Under sunny, breezy skies, more than 200 people turned out Saturday to open a new gateway to a stunning vantage point overlooking Silicon Valley from the rolling foothills east of San Jose.

The event dedicated a new parking lot and trailhead at Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve along Sierra Road. Although the 1,898-acre property, dotted with oak trees and sandstone outcroppings, has been open to the public since 2002, the only access until now has been from Alum Rock Park, a steep one-hour hike.

Now for the first time, motorists can drive to the preserve to hike, bicycle or ride horses for free any day from 8 a.m. to sunset on its roughly 11 miles of trails.

Through binoculars, Bernice Tate, of San Jose, takes in a view of  the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday., Aug. 23, 2014.
Through binoculars, Bernice Tate, of San Jose, takes in a view of the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday., Aug. 23, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

"This view is a few minutes' drive from downtown San Jose," said Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the government agency that owns the land.

"Open space is not remote. It not inaccessible. There are easy ways to get to it. And it is open to everybody, regardless of people's age or mobility."

As she spoke, hikers and bicyclists took in sweeping views and explored the trails. To the south, Lick Observatory atop Mount Hamilton was clearly visible, as was Jacks Peak, 50 miles away in Monterey County. Across Santa Clara Valley, the summits of Loma Prieta and Mount Umunhum loomed over downtown San Jose's skyline. And to the north, landmarks like Levi's Stadium, Moffett Field and the Dumbarton Bridge stood out.


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"This is great," said Bruce Baumgart, of Los Gatos, who hiked the area with his wife, Leona. "It's cheating, of course, if you don't hike up from Alum Rock Park, but it's good for seniors and other people who can't walk all the way up the hill. I used to spend too much time in cubicles, but now I'm an enthusiastic hiker. Hiking is important for health; it's important for longevity."

The dedication ceremony, which featured San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and other South Bay political leaders, was held at a spot well-known to cycling fans. In 2011, the area along Sierra Road was the finish line for Stage Four of the Amgen Tour of California. That day, professional riders raced 82 miles from Livermore, along the rural back roads of eastern Alameda and Santa Clara counties, climbing up over Mount Hamilton before finishing near where the new parking lot is today.

Also out in force Saturday were supporters of Measure Q.

The measure is a $24 annual parcel tax that will appear on the November ballot in San Jose and other Santa Clara County communities within the open space district's boundaries.

The tax, which requires a two-thirds majority for approval, would raise $120 million before sunsetting in 15 years. The money would be used to expand the agency's network of seven open space preserves, currently located in the hills east of San Jose, and around Henry W. Coe State Park and Calero Reservoir.

If the tax receives voter approval, the agency, established by state law in 1994, will double the size of the land it has preserved from 16,075 acres now to roughly 30,000 acres, Mackenzie said. It also will be able to triple the trails for hiking, horse riding and mountain biking from 19 miles now to about 60 miles.

In June, voters in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County narrowly approved a measure to buy more redwood forests, wetlands and meadows for another open space agency, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, based in Los Altos. Its boundaries do not overlap the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority's area.

That ballot item, Measure AA, was a $300 million bond measure. It increased property taxes by $3.18 per $100,000 of assessed value of property. A home worth $650,000, for example, will be billed about $20 a year.

Currently, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority's funding comes from a $12-per-parcel assessment voters passed in 1994. That raises $4.2 million a year. The agency, with 23 employees, also has $26 million left from a 2008 Supreme Court settlement in which the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association successfully challenged a 2001 tax measure to fund the agency. But when that money runs out, Mackenzie said, the open space agency won't be able to hire more rangers or open more of its lands to the public.

Measure Q has the endorsement of groups such as the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Sierra Club. It is opposed by the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association.

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulrogerssjmn.