It’s only a narrow strip of land, but the pathway behind Egan Junior High and Bullis Charter School that was closed long ago has expanded into a much larger controversy this week when neighbors protested a Los Altos School District request to reopen it.
At the Los Altos City Council meeting on Tuesday, a petition signed by 32 of 33 homeowners in the small, quiet neighborhood along Kingswood Way, Thames Lane, Templebar Way and Ashby Lane, was presented to protest any consideration of opening the slender city-owned path between two homes on Thames. Ashby resident Donovan Martin said the one family that didn’t sign is out of town.
“I hate to imagine what will happen if turns into a twice-a-day stream of cars to drop off children of all ages,” said John Barson at Tuesday's council meeting. “It spells danger, frustration, cars trying to reach a drop off point, if there are going to be cars, that remains to be seen.”
Residents described their streets as narrow, with four “blind corners”, which even they, who are used to the streets, take care in navigating.
“The biggest concern was child safety,” among the neighbors who signed the petition, said Donovan Martin.
“With the addition of drop-off and pick-up from Egan/Bullis, the contention between vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists will only be exacerbated,” he added, referring to the two schools that occupy the campus.
Student safety is why the school board brought the issue up, however, as school board members voiced at a March 26 meeting (Discussion appears at the 8:51 p.m. mark on ). They cited several accidents in front of Egan and Bullis along West Portola Avenue in recent months.
“That scares the crap out of me. I think we’ve got to do something about it,” board member Doug Smith said.
Superintendent Jeffrey Baier sent a letter to the council on March 30 making the request, and specifically citing, “the increasing number of accidents involving students on Portola Avenue.”
Members of the council, however, said there wasn’t enough evidence yet that opening the pathway would provide a safe route for students, and asked that the issue be further explored by both city and district staff members.
For example, Councilmember Megan Satterlee said she wanted evidence on how students on bike or foot would get to the pathway, and whether those routes were safe. Mayor Val Carpenter wanted the idea of school buses explored, saying, “that problem would go away tomorrow,” if buses were put into service.
As much as neighbors thought it would create problems, Satterlee pointed out that there are pathways on the back side of schools all over town that are used successfully. She mentioned a long-used pathway in south Los Altos goes between homes and behind homes, crosses Stevens Creek into Sunnyvale, providing a safe way for students to get to schools on the opposite side of the creek.
Another big question mark was whether Bullis Charter School, which currently sits on part of the Egan property, would remain permanently on site, and what impact it would have on relieving traffic problems if it should move in the future.
The council also wanted Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis to weigh in, not only about pedestrian and bicyclist safety, but also about the potential of criminal activity surrounding the path.
Neighbors said the reason for closing it back around 1972 was in part because, as one put it, “the secluded walkway made an ideal place for mischief and illegal behavior.” The back of the school was reportedly burglarized while a getaway car waited on Thames.
While some members of the council seemed at least open to the idea of possibly reopening the pathway, Carpenter was firmly against it
“I can’t support reopening this. I think there are other solutions that don’t involve ruining this lovely, quiet neighborhood,” she said.
Carpenter also raised the specter of on the other side of town.
“I absolutely do not want to go down the path that lead us to "No-Stopping" signs and a residential parking pilot program … I think it would be unfortunate to do that,” she said.
Council member David Casas said if the council decides not to reopen the path, then he wants the city to sell the land, either to one of the two homes bordering the walkway, or to the district.