We love, use, and support Trails and Bike Paths that are properly integrated and matched to the community. We appreciate the grand design of the Stevens Creek Trail System, which has taken many years of effort, and we want it to be completed soon.
But we believe that Trails and Bike Paths should be designed with reasonable care.
Los Altos began its design for the Stevens Creek “Trail Connector” with a thorough feasibility study that was completed in 2008. That study considered several routes, and ranked the Fallen Leaf Lane route as the least suitable of all. It chose instead to follow Fremont Avenue to Grant Road to Foothill Expressway, which also provides easy access to the bike trails at Rancho San Antonio. That route may be compatible with Los Altos’ character, and be made to be reasonably safe with minor improvements. It does not require a new bridge over highway 280, and much of it already has bike lanes.
Recently, Sunnyvale revoked a policy blocking the Stevens Creek Trail, and joined with Cupertino, Los Altos, and Mountain View to renew the Trail discussion. This group did not feel obliged to heed the recommendations developed in the previous efforts of 1994 and 2008, thus losing the benefit of that prior work, which incorporated community input and wisdom, and had resulted in some well thought-out decisions.
The disaster that is resulting from this new beginning is largely caused by the invention of an unofficial new “Rule,” which says the Trail Connector must remain within the Stevens Creek “Corridor”, i.e., it must be close to the Creek. That one “Rule” eliminates all of the safe and practical routes, and forces the Trail to use residential streets, like Fallen Leaf Lane, against Los Altos’ Bicycle Transportation Plan, Pedestrian Master Plan, and General Plan and common-sense safety considerations.
It also requires the construction of yet a new bridge over 280. The lovely bridge over 280 at Mary Avenue was built recently for this very Trail Connection, at a cost of about $15 million, but is not in the “Corridor”, so a new bridge is required, less than a mile away, which will likely cost at least as much.
UPDATE: Councilperson Jeannie Bruins has stated publicly that she no longer intends to widen Fallen Leaf Lane as described in the following paragraph. However, nothing prevents her from again changing her position on this, and meanwhile work continues as before. She is on record (recent video below) telling the Study Group that they must include that design, indeed every scheme proposed (“hare brained” or not) in their final Report. Furthermore, she could be overridden by the other Trail proponents. We are not safe until the Los Altos City Council takes action to officially block unreasonable designs. Therefore, we have a new Petition for you to sign:
http://fallenleaflane.org/FLL/Files/NeighborhoodPetition.pdf and an explanatory cover sheet for it:
You can return signed petitions to a box on the porch of 1946 Fallen Leaf Lane. Get your Los Altos friends and neighbors to sign too–it takes a very large number of signatures to get the attention of the City Council! Remember, it’s not only Fallen Leaf Lane that’s in danger now! Any residential street will become fair game.
ALERT: On September 25, a resident of El Sereno Avenue created petition forms using the old March 2013 petition (text is more than half the page), and put an argument on the back that contains some statements that we do not agree with. For example, as far as we know, no one has threatened El Sereno, Crist, or Jones Ln with any widening, and certainly not to 60 feet, as that argument claims. These incorrect petitions were turned in to us with 19 signatures, which we cannot use and have not included in any signature count. We ask those signers to please sign the current petition, and to base their decision on other information, such as this web site. This letter, which we had nothing to do with, is now being used to discredit us, with false claims that we were behind it. Rather than helping our cause, as surely was intended, this has hurt. If anyone else wishes to circulate petitions, please ensure they either agree with or cannot be confused with ours. Contact us for advice and help.
(Returning to the history) Furthermore, the 1.1 miles of Fallen Leaf Lane are to be widened, removing 9 feet from everyone’s front yard, on each side of the street. Technically those 9 feet belong to the City, so there may be no compensation to the homeowners for the loss, even though for over 50 years all the homeowners have cared for and developed those 9 feet as part of their yards (even before Los Altos annexed parts of it). About 250 mature trees will have to be removed, driveways will have to be redone (some will become impractically steep), fences and retaining walls will have to go, along with lawns, irrigation systems, utilities, fireplugs, and power towers. The cost will be enormous.
But that’s beside the point. The point is, this is a terrible location for a Trail, with hazards from 11-22 side streets (depending how you count them), and about 100 driveways. This is contrary to Los Altos traffic safety standards. And it completely changes the nature of the area, in contradiction to the General Plan.
Note: Following the May 2 Citizens Working Group meeting, one of the consultants talked with one of us, and said that we were being inaccurate by claiming that Fallen Leaf Lane would be widened.
She said that there are many things that could be done within the existing street width.
Yes, that could be; however, they gave us only 4 drawings showing possible treatments, and every one of them involves taking property away from us. The least destructive one, called Option 1 at that time, puts a sidewalk on one side of the street, so in that case 6 feet of property would only be taken from one side’s residents, if the street is not moved. The written evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates their plans to take our property and transform our street.
