Cows will not make a reappearance in two Walnut Creek open space areas.
The city's Park, Recreation and Open Space Commission decided Monday night to stick with its 2009 decision to keep cattle out of the Sugarloaf and Acalanes Ridge open space areas, no longer using them for weed abatement.
The decision was made Monday after more than 20 people spoke, some pleading with the commission to bring the cows back, others saying the cattle are not environmentally friendly.
Cattle grazing ended in the Acalanes Ridge and Sugarloaf open space areas this past fall, mainly due to complaints from parkland users that the cows were dangerous.
After an outcry last month from residents who fear the fire danger presented by tall uneaten weeds, city leaders agreed to discuss the issue again.
Nancy Dawson Dollard, a ranger for open space areas, said weed abatement and fire protection measures taken by the city and the fire district this year are as good as in previous years, when cows were used.
Because of the extended rainy season, even if the cattle had grazed in the Acalanes open space, there still would be a problem there with the regrowth of weeds, she said.
To deal with the "regrowth," the city hired goat herders this month -- for $5,800 -- to chow down on 7 acres of land below Summit Ridge.
Philip Held said that 517 homes are at increased risk of fire because the cows are gone, and that the weeds are too high even with the city's work. He said the combined property value for the affected homes is $321 million, and that the city should pay attention to that.
"There is a lot at stake here," he said.
Commissioner Carla Ludwig said Monday that she understands residents' "concern and anxiety," but if city analysts say they are appropriately managing weed abatement and fire protection, she stands behind them.
It wasn't just neighbors making the case for cows, but ranchers who could benefit if the cows were allowed back. John Hoover, whose cattle used to roam Acalanes, said the ban on grazing hurts his business, and that grazing took place there for decades.
Walnut Creek used to make about $5,000 a year from grazing leases, but city leaders said the money made didn't offset the damage the cows caused, including trampled trails and destruction of native plants.
Resident Florence Stone said neighbors of the open space are upset because they see such a difference between the height of grasses, but said that, in reality, those areas were "overgrazed" by the cattle.
Thomas Watson, whose home in Beacon Ridge is adjacent to the open space, said there is significant danger.
"If a fire started on Pleasant Hill Road, it would be at my property within minutes," he said.
Watson said Tuesday that he is frustrated. At the very least, areas other than Summit Ridge should be goat-grazed to cut down on the fire danger.
The issue of cows in the open space seems far from over. Neighbors insistent that the cattle return are researching their options to see if they can appeal the commission's decision to the City Council.