Home » Walk-Bike City News » Anti-Trail and Anti-Walking/Biking Voices Dominate City Council Meetings

From our May 9 newsletter: 

The city council rejected a proposal to expand the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission (BPC) to a 7-member Complete Streets Commission, similar to ones established in Los Altos, Menlo Park, and Los Gatos.

The opponents of the Regnart Creek trail are pushing hard to defund the trail, using the budget shortfall as an excuse. Every city council meeting has now become a referendum on the trail.

The Bike/Ped Commission has changed from prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian projects in the city’s approved Plans to a focus on traffic management and monitoring, and to personal, rather than city-wide, interests.

Read on for more details.

Cupertino City Council meetings are now being held via Zoom. Public speakers are unmuted when it is their turn to talk.

Assault on the Regnart Creek Trail continues 

When the city council unanimously approved the trail and its funding in September 2019, we thought there would be no more votes on the trail and it would proceed to construction. That is not the case any more. Instead, city staff keep bringing the Regnart Creek Trail back to the City Council for a vote at every stage.

On Tuesday May 19th, the city council unanimously voted to adopt the Regnart Creek Trail Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND), as well as execute a Joint Use Agreement and a land exchange with Valley Water. This came after several hours of intense pushback from the same residents who have opposed the trail for the past two years. Councilmember Liang Chao spent extensive time questioning the nature of the notice for last fall’s hearing and casting doubt on the legitimacy of the vote. The city attorney squarely refuted all her claims.

The city staff now plan to bring it back for yet another go/no go vote in Fall 2020 to approve the design and authorize putting the project out to bid. Trail opponents take opportunities at each Council meeting to mount any challenge they can in an effort to challenge the legitimacy of the approval and drive up the trail’s cost, in an apparent effort to then claim that the trail is too expensive to build in a time of austere budgets. This is a fully funded project. No other similar public works project endures this degree of scrutiny and plodding progression.

The Regnart Creek Trail is being put through far more approval votes than any other project in Cupertino history. 

The impetus behind this extraordinary behavior by city staff seems to be a well-meaning attempt to ensure that the voices of all residents are heard. The net result, however, is that the voices of the few residents against the trail are being given much more importance than the majority of residents that support the trail. 

In Tuesday night’s meeting, the usual anti-trail residents, including Councilmember Liang Chao, pushed hard during the CIP budget review to defund the Regnart Creek trail. This was not recommended by staff, who have put together a list of other projects based on a rigorous prioritization exercise. Still, again, everyone had to listen to two hours of anti-Regnart Creek trail rhetoric repeating the same complaints that have been addressed or been proven unfounded last year.

We need to continue speaking up in support of the Regnart Trail as the push-back on the trail is happening at every council meeting. It is anticipated these attacks will continue into next year, after another city council is elected, until construction starts in Jan 2021.

The most troubling development in June 2nd’s meeting is that the battle for the future of walking and biking in Cupertino is now fully in the open.

Battle for the Soul of the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission

