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Hikers and Bikers Battle As Plan Moves Forward for Sales Tax to Fund New Open Space

June 18, 2008

By Richard Halstead, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Jun. 18–A plan unveiled Tuesday by Marin County officials calls for a quarter-cent sales tax and the formation of new assessment districts to help raise more than $226 million for open space land acquisition and parks maintenance.

The plan, produced by the county’s Parks and Open Space Department, envisions acquisition of 15,000 acres of open space containing 50 miles of new trails over the next 20 years. Half of the money raised by the sales tax would be spent on wildland fire prevention and farmland protection.

Parks and Open Space Director Sharon McNamee said county supervisors will review the results of a new poll before deciding next month whether to put a tax measure on the November ballot.

But even as county supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the blueprint, concern emerged that implementation of the plan would result in the opening up of more single-track trails to bicyclists.

The plan originally called for opening five trails to bicyclists: One Oh One in the Rush Creek preserve; Maytag in the Blithedale Summit preserve; Split Rock in the Cascade Canyon preserve; and Mount Tam Cemetery and Fox Lane in the Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow preserve.

Those proposals were deleted, however, after opposition emerged at a public workshop on June 3.

“It doesn’t change a thing,” said Delos Putz of San Geronimo, who attended Tuesday’s meeting to complain that the plan fails to adequately protect hikers and horseback riders from bicyclists. Putz said removal of the trails

from the plan doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be converted.

McNamee confirmed that the trails, along with many others, would be evaluated for shared use.

Putz said it is a misnomer to label narrow, single-track trails open to hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists as “shared.”

“The safety issues are just overwhelming,” Putz said. “What happens is the more vulnerable users, hikers and horsemen, are essentially precluded from use of those trails.”

Connie Berto, speaking on behalf of the Marin Horse Council, said there simply isn’t enough room for hikers and horseback riders to dodge bicyclists on single-track trails.

“Single tracks are uniquely and happily designed for foot traffic and not wheel traffic,” Berto said.

Steven Schoonover, representing the Tamalpais Conservation Club, said opening the Split Rock Trail to bikes would contribute to siltation of Cascade Creek, where threatened steelhead trout spawn.

The plan had its champions, however.

“The really essential stuff about how we finance the future of parks and open space is in there,” said Parks and Open Space Commissioner Al Baumann. He said the concern about trails was overblown.

“We already have a policy that says we will evaluate all new and all substantially reconstructed trails for shared use,” Baumann said.

He said opening more trails to shared use would help attract support for the sales tax.

“When you need a two-thirds majority, it doesn’t take more than a couple of percentage points to put the damper on the win,” Baumann said.

Supervisors Steve Kinsey and Charles McGlashan also expressed strong support for the plan.

“I see a magnificent plan here,” Kinsey said.

McGlashan said, “I happen to be a user of a bicycle variety and I’m not happy being stuck on fire roads. I don’t buy that argument. I don’t buy the safety stuff. I think we can do it all.”

Read more San Rafael stories at the IJ’s San Rafael section.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij.com

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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