A month ago, I wrote a blog post decrying the change of hours at Mission Peak. The media has been interested in this topic as well, with multiple news articles and video pieces appearing on the recent changes. Most of these are short pieces describing the changes and interviewing a few people they found at the trail head.
I've been doing more research. It turns out that the timing of this change in early September this year is likely meaningful. Elections are around the corner on November 4. Mission Peak is run by the East Bay Regional Parks District which is split up into wards. Mission Peak is part of EBRPD's Ward 5 and its director, Ayn Wieskamp, is up for re-election. Ayn has been on the board for 16 years, re-elected 4 consecutive times. Mid-August, a contender for the election, Dev Gandhi, put his name into the ring.
It turns out that Gandhi lives in the neighborhood right next to Mission Peak. From his website:
To preserve our parks for future generations it is incumbent on us to understand the capacity of our parks and balance that with the visitor demand.
Mission Peak is a perfect example. When we moved into the neighborhood close to Mission Peak about 8 years ago, we could hear coyotes howling, owls hooting at night time and see different animals like deer, foxes, bobcats etc. But over the years all these animals have kind of disappeared. Because of immense popularity, hikers visit this park from well before 4am in the morning till about 2am at night almost every day of the year. This has taken a tremendous toll on the preserve and has dwindled the wildlife population to near zero. Currently the visitor usage at the Stanford Ave. entrance is excessive to the point that the Park District is unable to keep up with the on-going damage to the trail/habitats. Problems like these and others need to be addressed with urgency.
We have to control park recreation to balance with what is sustainable to keep native habitats healthy.Gandhi is quite interested in reducing Mission Peak access. I suspect the recent hours changes are likely an attempt to persuade a few angry resident voters that a new director isn't necessary to accomplish their goals.
Curious if Gandhi actually lives in the impacted parking area, I turned up this document from the city of Fremont. As it turns out, he lives on a plot of land immediately adjacent to Mission Peak Preserve, but a mile back behind a gated community of residents in Vineyard Heights. This community is adjacent to the park, but is immune from the traffic due to a gate blocking any public access to their roads. However, that same document shows that Gandhi bought an empty plot of land on Vineyard Ave, which is the most traffic impacted road from Mission Peak park traffic. This land was then developed into a new home, which I imagine Gandhi moved into as his previous home sold this July, 1 month before he announced he'd run for the East Bay Regional Parks District Seat.
If this description is confusing, here's a map of the area (click for a larger version):
|Roads and homes around Mission Peak park entrance|
The location of Gandhi's new home appears an empty lot on this image, because until recently it had been just that, an empty lot. As a longtime local resident, the traffic issues, which have been present for years, cannot have come to him as a surprise after he moved in just months ago.
I've never met Gandhi or his opponent. I truly imagine he's a nice guy, enjoys the outdoors like myself, and just wants more peace and quiet. Still, it appears a conflict of interest for Gandhi to represent the parks district. While his newly built home has never been on the market, zillow estimates the 5 bed, 5.5 bath house on an acre of land to be worth $3.3M. Homes in this area may already be the most valuable homes in Fremont. How much would the value increase overnight if the street went from a moderately busy overflow parking street to a resident-only permitted parking area? How much more valuable would the home be if east bay park funds were focused on simultaneously improving this one park while making it less accessible to the public?