The City Council rejected a proposal to expand the Bike Ped Commission to a 7-member Complete Streets Commission, similar to ones established in Los Altos, Menlo Park, and Los Gatos. A Streets Commission has a broader charter than our BP Commission. For instance, it could recommend closing streets to vehicle traffic or making streets one way or severely limiting vehicle speed limits. It was a 3-2 vote with Liang Chao, Jon Wiley, and Darcy Paul voting against, and Steven Scharf and Rod Sinks voting for it.
Residents who spoke against it included three Bike Ped commissioners – Gerhard Eschelbeck, Muni Madhdhipatla, and Ilango Ganga – as well as Linda Wyckoff, and several more. Residents who spoke in favor included two Bike Ped commissioners – Jennifer Shearin and Erik Lindskog – as well as Hung Wei, David Fung, and Seema Lindskog.
In the Bike Ped Commission, we now have two commissioners (Gerhard Eschelbeck and Ilango Ganga) who vigorously opposed walk bike projects — the Stevens Creek trail and the Regnart Creek trail — in their respective neighborhoods right before joining the Commission. Commissioner Ganga continues to be a leading opposition organizer for the Regnart Creek Trail. Based on their work so far and their positions on walk bike projects, it appears as though they joined the Commission solely to ensure they could kill walk bike projects in their neighborhoods from the inside. Commissioner Muni Madhdhipatla seems to be aligned with them to give them a majority controlling vote in the Commission.
Because of this, over the past few months, the work of the Commission to promote walking and biking has effectively stopped. The Commission has refused to work on an updated Bike Ped Plan even as the current one expires this year. The focus has shifted instead to traffic management and monitoring – an issue not squarely in the Commission’s portfolio. In January, in his first meeting as a member of the Commission, Ilango Ganga proposed a reorganization of the Bike Ped Commission. Traffic management and monitoring in partnership with the Tech (“TICC”) commission was voted as a top item by Commissioners Ganga and Madhdhipatla instead of other worthy projects central to the Commission’s focus to improve walking and biking. In April, Commissioners Ganga, Eschelbeck and Madhdhipatla created a subcommittee of “Technology use for Traffic Safety”, an extremely unusual step for the Commission. During the previous three years, there was only one subcommittee, with the broad topic of “public relations”, which is now defunct.
Equally troubling, there seems to be common ground forming between some Cupertino residents who prioritize car usage and the residents opposing the Regnart Creek trail. This alliance has created a coordinated narrative that was on full display at the June 2nd Council meeting.
Speaker after speaker– including Bike Ped commissioners Eschelbeck, Ganga and Madhdhipatla— said there should be “diversity” on the Bike Ped Commission to allow for representatives from different modes of transportation.
Commissioner Ilango Ganga, who has never been seen walking or biking in his neighborhood and doesn’t seem to own a bike, said on Tuesday night: “Diversity is an important point. In the past, the Bike Ped Commission was packed with members of one advocacy group and residents were just sidelined. This has now changed and we now have the right skill set and the right diversity on the Commission.”
Linda Wyckoff, an opposition organizer for the Regnart Creek Trail said, without a trace of irony: “This could be construed as a desire for homogeneity among commissioners instead of diversity… There is a small percentage of our city that is intensely devoted to cycling. This is by far the most vocal component of the Bike Ped Commission. This could be construed as an attempt to silence the voices of those who may voice opinions that are different from their own.”
Councilmember Liang Chao has been a consistently vocal critic of the Regnart Creek Trail. She said on Tuesday night: “Complete Streets is a term promoted by adversity [sic] groups that promote Smart Growth. You say everything is equal but they really want to reduce the emphasis on car usage. That’s the real intent. For a city like Cupertino, I’m not sure this is something we are promoting. I see that other cities have adopted a complete streets ordinance. They buy into that idea. We don’t have that.” 
“Cupertino does not buy into reducing the emphasis on car usage.”
“Bicyclists have too much power.”
“Residents are sidelined if the Bike Ped Commission advocates for more walking and biking.”

Walk-Bike Cupertino Board and Cupertino Bike/Ped Commission Role Changes

Subsequent to the events in the past few city council meetings and the changed priorities of the Bike Ped Commission, we are saddened to announce two major role changes:
 
Walk-Bike Cupertino announced June 9 that Gerhard Eschelbeck is no longer on its board, effective immediately. It has become apparent that his actions on the Bike Ped Commission and in council meetings are mis-aligned with and do not support the goal of promoting walking and biking in our community. 
 Jennifer Shearin has resigned from the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission, on Monday, June 8. In her resignation letter (available here), she stated, “its current priorities no longer align with my goals of creating excellent, safe, and easily accessible walking and biking infrastructure for all our citizens, encouraging sustainability, and prioritizing projects through a community-driven plan process.” Her voice will be missed on the Commission, though she will continue advocating for safer and easier walking and biking in her continuing position as a Walk-Bike Cupertino board member.

How you can help 

Attend City Council meetings and speak in favor of walking and biking, especially the Regnart Creek trail which is under constant attack. Contact a board member or info@walkbikecupertino.org to make sure your voice is heard.
Elections matter — vote this November for pro-walking and biking candidates. Since the Regnart Creek Trail will have to pass through additional votes at the city council, who sits on that council makes a huge difference. In the fall, we will release a scorecard of council candidates so that supporters can make informed choices about which candidates support walking and biking and which ones don’t.
Stand for commission appointments in the city, especially those that affect walking and biking issues, including the Bike Ped Commission, Planning Commission, Library Commission, and the Parks & Rec Commission. It’s not a big time commitment but it has a big impact.
Home » Walk-Bike City News » Anti-Trail and Anti-Walking/Biking Voices Dominate City Council Meetings