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Temporary charter school campus one option for half-acre riding ring in Los Altos Hills

Los Altos Hills equestrians could be bumped from the half-acre riding ring next to the Little League fields on Purissima Road to make room for a temporary school campus. Bullis Charter School is one group that has been eyeing the site for its own use since the Los Altos Hills Parks and Recreation Department began looking into developing the riding ring at the beginning of the year. The city council is scheduled to consider proposals in February.

Jimmy Forbis, director of the parks and recreation department, told the city council Nov. 18 the riding ring is underused and under-maintained. It requires daily maintenance, and the Los Altos Hills Horsepersons Association (LAHHA), the group responsible for grooming the ring, has not spent anything on the facility in years, he said.

Members of Bullis Charter School asked the council to delay making any decision until February when they must turn in a facilities request to the Los Altos School District.

They consider the location a potential temporary school site, even though the Bullis School site on Fremont Road is their first choice. The charter school's 15 portables are located at Egan Junior High.

"We've made an exhaustive list of potential sites in Los Altos Hills," said Karla Jurvetson, Bullis Charter School Site Committee co-chairwoman. "BCS could build on it at some point."

The debate over what to do with the riding ring has stirred up contention between longtime residents and new homeowners. For older residents, the riding ring stands for the reason the city was founded: to preserve its rural character and open space, which they see being swallowed up by subdivisions and mega-homes. Newer residents say the demographics of the town are changing and the city should meet the new demands.

The disagreement over the future of the riding ring surfaced during the Nov. 18 meeting when the parks and recreation department proposed replacing it with a basketball court or all-sports court.

Since then, the committee has withdrawn its proposal for the site.

Ruth McMahon, a 63-year resident of Los Altos Hills who led the movement to incorporate in 1956, objected to replacing the riding ring.

"You, the Los Altos Hills City Council, are here because of me," she said. "You say you want to preserve the hopes and ideas of the city fathers. What about the mother? Am I going to be sorry I did all this? … I want it kept. It's the least the town can do. You've certainly changed everything else that we ever dreamt of. Now it's dollar signs on the roads, dollar signs on the houses."

Old-timers have a sentimental attachment to the ring, but the demand for it has dropped off over the years because the number of backyard horses has declined, said Nancy Couperus, the founder of Los Altos Hills Open Space and Westwind Barn.

"It's a part of what we loved about Los Altos Hills that we see disappearing," she said. "By and large, it just doesn't have the use that it had years back."

Meanwhile, the LAHHA wants to see the riding ring continue under the association's existing contract with the city.

There are a number of nearby riding arenas, including those at Westwind Barn and Pagemill Pastures.

At the city council meeting, Councilman Breene Kerr suggested riders could use the ring at Westwind Barn, but LAHHA members replied that it was too far away and required membership. Membership costs $251 per month. The town riding ring is free.

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