perhaps they imagined absent signage rendered verboten actions permissible. In any event, those responsible for stealing signs prohibiting bicycles and off-leash dogs around and within Byrne Preserve may soon notice the folly of their thievery; the Los Altos Hills Open Space Committee plans to formally request town staff replace the signs – and add more like them – to all entrances of the bucolic Altamont Road site. 

“One thing I had suggested, which is probably impractical, is that they weld a sign onto a metal post,” committee member Sue Welch said during the group’s June 10 meeting.

“So they take the post with it?” said member George Clifford, chuckling.

“I know it’s primitive thinking, but I think it might make it more difficult,” Welch replied.

Educating visitors

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic elevated outdoor recreation as the new great American pastime, Los Altos Hills’ nature preserves and pathways have been inundated with abnormally robust foot traffic. An uptick in the number of vehicles parked illegally along Altamont Road – the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has issued approximately 15 parking citations in the area since March – suggests the new visitors don’t live in town. Although local residency isn’t required to enjoy the space, following town ordinances related to dog leashing and bike riding is.

“We have people coming from San Francisco to hike in the preserve, and a lot of these people are absolutely ignorant of what a preserve, what that really means,” said Nancy Couperus, associate member of the Open Space Committee.

Sarah Robustelli, the town’s community services supervisor, estimates she’s heard of between 25 and 30 complaints from residents fed up with the recent bad behavior. She confirmed the added activity forced the town to restrict the adjacent Westwind Community Barn parking lot to barn-business only between April 15 and May 30. Sheriff’s deputies also spent most daytime hours between April 18 and April 26 in the preserve, educating visitors about leashing, biking and parking rules and the potential fines that can accompany violations.

During those two weeks, deputies issued many warnings and noticed a lot of visitors they suspected are from out of town, said Capt. Rich Urena of the Sheriff’s West Valley Division.

“Most of the people who are using the Byrne Preserve are following the rules,” Urena said. “We do have a few people with dogs off-leash, but most people are changing their behavior once we talk to them.”

Couperus witnessed one of the deputies using a megaphone to reach the ears of visitors allowing their canines to frolic freely, including one surprisingly belligerent man.

The deputy “yelled out, ‘Dogs have to be on leash!’” she said. “The guy just kind of turned around and gave him the finger and continued on. And that’s the sheriff.”

Then there’s the mysterious disappearances of signage in the area. A “dog leash” sign vanished from a pathway off Moody Road, and Clifford noted the absence of two “no biking” signs from the Artemas Ginzton Pathway adjacent to Byrne Preserve.

“Some disgruntled cyclist is using the pathways and taking the signs with them,” Clifford said. “That’s my conclusion anyway.”

Cyclists and dog owners need not resort to misdemeanor activity and risk jail time and fines to enjoy themselves, however. The Los Altos Hills pathway system does include routes where bikes are permitted, and the town dog park, where canines may romp freely sans leash, reopened last week after COVID-19 precautions influenced its closure.

Human visitors of the Purissima Road venue, it should be noted, are required to remain 6 feet apart – and to muzzle themselves with face masks.

The Los Altos Hills dog park is located at 27500 Purissima Road, at the southwest corner of Elena and Purissima Roads.

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