Fire Season and Silicon Valley: Caution Needed to Prevent Disaster

Edit: this post was originally published July 17, 2010, but the concerns are still as real as ever. Broken links have been updated, but the body of this article is, for the most part, left as it originally was over a decade ago.

 Danger!

Fire sign at main entrance to Belgatos SmallerSince early July, fire danger signs have been out at Belgatos Park in Los Gatos (and I suspect at other parks throughout Santa Clara County too). To the right is the sign at the park’s main entrance.  It admonishes the visitors:

High Fire Danger  No Smoking No BBQs

To anyone who’s lived in Silicon Valley long, this is understood – the fire danger is quite high here in summer.  Unlike most of the east coast, it does not rain here in summer (at least not often and not much), and our green grasses and plants of spring turn to kindling very quickly.  One stray match, hot cigarette butt or one illegal firework can smolder into a flame which grows fast with the smallest amount of wind to destroy property, animal life and potentially human life, make breathing bad for days and leave a scar on the land.

Fire Danger at Belgatos side entrance smallerThis sign at the entrance may not feel very compelling to some as the lush green grass in the background would seem to contraindicate restraint.  But venture to the park’s side entrance on Bacigalupi Drive (or hike up the trails) and you’ll understand immediately why this is nothing to take lightly.

Except for one little tuft of partially green grass, “cardboard hill” is entirely dry. So is the rest of this beautiful open space.

Preventatative Action

If you live close to or have open space in San Jose’s Alum Rock, Almaden, or other east foothill areas or the west valley places like Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Sartoga, Cupertino or anywhere the foothills, your property is likely considered to be in a high risk fire hazard zone. If so, each year you are mailed information from Cal Fire reminding you of your obligation to provide clearance around your home and to cut down the dead brush.

 

 

Just outside of the main entrance to the park there’s a large and open lot which has a few trees, some prickly pear, and a lot of grasses and weeds in winter and spring.  (It also had a rattlesnake it in by the prickly pear when my daughter walked past with our dog one day a month or two ago.) Below is a pan of two pics I took with my Blackberry and later stitched together – the park entrance is out of sight but is a little to the left of this photo.

 

Lot at Westhill and Belgatos Lane next to entrance to Belgatos Park in Los Gatos July 2010

 

These owners have done as needed and disked the field to help prevent fires or the spread of fires.

There are things you can do to “harden” your own home and create defensible space if you live near open space to make it more resistant to fire. Check out the whole list on the Cal Fire site, “Prepare for Wildfire“.

 

 

 

Guadalupe Oak Grove Park in Almaden Valley

Recently my family and I visited the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park in Almaden Valley. As the bird flies, it’s less than 2 miles from our home, but somehow we hadn’t been there before. We loved it and I thought our readers might enjoy seeing some images and learning more about this cool pocket of nature in suburbia.

There are some informative signs in the park. One stated that there are 15 types of oak trees in California – something I had not previously known. In this park there are several types of oaks, including, I believe live oak, valley oak, black oak, blue oak, and the California buckeye, which is related. (There are some empty or blank sign stands along the trail. For neophyte explorers like myself, it would be great if they would indicate which type of oak is which.)

 

Guadalupe Oak Grove Park sign - Almaden Valley, San Jose, CA 95120 - sign

Guadalupe Oak Grove Park boasts 62.7 acres with paths or trails. Some of these trails are fairly level and not on challenging terrain, while others  are more steep. The trails wind through varying types of vegetation. Some parts are dotted with oak tress, others are shrubs or grasses.

It’s located at 5982 Thorntree Drive San Jose, CA 95120 and is open from 8 a.m. to sunset daily. More location info is at the bottom of this post.

This is immediately adjacent to Jeffrey Fontana Park, which has a playground, lawns, and the more typical neighborhood park features, so it’s very convenient to visit both in one day. Guadalupe Oak Grove Park does not have a tot lot, youth playground area, et cetera, per the city of San Jose’s page for this park.

Close to the parking lot there is a shady stretch where you’ll find  log benches to the side. It’s a pleasant spot to just relax and watch the birds and other animals.

