Belmont’s San Juan Canyon could receive further environmental protection if the City Council votes to designate its portion as parkland at a meeting tonight.
The relatively small city has about 335 acres of open space, said Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Gervais. There are three main publicly accessible trails in the canyon, Steep Trail, Sugarloaf Spur Trail and Saddle Trail, as well as several informal trails, according to a staff report. The trails connect to Sugarloaf Mountain and to the San Francisco Watershed lands, Gervais said.
“What we’ve really created is a connecting piece to a larger open space network. … It’s neat in the terms that we’re allowing these open spaces to connect to other areas because that’s so important for open space areas,” Gervais said.
The San Juan Canyon open space is what connects Sugarloaf and the Skyline Corridor, said Michael Schmitz, a member of Friends of the San Juan Canyon. Maintaining the trails and not disrupting the natural corridor is extremely important to the animals and the ecosystem, Schmitz said.
In 2009, Belmont bought 35 acres in the valley for $1.5 million with the intention of preserving it as open space. The city recently sold off 8 acres for $2 million on the condition that six would be remain as open space, and has since been considering how to spend its $500,000 profit.
Councilmembers and the public have expressed concern over the ability to protect the land in perpetuity. Last month, the council created a new zoning district, Open Space-Public, to preserve it.
“[The council] created a new open space zoning district and rezoned that area, so that was a layer of protection and another layer of protection is use,” Gervais said.
Confirming that the area already functions as recreational parkland will help the city in its attempt to preserve the land, Gervais said.
The Parks and Recreation Department prepared a recommendation outlining options for how the city can proceed.
The main access points are off Bishop and East Laurel Creek roads and informal trail access to the canyon is along Marsten and Naughten avenues. None of these points have designated parking nor are they clearly marked, according to the report.
The city would start by establishing a trail map to distribute to the public in print and online. The Parks and Recreation Department is proposing to install informational kiosks and regulatory signs at Steep Trail Trailhead on Bishop Road, at Sugarloaf Spurt Trailhead at the end of East Laurel Creek Road and at the Saddle Trail Trailhead at the end of Bishop Road, according to the report.
The council will also consider installing an interpretive panel that outlines the prominent geographical features, give a brief history of the area and describe the importance of open space to Belmont, according to the report.
“We want to be able to interpret those open space values to the community,” Gervais said.
The council will also consider assigning a full-time recreational staff member to create an educational program that could include developing a junior ranger program and guided hikes for residents, Boy and Girl scouts, local schools and the Belmont 4H club, according to the report. By teaching younger generations, these open spaces will hopefully have long-term advocates, Gervais said.
The staffing would draw about $10,000 per year from the recreational fund and the total cost of the proposed installations range upward of about $54,000.
Now that the city has an extra $500,000 in its pocket from the sale, money for the improvements and protection of the land could draw from that.
“The city should formally recognize that land as open space parkland with passive trails and needs to use some of the resources from the profits … to solidify that recognition to future councils,” Councilman Dave Warden wrote in an email.
There are no guarantees that future councils will protect the land in the future. Designating the area as parkland is a step in the right direction, but putting a measure on a ballot that would declare the city’s portion of the canyon as a park would carry more weight, said Jeannette Sacco-Belli, member of the Friends of San Juan Canyon.
“I hope that everybody recognizes the significance. There’s so little open space available to people and one of the best things about the Peninsula is that there are open spaces,” Schmitz said. “So we want to keep what we’ve got as long as possible.”
The City Council meets 7:30 p.m. tonight at City Hall, One Twin Pines Lane.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106