Note: Recently some other drawings have been seen, which do show Fallen Leaf’s width left at its present 42 feet. Those, for example, narrow the parking to 6.5′, the traffic lanes to 11.5′, which totals 36′, and puts a 6′ painted pedestrian walkway on the existing pavement between the parking and the street edge on the east side only. Bicycles would use the traffic lanes. It is worth noting that a typical full size vehicle (e.g. a pickup) occupies 8′, with an additional 4′ when the door opens on one side. This plan also calls for narrowing the street (and preventing parking) near intersections, because drivers are expected to slow down when confronted with such narrow streets at intersections. New trees are to be planted in those bulb-outs, which will serve as a reminder to motorists. Another plan shows a simple curb on the street, between a bike lane and traffic, which should ensure that bikers and cars can’t collide so long as the bicycle doesn’t brush against the curb.
Liability! We have worried and warned from the beginning of this study that adding a bicycle path to our residential street will greatly increase liability for adjacent homeowners. It turns out that this problem is much worse than we had imagined. Currently pedestrians who were injured in the crosswalk on Homestead next to Fallen Leaf are suing Los Altos for $17,000,000 damages, and Los Altos responded by suing the adjacent homeowner for that amount! The theory is that a tree grew to shade a street light, which shaded the crosswalk at night, and it is Los Altos policy that homeowners are responsible for maintaining trees (even if planted by the city) and thus are liable for damages caused by those trees. So the City does not have to pay anything, the homeowner must. Does your umbrella liability policy reach to cover $17,000,000? The Los Altos City Attorney responded to our concern about this in detail, and this is indeed the City policy!
The latest drawings show Fallen Leaf Lane being narrowed within 30′ of all intersections so as to eliminate parking there, and these “bulb outs” will be planted with trees. So now we know that if anyone is injured by one of these trees, the homeowner will indeed be liable! Presumably there would have to be something wrong with the tree for such litigation to succeed; perhaps it blocks the view, or is hard to see at night, or is in a place where it might be run into…
A local resident has told us of injuries to bicyclists on Fallen Leaf Lane, which apparently are unknown to the experts who are performing the Study. One of these was settled out of court, but would have resulted in a suit against the City if the City had modified the street in any way that relates to bicycle safety, such as adding bicycle facilities of any kind. And now we know that such a lawsuit would be passed on to the homeowner.
Be sure to read the “Off The Table?” section below, and view the 2 minute movie on that topic!
So, read on:
Fallen Leaf Lane, in south Los Altos, California, USA, is a lovely quiet rural residential street, with large mature trees, no sidewalks, few streetlights, and little traffic. This rural feel was deliberate, and was a factor considered by the people who chose to buy their homes in this part of town. Fallen Leaf Lane is a quintessential example of what makes Los Altos a bucolic oasis in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Traffic is low, mainly residential, with little diversion flow. Bicyclists can be seen from time to time, but mostly just before school and just after school. A school bus stops along the street twice a day. But suddenly, early in 2013, the residents discovered that someone has plans that may make Fallen Leaf (or possibly nearby streets instead) very different indeed.
Here is a video of our May 14 public comments to the Los Altos City Council, listing the problems we see with this new version of Fallen Leaf Lane. For more background, see below.
Here is a video of our April 23 public comments to the Los Altos City Council.
Here is a video of our October 8, 2013 public comments to the Los Altos City Council.
Off The Table?
After hearing our second speaker, Councilmember Satterly commented that the Class 1 trail on Fallen Leaf Lane is no longer “on the table.” However, the written documents we received from the study group meeting of October 2 do show, on page 3 of this document (Trail_Rankings_10_2_13), “Option 1:Fallen Leaf Lane Multi-use Trail- Requires 60-Foot ROW.” Possibly she got the information from Councilmember Bruins, who is our representative to the Feasibility Study. So it seems that “off the table” is not, as we had hoped, the same thing as “has been dropped” or “is no longer being considered.” As far as we can tell, it has no meaning at all.
Another interesting point: Councilmember Bruins said that the 2008 study has not been invalidated, and that its recommended route (actually only parts of it) is being considered, even though it is not “near the Creek.” It is listed on page 3 also, but is given very bad grades. For example, it has had 11 bicycle injury accidents (because it has bicycle paths and has long been in active use?), which rates the lowest grade, “E,” while Fallen Leaf Lane rates an “A” for having no bicycle accidents (perhaps because it has not had bicycle path improvements?). And Fallen Leaf is given a top-rated “A” ranking because it will need all new trees! That and other evidence in the rankings suggest that someone’s true goal is to spend as much (grant) money as possible, the higher the cost the better the grade, exactly opposite to what a taxpayer should expect. These are examples of the kind of distorted thinking that is being used to rate Fallen Leaf Lane as highly suitable for the Trail!