 

Shady part of a trail near the parking lot - Guadalpe Oak Grove Park

 

Other sections are grassland. Right now, they are dried out (so it’s no surprise that barbecues are not allowed here!). It was mild the day we stopped by, but this area might be uncomfortably toasty on a summer day.

 

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Introducing a Beautiful Willow Glen Neighborhood, “The Willows”

The Willows - home on Brevins Loop in Willow Glen - The Willows near Rubino CircleWillow Glen is one of the most charming areas of San Jose, consisting of many older homes which feature lovely, classic architecture. Most Silicon Valley home buyers treasure the Willow Glen charm and ambiance, but many are seeking newer homes. A fabulous option is “The Willows“.

KB Homes built “The Willows” in 1999 to 2000. It is tucked away at the southernmost tip of Willow Glen, off of Foxworthy Avenue & close to Almaden Expressway, but only about 2.5 to 3 miles from all the action on Lincoln Avenue.

The tree-lined streets are built in something of a loop shape with Rubino Circle being the main access or loop road. Situated on the inner part of the loop are homes with smaller lots that are a little more affordable. The outer part of the circle is built with slightly larger homes on larger lots (but none of the lots are “big”). Sidewalks with soft curbs at the corners accompany the streets and make for a pedestrian-friendly, bike, wheelchair or stroller friendly area. Visit in the early evenings and you will see children and adults walking, strolling, taking dogs for a walk etc. – always a good sign! Because the neighborhood is a bit like an oversized cul-de-sac (no through traffic), it is very quiet in terms of traffic. The area has large street lights, too, making for a safe feeling community.

 

The Willows - Rubino Circle street view
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The Almaden Winery Neighborhood of San Jose

The Almaden Winery neighborhood, just off Blossom Hill Road in San Jose, has a rich and interesting past, dating back to the mid 1850s when the site was first planted with grape vines.  It was the first winery in Almaden Valley and one of the oldest in the state of California.  (It survived the prohibition period by getting licensed to make sacramental wine and by bottling grape juice.)

In this post I’ll share some photos of the neighborhood with you, explain about the three different builders/developers and show you where to find each one.

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Dog Parks in Santa Clara County

Dogs can be found throughout Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County, particularly in my own town of Los Gatos (ironically, “The Cats”).  Our mild climate probably makes dog ownership easier than many other places around the U.S.

Doggie Playtime!

Bella and Mary - Belgatos ParkMost parks and trails around the county are open to dogs on leash.

There are plenty of popular neighborhoods where you can walk your canine companion if you want a more relaxed social experience.

School yards are not dog facilities, and while many San Jose area neighborhood dog owners find the empty after-school yard to be the perfect place to run their favorite pooch, it can cause a variety of problems. Kids may play in the yard and step in dog poo, or they might hurt themselves tripping on a hole dug by a dog. Dog claws can also tear up lawns that are maintained for school sports. And even for the best behaved dogs and owners: schools cannot be liable for having a dog on the loose in their grounds.

Dogs are generally not allowed in county waterways, as much of the water is either connected to the valley water supply or are protected areas home to native birds, plants, and even endangered wildlife. Contact the County for availability to non-sensitive sites by special permit. (And with creeks, beware: come of them have bacteria or other organisms which if ingested by your pet can get him or her very sick – we know, we have a lab who cannot resist running water and we have all paid the price.  No more creeks for her!)

Special use permits may also be available for organizations with special events such as dog shows, search and rescue exercises, and water retrieval training. Fees and availability vary, and insurance is required. For more information, contact the Special Use Coordinator at (408) 355-2220.

Instead, be content running a dog on-leash, in your yard, or at an off-leash facility!

Where are the off-leash facilities?

Listed below are several parks within the county with off-leash facilities for you and your pooch. Beneath that is a general list of rules for those who wish to use these facilities. Be sure to check with the individual park online for specifics before you visit. (more…)

Fairview Plaza Historic District in Los Gatos

Fairview Plaza Historic District neighborhood in Los GatosThe Fairview Plaza Historic District is close to downtown Los Gatos but tucked away on a small knoll with only one access road plus one easy-to-miss pedestrian pathway. For newcomers, it’s a bit of a surprise to discover this little enclave.

What do you find at Fairview Plaza? Begun in the 1880s, the little neighborhood is set around a tiny park surrounded by a small ring road full of charming Victorian homes (though not all properties are houses and not all houses date from the 1800s). The most famous house, though, is unseen from the street, was completed in 1919 and designed by the very famous architect Julia Morgan.

Recently I did a video “drive through” of Fairview Avenue and Fairview Plaza, and posted that together with a bit more information on my Live in Los Gatos blog. Want to get more information on this lovely area? Please read more and check out the video at the link below. And if you want more videos of Los Gatos neighborhoods, I’m building a library of them, slowly but surely – and you can find those at YouTube.com/popehandy.

 

http://liveinlosgatosblog.com/fairview-plaza-historic-neighborhood/

Fairview Plaza home and park strip

 

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Fremont Older Open Space Preserve in Cupertino and Saratoga

Fremont Older trailsWant to get away for a scenic hike but not drive hours for some time in nature? The Fremont Older Open Space Preserve may be just the ticket.

Located in Cupertino but stretching into Saratoga, this enormous preserve, which is managed by the  Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, includes nearly 15 miles of trails within 739 acres of open space. The parking lot is a little small, so best to carpool if meeting friends there, and easiest if you arrive early on weekends.

Fremont Older Trailhead

The preserve includes many scenic vistas of the rolling hills, the coastal range, and the valley below. (more…)

Open Space with Field of Mustard a Reminder of the Valley’s Past

Fifty years or so ago, San Jose was still a very agricultural area. The Blossom Valley and Santa Teresa neighborhoods enjoyed great open spaces, farmland and orchards. Today that’s nearly all gone. But there is still a large, undeveloped area there at Branham Lane and Snell Avenue (the border area for these two districts of San Jose), not far from the Vistapark neighborhood or the Hayes Mansion area. I wonder what it will become as the valley continues to fill. Hopefully at least some of it will remain open.

Below are a couple of photos taken of this agricultural oasis last weekend, by my husband, Jim, with the mustard in full bloom. It’s a beautiful reminder of Silicon Valley’s past as “the Valley of Heart’s Delight“.

The first view is looking west to north-west:

 

mustard-at-snell-and-branham-in-san-jose

 

Same area, but looking a little up and to the left – and you see part of a barn…
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Wildwood Park in downtown Saratoga, CA

Wildwood Park is downtown Saratoga’s quiet getaway spot. Situated on Fourth Street, just off Big Basin Way in Saratoga Village, it’s a stone’s throw to great dining and shops, but borders a pleasant residential neighborhood too. For people fortunate enough to buy or rent a home in the downtown area, the park is a wonderful plus.

What makes Wildwood Park in Saratoga so special? In addition to a nice play structure and an open, grassy area (which you might expect in any city or town park), Wildwood offers a sandy volleyball court, restrooms (many smaller parks don’t) and perhaps best of all, Saratoga Creek. Tall Eucalyptus and Sycamore trees grace this downtown retreat too, so there’s no shortage of shade on warm days.

As a teenager, I attended Saratoga High School (class of 1977) and visited the park with friends or to work on my photographic skills. This is a great location for shooting pictures. What could be cuter than a child or pet by the creek? [Sometimes my girlfriends and I used to watch old movies in the quonset hut theater, The Vitaphone (it was at Big Basin Way and Third) that was then a part of downtown Saratoga’s charm. I wish I had thought to take pictures of that theater when I was downtown – it’s long since gone. Happy downtown Saratoga memories.]

Recently I stopped in to try videotaping the park since I was in the neighborhood on the real estate broker’s tour and literally was on 4th Street already. About 2 weeks ago I got a Flip Video so am learning (critics be gentle!) and hope that these couple of clips give you a sense of the tranquility and beauty of the park if you have not had the pleasure to visit it in person yourself. If you live elsewhere in Silicon Valley, perhaps next time you dine in Saratoga, you can make a side trip to see the quaint little park nearby. It’s a worthwhile visit, especially if you have a camera in hand!