Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo Parking headaches have upset some Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents who live near Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, above.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District staff will move forward with investigating an initial wave of strategies meant to ease parking demand at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, members of Midpen’s board of directors unanimously decided at their April 28 meeting.

The results of their work could ultimately benefit residents in neighboring communities, including those in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, who have grappled with overspill parking when the preserve’s designated lots off Cristo Rey Drive reach capacity.

Board member Yoriko Kishimoto represents Ward 2 cities Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Stanford and Sunnyvale.

“For the Midpen board, we do have a tough job. … Our board has to weigh this issue of how do we welcome our diverse residents who live all over the seven wards into Rancho San Antonio but minimize the negative impacts on our closest neighbors, and considering both parking and traffic issues?” she said.

A contractor’s report organized 27 transportation demand management strategies into four tiers based on a range of criteria, including feasibility, cost and ease of implementation. The first tier, containing potential actions prioritized above all others, includes six strategies: reviewing existing bike facilities; adding and improving bike access; subsidizing ride-hailing opportunities; developing a service model for a free or low-cost shuttle service; creating a lot restricted to carpooling; and erecting new signs, including ones that reflect real-time parking availability and ones that provide direction to other, nearby preserves.

Popularity prompts problems

Rancho San Antonio’s beauty and proximity to I-280 make it an attractive destination for residents from across the Bay Area. It is by far the most popular of Midpen’s 24 preserves, amassing close to 1 million visitors each year. Approximately 80% enter through Cristo Rey Drive, and their motor vehicles share 327 parking spots among five lots.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded parking demand, said Ana María Ruiz, Midpen general manager. Comparing May 2019 with May 2020, she noted a 200% increase in visitors.

Two residents of Los Altos’ Highlands neighborhood spoke during last week’s meeting, both lobbying for measures they feel could alleviate traffic on their streets.

Elizabeth Montgomery, an avid hiker, runner and cyclist in the area, wants board members to seriously consider some of their consultant’s recommendations to address the parking challenges at Rancho, including the possibility of constructing a parking structure.

“I certainly understand the desire to keep the open space feeling like a nature preserve, but this is the 21st century, and I think land is so precious here in Silicon Valley,” Montgomery said. “We absolutely have to use what we’ve got as efficiently as possible.”

Joe Eder believes the board could learn from past mistakes. He said signs previously erected to encourage alternative cycling access through neighborhoods have attracted motorists to trailheads without legal parking, and they often park in ways that block mailboxes and driveways.

“It does bring the quality of life of our local neighborhood down,” Eder said. “So for you to implement the improved bicycle access which, again, is very noble and a great cause, it has to be done in conjunction with controlling the possibility of people not doing it as intended.”

In the coming months, Midpen staff will identify what’s required to pursue each of the six tier-one strategies, and they expect to return to the board with more information when they seek a budget adjustment during the first quarter of 2022. Currently, $25,000 is allocated for the project. Ruiz referred to it as “placeholder” and “seed” money.