Battle Brewing Over Mission Peak
The East Bay Regional Park District is looking at parking alternatives as Mission Peak becomes a superhighway of hikers seeking selfies.
Mission Peak, a superhighway of hikers seeking selfies, may get a new parking lot.
Photo by Pat Mazzera
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Mission Peak was a rarely visited summit in a remote regional reserve—the perfect place to escape the madding crowd and enjoy inspirational views of the Bay Area, provided you had the water and wilderness savvy to endure the hot, treeless trail to the top, which climbs 2,000 feet in 3 miles.
But during the last decade, thanks to the rise of smart phones, social media, and more people exercising outdoors for free, Mission Peak has become the most popular tourist destination in Fremont and one of the favorite places in the Bay Area for selfies.
“It’s become a rowdy, superhighway of hikers,” says Jannet Benz, who lives near the park and has hiked Mission Peak for 20 years.
This popularity surge has triggered complaints from the neighbors, whose homes were built in the ’90s, when the park was barely used. They complain that thousands of people descend on the park each weekend, rapidly filling 43 parking spots at the preserve’s Stanford Avenue staging area and spilling onto city streets, where they cause traffic, noise, and trash problems.
Michelle Junele, a senior planner with the East Bay Regional Park District, which leases the park from Fremont, acknowledges that park neighbors and users are at loggerheads over parking solutions.
The park district has imposed a curfew that reduced visitor usage by 32 percent and largely resolved nighttime problems. But some neighbors are irate over the district’s proposal to build a 300-spot parking lot in the preserve at one of two possible sites (option A or B) near the Stanford entrance, both of which involve disturbing native resources and building on unstable land. It’s an issue the EBRPD board of directors is expected to contemplate this summer.
Neighbors say a new parking lot is entirely the wrong solution. “We are really creating extra demand by building a parking lot,” says Surinder Chowdhury, who would prefer the district to charge hiker fees.
Sukhmander Singh, a civil engineering professor at Santa Clara University, claims the park district’s draft environmental impact report analysis, released last fall, is flawed, especially on hydrological and soil stability issues. “There is no way, once rain falls, that this entire area will not be affected,” says Singh. He worries sustained rainfall could destabilize the entire hillside.
Singh’s neighbor and fellow engineer Gary Parikh says both proposed sites would create cuts and fills on slopes and unknown landslide deposits that are mapped as “marginally stable” or “could become unstable if disturbed.”
Hiker advocate William Yragui is co-founder of Mission Peak Conservancy, which opposes a neighborhood permitted parking plan expected to go into effect this fall and reduces parking options (outside the existing Stanford Avenue staging area) to 150 spots on Antelope and Vineyard streets. Yragui contends well-heeled neighbors are trying to restrict park access. “Park restrictions based on finances invariably impact those least likely to afford the incremental costs,” he says.
Kelly Abreu, also a Mission Peak Conservancy co-founder, sees the battle over Mission Peak as class warfare. “The rich who are living there are seeking exclusive access to public lands,” Abreu says, noting that the Stanford Avenue entrance would be closed for six months for parking lot construction, effectively putting the easiest access to Mission Peak off-bounds for an entire summer.
“Yes, the park needs better maintenance and facilities, but the major problem is parking congestion, not park overuse,” he says. “There is no limit to how many people you can put in a park, if you have enough toilets and facilities. The neighbors want this to be a sacred, empty wilderness, when it should be an urban park Disneyland.”
Newark resident Anthony Garside, who has used the park for 20 years, says courteous visitor behavior could resolve some problems. “We could avoid using car horn key fobs to lock doors, we could close doors quietly, not race up the hill and keep voices down in the early hours of the morning,” Garside says. But as a Bay Area taxpayer, he believes the park should be made available to as many people as possible. “Even with its drawbacks I support an additional parking lot at Stanford Avenue,” Garside says.
Benz believes problems would largely be resolved if people parked at Ohlone College, which has a new 906-space garage. “But mostly visitors don’t, because that lot charges fees,” Benz observes. She had hoped that hiker fees and a hiker permit reservation system would be selected for further evaluation in the draft environmental impact report, but Junele says the draft concluded that those alternatives do not meet the project’s stated objective to provide additional parking and restrooms to better accommodate park visitor demand for trail access from the Stanford Avenue Staging Area.
Carolyn Jones, the park district’s public information officer, says the district’s board can direct the staff to consider other alternatives, including changes to specific rules for Mission Peak. Currently, the district is developing responses to comments received during the draft EIR period and preparing a final EIR. After that, the district’s board of directors will schedule a public hearing. “The board is probably not going to take a stab at this until June or later,” Jones says. “They haven’t decided whether to do Option A or B or do nothing.
“We are thrilled that so many people love this beautiful park, but it does represent a challenge,” Jones says. All of which promises to add up to another piqued summer, whatever the weather.