[Editor's note: The following was submitted to Belmont Patch by resident Michael D. Schmitz. If you would like to submit an op-ed, please email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org]
By Michael D. Schmitz
Open Space. It is one of the primary reasons that so many of us love to live on the San Francisco Peninsula. Hikers, bikers, walkers, joggers..there are many wonderful spots to spend leisure time in the great outdoors.
But not too many!
I feel it is imperative that we preserve the few spaces we have left. It is one of the reasons our properties retain their value. Too often our hills get bulldozed, and shortly thereafter, rows of cookie cutter houses appear, while wildlife disappears.
We have an opportunity to save one of our most beautiful open spaces from development: San Juan Canyon in Belmont. If you haven’t been there, the San Juan Canyon, in the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain in San Mateo, and continuing up nearly to the 280 corridor. It is a sanctuary providing haven to native wildlife and vegetation and migrating birds. In the center of the canyon you’ll even find an operating horse ranch. Miles of trails around the canyon offer sun, shade, and outstanding views of the bay.
In 2009, the Belmont City Council wisely bought up 35 acres of San Juan Canyon, ostensibly to protect it as open space. The trouble is, they didn’t have a budget for it. They borrowed from city funds. Now it is time to pay the proverbial piper, and the only solution they (the council) can think of is to sell land to developers. The intent is to sell as few lots as possible to be reimbursed.
The concern is that the project will grow beyond their intentions, and we could end up with 3000 square foot homes where once were deer and oak trees.
The amount owed is not much, all things considered, roughly 1.5 million. I’d buy the land myself if I had it. I don’t. But there may be solutions (that don’t involve bulldozers) for paying the city back this sum and to protect the land now and for the future. We just need time to find them.
Residents in the Skymont area, most directly affected, only learned of the planned sale two weeks ago. Not all residents were even informed. Some announcements were put in just a few mailboxes. Some residents who got the flier went around the neighborhood alerting others.
The neighbors feel sure that they can work out a solution if given a little more time, but the city is expected to select a partner (after hearing just three 10-minute presentations) to develop the land by December or January! That gives the neighbors only weeks to propose a solution.
Three questions for the Council:
- The land was purchased in 2009. If we waited three years, can’t we wait a few more months?
- The land was purchased primarily to preserve it as Open Space. Can’t we work with the residents of Belmont to meet those aims?
- The land was purchased with borrowed funds. Can’t we borrow a little more time to find the best possible solution, preserving the canyon and recouping the costs?
I applaud the efforts of the Belmont city council to protect San Juan canyon over the past several years. Measure F, passed in 2005 has decreased the allowable density. That was a great step forward. Purchasing the land at auction gives the city some control over its future; a great step forward. Now I ask the city to give us some time to protect it even further. The best solution would be one that preserves the entire land as Open Space. If given the opportunity, we can take the last step forward and protect the land as Open Space, for good. We just need a little time. If you relish the open spaces we have remaining in the area, please ask the Belmont city council to postpone making any decisions about developers. http://www.belmont.gov