SAN LEANDRO -- Heron Bay residents who sought to limit outsiders passing through their neighborhood in search of the Bay Trail's vistas and fresh air instead might find themselves having to improve access to the trail to better accommodate visitors.
All they wanted, the residents said, was to limit outsiders driving on their streets, which include access to the popular bayshore trail that runs west of their neighborhood.
They asked the city to let them install gates on streets leading into the neighborhood to reduce crime. Pedestrians and bicyclists could still reach the trail through an unlocked, closed 4-foot-wide gate. San Leandro planners turned down the neighbors, who then appealed for the City Council's help.
But at Tuesday's council meeting, the names of powerful former legislators and equally important park and conservation agencies were invoked to keep Heron Bay's streets open, and the council agreed with them.
"It's irresponsible to not allow handicapped people to use the Bay Trail," said Councilman Jim Prola. The gate would prevent disabled people from being dropped off at the trailhead.
Prola was among those who opposed Heron Bay, first proposed as a 3,000-house tract. The scaled-back project of 693 houses was a compromise between environmentalists who did not want any housing on the baylands and those who favored it, he said.
"One of things we did agree on is that there would be access, and there would be access by vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles," Prola said.
The push for the gates began soon after 32-year-old Delun Pan was shot to death in March 2013 while trying to stop his mother-in-law from being robbed outside her Heron Bay home. No arrests have been made in that slaying.
"Heron Bay is being preyed upon, and we have to take the measures to protect ourselves," said Fred Simon, president of the homeowners association.
But Prola noted city statistics show that the serious crime rate for the district that includes Heron Bay is San Leandro's lowest. Crimes do occur in Heron Bay, said police Lt. Mike Sobek, but no more than in other areas of the city.
Sobek said he did not think fencing and gates would deter crime. "People have locks on their doors, for goodness sake, and people still break into homes," he said.
Even if San Leandro had approved the gates, Heron Bay would still have needed the approval of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, an unlikely prospect, said attorney Valerie Armento, who was advising the council on the project.
One of the conditions for the development included allowing pedestrians and vehicles access to the trail, as well as parking, she said. A few years ago, Heron Bay started towing cars of nonresidents who park on the neighborhood's private streets.
The conservation agency sent a letter saying that the current trail is too narrow. "Furthermore, new public benefits may also be required to offset the absence of the required public access at this location during the past 18 years," the agency warned.
Former San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos made a rare council appearance to advocate keeping the trailhead open.
"Heron Bay was developed as a non-gated community, and it should remain such. Public access to the shoreline is very important," he said.
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who proposed the Bay Trail as a state senator, sent an email asking the city not to restrict access.
"This is a matter of concern not only to me, but to the many San Leandro and neighboring residents and visitors who would wish to experience the Bay Trail," he wrote.
Heron Bay has started a Neighborhood Watch program, and council members suggested residents could install surveillance cameras and license plate readers to track those driving into the area.
"They've done that in Sausalito, and guess what -- crime is now down," Prola said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.