Comments on Mt. Umunhum

These comments were provided to the board offline in support of David Schwaderer’s video and public comment in the 2/16/2022 board meeting.  Mr. Schwaderer’s video can be seen here:

Public comment video on Mt. Um

Long version

I’d like to comment in support of Dave Schwaderer’s presentation on access to Mount Umunhum. Mr. Schwaderer contacted me last week as he had heard about my advocacy, so I had the opportunity to preview the video and hear about his experiences on Mt. Umunhum.

As Mr. Schwaderer mentioned and as Director Riffle echoed in the discussion shown in the video, the primary purpose of Measure AA as viewed by the people who voted for it was to improve access. Midpen’s own advertisements for Measure AA promoted “Old Trees, New Trails.” Since it’s clear that Midpen has done a very good job at the “Old Trees” part over the past 50 years, we can safely assume that the intent here was to appeal to voters through improved access. The detailed language of the measure, while more complex, also gives first billing to “improve hiking and biking opportunities.”

I don’t mean to imply that Measure AA funds should only be spent for recreation, but I do have two specific concerns:

1. While there’s obviously a lot of activity and spending around Measure AA, the actual quality of recreation provided and the rate of progress are disappointing. This is evident in various projects but I’ll use Mt. Umunhum as an example. Mt. Umunhum was a very expensive project and clearly delivered a lot of value, but as I’ve pointed out in the past, the main way that open space users enjoy the open space is through trails. This extremely expensive project delivered only 3.5 miles of purpose-built trail in an out-and-back configuration. The trail doesn’t function as any useful part of a larger trail system as it is only connected to steep and remote roads. I’ve pointed out in discussions with several directors that there were opportunities to improve the value by re-routing either or both of Barlow Road and the Bald Mountain Trail, and as Mr. Schwaderer points out there are great opportunities on the mountain itself.

2. In recent discussions of the benefits and impacts of open space usage, my strong impression and concern is that a number of board members have been backing away from the clear intent of Measure AA – both the original intent of the board and that of the voters who passed the measure.

With respect to point 1 above, I’ve mentioned to several of you directly and have also commented in meetings that a number of multi-user local trail system developments have used more modern methods to provide excellent experiences to all users. These include Glenwood Preserve, the Rancho San Vicente expansion of Calero County Park, and the current development at Cotoni-Coast Dairies. None of these have the type of funding available through Measure AA. Midpen should be the premiere trail builder in our area, full stop, and that is clearly not the case today. Ironically, it was the case in the 80’s and 90’s, but no longer.

With respect to point 2, I understand the concerns about impacts. Increasing use and popularity is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that Midpen should welcome – given the public’s support of Measure AA, why would Midpen not want to provide the most popular open space experiences in our area, or even in the country?

The concern that is raised repeatedly with respect to this challenge is that Midpen’s mission supports “ecologically sensitive public enjoyment.” The point that I want to make is that Midpen has an extraordinary team that is completely devoted to this mission. They will not propose to the board any option that is not “ecologically sensitive.” What I believe the board should be doing is to challenge the staff to propose the best possible user experiences that are consistent with both the spirit of Measure AA and Midpen’s mission.

These written comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors on February 16, 2022.