John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, opined: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Many Peninsula residents cherish his words and desire to be with nature after work or on the weekends, but time after time we find crowded trails with no parking nor public transportation access.
Just off I-280 is the beautiful and forbidden Crystal Springs. Managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), with two-thirds of the costs paid by the ratepayers of San Mateo and Santa Clara County, has extremely restricted public access.
This is not for environmental or water quality reasons, as the 23,000+ acres are full of existing roads that are used daily by SFPUC employees and private entities. The centerpiece is an artificial reservoir with water imported from hundreds of miles away. The land, far from being pristine, was logged, farmed and ranched as early as the 1860s.
The access system to this public land is through an inadequate docent program that effectively restricts entry from those who work during the day, those with families with complex schedules as well as those using public transportation. Withholding of admission to the existing road network is unprecedented and an issue of social justice. It is especially unjustified today, when nearly every open space parking lot in the urban Bay Area is full on weekends.
It is no coincidence that limited access to open space disproportionately hits those who don’t live in affluent communities adjacent to open space, and those who do not have the time to drive a high carbon footprint hour to find accessible open space.
Folks with money can also take the time to drive that hour to open space in Marin, Coyote Valley or along the southernmost areas of the San Mateo coast. Crystal Springs presents an amazing opportunity to “walk with nature” and help end the obesity epidemic. Members of organizations such as Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, SF Peninsula Open Space Coalition, Save Our Recreation, Open the San Francisco Watershed and various biking groups recently testified their support for responsible public access including fully funding rangers for patrols.
Adding access using existing roads would connect State-County-National Park islands of publicly managed lands. To continue the elitist docent led access program only perpetuates the current shameful exclusionary policy that serves a tiny fraction of the public. Instead there should be unrestricted daylight admittance or in worse case, an online registration system with a cell phone activated lock system.
Opponents of access discuss water quality, endangered species and trash. In practice, these have been shown to be non-issues. Other agencies such as the Santa Clara Valley Water District, where I am a board member, and the East Bay Municipal Utility District concluded that responsible public access does not endanger water quality. Environmental concerns have already been addressed in the studies of the entire Crystal Springs property.
The Land Use Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Sept. 12 took a baby step toward ending the exclusionary regime. Through the leadership of Supervisors Scott Wiener and John Avalos, the committee voted to forward a resolution to increase responsible access to our lands. This pro-social justice, pro-public health resolution, while non-binding and watered down by opponents’ voices, will be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors in the next few weeks.
I urge you to contact the supervisors to not only accept the resolution but broaden it to fully fund daylight access to the existing Crystal Springs road network.
Gary Kremen is a board member of Santa Clara Valley Water District and a founding member of the Open the SF Watershed movement. He wrote this for The Mercury News.
For more information on Open SF Watershed click HERE or keep updated via FB.
The resolution urging the SFPUC to analyze access reforms will be before the SF Board of Supervisors likely Sept 27th. Your emails will be more important than ever between now and the 27th.
To support this resolution please contact your representatives:
Please include this email as part of the public record.
Public access in the SF Watershed, and open space in general is a social justice, equity issue. I support the resolution (SFBOS file # 160183) to allow responsible access to the SFPUC watershed lands over existing service road such as Fifield-Cahill Ridge, Pilarcitos Road, Whiting Ridge, Old Cañada, and to historical sites for the following reasons:
-Residents of Southern San Francisco and Northern San Mateo County are some of the most socioeconomically and culturally diverse areas of the SF Peninsula. They are as close to the road network in the Watershed as they are to the Presidio. For these residents the SF Watershed is the closest open space.
-Fostering public sentiment of enviornmental stewardship through public engagement is the model for enviornmental protection The communities that surround the Watershed should be as trusted as enviornmental stewards as the communities that surround Mid-Pen or Marin. People with resources can travel to find open space in Marin, Southern San Mateo County or other locals in California. These alternative options do not apply for many residents on the SF Peninsula.
-The docent program is unusable by many people, primarily those on the lower runs of the socioeconomic ladder, including those who do not own a motor vehicle and who are unable to fit their lifestyle into the limited times the docent program runs. From a socioeconomic and social justice perspective, the docent program is very far from providing access to economically disadvantaged groups in the peninsula. Indeed, it is contrary to the ethos of enabling those who may not be as economically well off from part taking in the outdoors closest to their homes. Many who reside in these areas are working class individuals for whom planning a foray the SF Watershed with a docent program is not a viable option. In effect, the barriers to exclude residents who are stone's throw away from the SF Watershed places an inequitable and unfair burden on those individuals from equal access to their environment. From that perspective a permit program would be much better than the docent program to accommodate the economically disadvantaged populations of the area. In fact, open dusk till dawn access is even better than a permit program.