Here is a 2.5 minute video demonstrating these points. We attempted to show this video at the October 22 meeting, but the presentation was frustrated by the last-minute rule change limiting us to 90 seconds per person, and by an unexpected lack of an audio connection from the city’s laptop to the projection and audio system.
Here is a rather long video of the very disappointing October 22, 2013 meeting, “our” agenda item at the Los Altos City Council. We really hoped this meeting could end the absurd stuff, but it was set up so no decisions were allowed to be made, but Councilmember Satterly moved that the Council never consider this matter again until the study group has completed its Report. Our interests were outvoted, with Mayor Fishpaw, Councilmember Bruins, and Councilmember Satterly prevailing over Councilmember Carpenter and Councilmember Pepper, despite strong arguments presented by Carpenter and Pepper.
Now our only hope is that the Study Group will reverse direction and adopt rational criteria and policies for the public good. However, the announced schedule indicates that the Study Group has turned the work over to the consultant and staff already, so it seems too late to hope for a change in direction.
Here is a video of the October 22, 2013 agenda item at the Los Altos City Council.
The Stevens Creek Trail
A new Trail is wanted, to connect two sections of the Stevens Creek Trail system, from Mountain View to Cupertino. Several routes are being considered, and one of them is Fallen Leaf Lane.
One of the plans would leave the street nearly as is, just adding “Bicycle Route” signs here and there, and a sidewalk on just one side. But most of the plans call for widening Fallen Leaf by 9 feet on each side, to 60 feet; one version widens it only half as much.
The reason? For years there have been Trails projects, slowly building a connected set of landscaped bicycle and hiking trails around the Bay Area. One of those Trails has recently been completed to Sleeper Avenue in Mountain View, with a new bridge over highway 85 to another part of Mountain View. And now that Trail wants to be joined to other trails toward the hills, in particular as part of the Stevens Creek Trail project.
So, where will that Trail go? Some years ago, the City of Los Altos paid for a study that determined that the Trail should go down Fremont Avenue to Grant Road, to Foothill Expressway, and could use the existing underpass to cross Freeway 280 to access Rancho San Antonio, which already connects to other trails. That would improve Grant Road somewhat, but it already has the necessary width and other characteristics. That study also considered alternatives, and Fallen Leaf Lane was rated the least suitable of them!
But then Los Altos decided once again to join with Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino to find a new coordinated plan, and apparently abandoned its earlier investment. The Stevens Creek Trail designers decided that the Trail must go near the creek, Stevens Creek, which forms the border with Sunnyvale, etc., even though the creek can neither be seen nor heard from Fallen Leaf Lane! This new requirement eliminates all of the sensible routes from consideration.
A couple of years ago, the plan was to run the Trail through Sunnyvale to the new Bridge that crosses 280 at Mary Avenue. $14,800,000 was spent on this Trail and Bridge, which is now complete and in service. However, once that project was committed, it was “discovered” that it is too dangerous for Trail users to take Stevens Creek Blvd. from Mary Avenue to the Trail’s destination, which is BlackBerry Farm on Stevens Creek Blvd., and thus a new Trail and another Bridge are necessary. The high cost is no concern, because the funds will come from various places that need to use up their money anyway; only a fraction will come from local sources (“us”). And some designers and construction contractors will get jobs, which will be good for the economy….
When the Fallen Leaf Lane area was laid out in the 1950s for lots and housing, many lots extended to the center of the Creek, with the result that the creek runs directly through some back yards.
Some years ago an effort was made to run a trail along the creek anyway, but after fierce opposition by the creek-owning residents, that plan was dropped. In addition to losing part of their back yards, people were concerned about the loss of privacy, and the loss of security because of large numbers of strangers having easy access to the back sides of those homes, facilitating burglaries, etc.
So now nobody is discussing routing the path along the actual Creek, but the goal is still to be somehow “near” the Creek, according to maps, even though it won’t be possible to see or hear the Creek from any of the proposed Trail routes. However, that requirement is held against the Grant Road route, which is therefore no longer being considered.
Several routes are being considered, with several variations in Sunnyvale, but a leading competitor is Fallen Leaf Lane in Los Altos!
So, who gets to make the decision? Surely the homeowners will get to vote, right?
No. (We’ve heard that Sunnyvale residents in the Belleville and Bernardo area have demanded a vote and will be given one, however it is not clear (and seems unlikely) that this “vote” will have any real effect. It’s probably just a way to make them feel they were actually heard, to keep them quiet for a while, while the preliminary design work moves to completion.) In the recent (March) Cupertino public meeting, residents stood up and demanded a way to say “No!” and an opportunity to speak, but they were told there were too many present to allow anyone to talk, so to just go fill out their survey questionnaires (which do not provide any way to say “No!”, just several ways to say “yes”), and the mic was turned off immediately.
