North Crestview Park Looking East Photo: Tom Salisbury
Environmentalists achieved a victory in San Carlos on June 30 when, to the delight and relief of Sierra Club and grassroots activists, the City Council voted against putting the future of North Crestview Park on the November ballot.
Since the 1970's, the 4-acre undeveloped park site has provided the mandated open space for 277 townhouses in the Crestview Park Estates development. It is the highest park in the city with views of both the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Bay. Sitting next to the ridge that separates San Carlos from the San Francisco watershed, it provides a corridor for wildlife. It also has the potential to be part of a trail connecting Devonshire Canyon with the Pulgas Ridge Open Space.
The battle began when the City announced in March that the San Carlos school district offered to exchange a portion of the Tierra Linda Middle School campus for North Crestview Park so the district could relocate a charter school on the undeveloped park site. The city would in turn use the TL portion to develop a small field for the community. Mayor Mark Olbert favored the land swap and helped organize a parents’ group to support the plan. In the last few years, many families have chosen to live in San Carlos because of the quality of the public schools. As a consequence, traffic congestion and overcrowding at the schools are becoming the norm, and the District is looking for more space.
Residents in the area became aware of the land swap proposal and formed the "Save North Crestview Park" community organization. Alisande Rozynko, a San Francisco attorney and resident in Crestview Park Estates, became the leader. On April 19 the group delivered flyers to homes in the area to alert residents of the possible loss of the park.
The group announced a website (www.plan4crestview.com) and invited residents to get updates and to write letters to the City Council and the school board. Residents were also urged to attend the City Council meeting of April 22 when the land swap proposal was on the agenda. At that meeting the council decided NOT to support the swap as proposed. (One issue was the fact that the Tierra Linda land would be expensive for the city to develop into a field; it was not large enough and it was also land-locked and could not be accessed during school hours.)
Because California law requires a ballot measure for voters to approve or reject the rezoning that would allow a designated park to be developed, the Council asked the staff to prepare a measure for the November election. Voters would be asked to support or reject “abandonment” of the Park. If the vote was in favor of abandonment, the City Council could rezone and dispose of the property as it wished, even to selling it to a developer for more town homes, and the site would be lost as parkland.
However, before the Council could place such a measure on the ballot, a protest hearing was scheduled for June 30. Those citizens who wanted to protest the abandonment of the park had to send a letter to the city before the hearing date. The city received over 600 letters. If the city council wanted to override the protest letters and place the measure on the ballot. it would have to vote with a super majority vote of 4 to 1 in favor.
Co-ordination efforts begin
Since voters tend to favor legislation promoting schools over preserving open space, Attorney Alisande Rozynko began contacting various environmental organizations in the area to elicit their support and expertise to keep the measure off the ballot:
• Gladwyn d'Souza, the chair for the San Carlos/Belmont Group invited her to the May meeting of the group to discuss the issues of her organization. He also urged her to write and submit an article to Chapter Director John Cordes.
•On May 16, John sent out Alisande's article in a special eblast from the Loma Prieta Chapter to the 375 members who live in San Carlos. Her article explained the possible loss of the park and urged Sierra Club members to write the city council members with their concerns.
•In addition, the Chapter Conservation Committee, chaired by Mike Ferriera, sent a letter to the City Council on May 9 strongly opposing the proposed "Land Swap." On May 30 and June 14 SC/B Group members and Alisande met to strategize and plan.
•Alisande also received good support from Lennie Roberts of The Committee for Green Foothills, Cecily Harris of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and Nancy Graalman of Defense of Place.
In early June, the Save North Crestview Park group retained an environmental lawyer to research a comment letter to be sent to the City Council before the June 30 protest hearing. Within a week, the organization had raised enough funds to pay the legal expense of a 31-page letter with 200 pages of exhibits. The letter was presented to the city staff June 26, and the lawyer presented the four legal issues contained in the letter to the Council at the June 30 meeting.
The San Carlos/Belmont Group does its part to help
As chair of the Chapter Transportation Committee, Gladwyn spoke at the May 27 City Council meeting and objected to placing a park abandonment measure on the ballot. He also made important points about how the traffic congestion at the schools could be resolved. SC/B members also submitted letters to the city council opposing abandonment.
Bob Black spoke at the meeting to explain how the park site came into being 40 years ago. In the 1970's, environmentalists who wanted to preserve the ridge fought the developer, and lawsuits ensued. In the end, the Superior Court took over the development. The open space mitigation resulted in the city-owned Vista Park and North Crestview Park.
Bonnie McClure, as the long-time chief City Watcher for San Carlos in the SC/B Group, wrote letters and spoke at city council, the school board, the Parks Commission, and the Planning Commission meetings and urged all citizens to support saving North Crestview Park.
Marilyn Brewer, with Bob Black's help as membership chair, emailed the monthly Hike and Meeting Reminder on June 8 to all San Carlos members and urged them to donate to the legal fund of Save North Crestview Park.
On June 30 the city council chamber was filled with residents from both camps: people wore "Save North Crestview Park" stickers to urge the Council to keep the measure off the ballot, and parents and children waved flags and "Let Us Vote" signs. After the hearing ended the override vote failed with a 3-2 vote, and as a result there will be no park abandonment measure on the ballot.
According to Councilman Bob Grassilli's statement after the protest hearing, the possibility of litigation against the city was a strong factor in his swing vote to not override the protest letters. He was also concerned about citizens in the community having to campaign against each other in the months before the November election. His vote, along with Matt Grocott's, kept the measure off the ballot.
Author Bio: Marilyn Brewer serves as the new member coordinator for the San Carlos/Belmont Regional Group and has been the group's representative to the Chapter Executive Committee for three years.