The Trail designers are taking the position that the 9 feet of property adjacent to the pavement is already Los Altos City Property. The City has merely been tolerating our landscaping and use of the property for all these 60+ years, and does not need our permission to use it as they see fit. Water mains, sewer lines and various utilities currently make use of these areas, so they have always been subject to getting dug up when there are utility problems.
However, all of these property owners have landscaped, planted trees, and generally made good use of these 9 feet since the houses were built, typically in the 1950s. It’s going to be a terrible shock when we lose over 250 trees (of which about 200 are sizeable), at least 55 rosebushes, 27 hedges, 10 stone walls, 21 fences, several retaining walls, driveways, lawns and many miscellaneous plants, and in some of the possible designs mentioned in the meetings (but not shown on the drawings we were given) we could also lose on-street parking entirely!
What about our opinions, expressed on the surveys that are being handed out? The Trail designers might make changes based on suggestions or preferences we expressed on the surveys. Perhaps they will result in better designs.
But, the surveys will at most affect the design details. There is no place on them to say “We don’t want any changes” or “We don’t want the Trail here” or “We want the Trail to use the Los Altos-approved Grant Road alignment”. Those questions are not asked by the Trail designers. Their job is to choose a new Trail design. The decision whether there will be a Trail was apparently made long ago; it’s not up to us.
The Trail designers are not surprised that residents generally oppose changes. They expect it, and are prepared for it. There is a protocol to be followed, gathering opinions of those to be affected with surveys that show the proposed routes and designs but no other alternatives. The surveys will be filed, perhaps put in a database. This will meet one of the standard procedural steps for such projects. But it is very unlikely that the surveys will have much effect on the ultimate plan and decision.
What can we do?
If we do nothing, our feedback will be pro forma, filed away to prove contract requirements were met, and ineffectual. The decisions are made at higher levels, in a process designed to prevent “not in my front yard” reactions of the residents from blocking a plan that likely would be approved by a region-wide vote. After all, who doesn’t like bike trails? as long as they aren’t in my yard….
Probably the City Council does still have meaningful input and perhaps veto power. But projects like this are usually opposed by those directly affected, and supported vaguely by the more general public, so the Council is not likely to pay much attention.
Unless something gets their attention.
What gets the attention of City Councils? Mainly something that looks like it might take up a lot of their time, or that might make reelection difficult. Unfortunately, we’ve just had an election, so reelection pressures are of little concern right now.
What are we doing now?
Our first step has been to circulate a Petition to submit to the Los Altos City Council, to get them to put this matter on the agenda for discussion (and input by the residents) at a future meeting. Decisons are being made somewhere, probably soon, so we need to deal with this urgently or there will be no hope. We organized to support this work by forming a Fallen Leaf Lane Neighborhood Association, which anyone is welcome to join. This is not like a HomeOwners’ Association! We don’t expect to need any money beyond passing the hat to cover particular expenses, and we won’t have any power, authority, or control over our members. We’re just volunteers working together to push back against this catastrophe as effectively as we can. We’ve been very pleased to find that this area has many talented members and many willing hands!
We have learned that the City Master Plan is in conflict with this Trail Plan, which strengthens our case, because amending the Master Plan to allow this kind of Trail will require much more consideration of the public welfare as a whole, and of public opinion, and of proper political process.
We hope to get the City to constrain the Trails machinery, perhaps to fall back to their earlier design (Grant Road), at least to limit the damage to Fallen Leaf Lane (or neighboring) residents to some tolerable level. Almost all residents want no widening of Fallen Leaf Lane, and don’t want to lose on-street parking, but don’t object to bicycles continuing to use the street as they do now.
We have heard rumors that some of the alternative proposals will be taken out of consideration because of strong opposition by residents in the other cities. If that is true, it will strengthen the forces pushing to have the Trail on Fallen Leaf Lane.
If you’d consider signing a petition, you can still get one. Request one at info@FallenLeafLane.org
For more info, you can email your questions here: info@FallenLeafLane.org
or you can post comments on this site.
We’ll keep this website as accurate as we can, but we realize that there’s a lot that we don’t know, so there may be errors from time to time. Please let us know when you spot problems, so we can fix them. Send such things to webmaster@FallenLeafLane.org
We send occasional updates and notices to people who have signed petitions and/or provided us their email addresses. We are no longer using the former Yahoo Group for this, so if you joined that group but are not getting updates or notices (perhaps once a month), just send your contact info to us at info@FallenLeafLane.org. Please include your name and address as well, and phone if you don’t mind (for use if your email fails). Our database is organized by address, so we can see who is most affected by the various proposals.