After Years-Long Preservation Battle, San Jose Finally Tears Down Willow Glen Trestle

A construction crew has started demolishing the nearly century-old Willow Glen Trestle.

Last month, the Sixth District Court of Appeal rejected a request by conservationists to block San Jose’s plans to dismantle the 98-year-old structure.

The decision ended a seven-year legal fight between the city and the preservation groups, which argued that the trestle should be designated a historical landmark.

The Willow Glen Trestle was built in 1922 as a bridge for the Western Pacific Railroad. In 2011, it was acquired by the city. Two years later, San Jose drummed up plans to replace it with a pedestrian bridge linking the city’s Three Creeks Trail system.

In 2017, California’s State Historical Resources Commission ruled that the trestle belongs on the state’s Register of Historical Resources. The city challenged that decision, which the commission eventually reaffirmed.

District 6 Councilwoman Dev Davis applauded the demolition as a win for the public. “The removal of the trestle is a big win for the community after waiting years in the court system to complete a hiking/biking/walking trail for everyone to enjoy,” she said.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

17 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear its going away. Do you know how foothill expressway came to fruition? Dig a little you can find out alot.

  2. Fabulous news. A valuable trail link delivering significant public value had been dealing for seven years by the actions of a few. Nelly everyone I have spoken to about it is thrilled to see the old Trestle come down to make way for a new bridge and a completed Three Creeks Trail.

  3. Blame Pierluigi for this fiasco. If he had spent the money on restoring this important piece of Willow Glen’s history instead of building a steel monster that sat in storage as the city fought off lawsuits this would have been opened long ago.

    • Sorry. Most agreed that it’s ugly, intrusive and damaging to the creek below, and has no beauty even if it was restored at the high price required.

  4. This is the first I’ve heard of this. Why not just incorporate the Trestle into the trail? It would have certainly made the walk or the bike ride more interesting and we would have preserved a small part of local history and probably saved funds. I think George Carlin said it best “If you don’t like the weather…move.” This is sad.

    • James – good questions. There is an extensive (7 year!) history on why replacement of the structure was both environmentally and financially the optimal approach – and indeed the only feasible approach to get the trail connected.

      I’m a history fan too, but the reality of the trade-offs in this situation was clear, and recognised by the 3 judge panel (twice), most recently in the SC Superior Court [ref 20CV367292]

      – extract from the Conclusion of the latest judgement (with self-edits)

      “The court must “balance[e] the respective equities of the parties [and] determine whether, pending trial on the merits, the defendant should or should not be restrained from exercising the right claimed by it.

      In balancing the harms when petitioner seeks to restrain public entity respondent in the performance of its duties, public policy considerations come into play.

      The equities that the Court must evaluate in this case include the fact that the development of the Trail has been delayed six years based on multiple legal theories, asserted serially, none of which has ever ultimately prevailed. The current legal challenge is utterly lacking in merit. Balanced against this meritless claim is the cognizable harm in further depriving the public of key component that will interconnect the City’s trail system.

      The goal of the City’s extensive efforts over seventeen years—including arranging funding, acquiring the property, granting the Easement—is not trivial, ephemeral, or unimportant: “for open space and recreation, specifically, for development of trail, [to] be open to the public, in perpetuity.” (Easement, at page 2, section B. .b.) Further delay in implementing the public interest in this open-space access goal cannot be justified by the current legal challenge. “

    • For real has anyone been on any trails lately they are loaded with homeless encampments and trash. Its extremely disgusting to say the least so much for a trail system its all a waste of our tax dollars until these people ar kicked out and these areas are cleaned up.

      • When people have nowhere to go, they go where they can.

        imagine how much better our city would be if we took better care of our homeless: way less trash, trails feeling safer, creeks open for kids to play in and around, less crime (due to centralized services), parks that felt like public spaces for all and not daytime dormitories for the few.

        Like you, I am appalled at the level of homelessness I see on the trail.

        We should all be working to make it a priority to resolve – truly. Not just to shuffle vulnerable people around like loungers on a beach.

        • Donald, we pay taxes through the nose. I am sick and tired of people saying we need to take care of the homeless. They don’t want to get off drugs and alcohol, their families want nothing to do with them. Mental institutions are the only reasonable answer.

  5. This Quixotic battle led by Larry Ames and his band of preservationazis cost the San Jose taxpayers millions. Those idiots should have to repay the attorney costs borne by the taxpayers. The trestle was ugly and unsafe. Further, I’d bet the farm that if you asked 1,000 San Jose residents from throughout the city where it was located, fewer than ten who live more than half a mile from it would know, other than Ames and his band of merry disrupters.

  6. The article says it was ruled to be on the Register of Historical Resources in 2017, the city challenged that, and the ruling was upheld.. so how is it allowed to be demolished now?

    • The City’s (ultimately successful) argument was that, since demolition was approved before the State deemed it historic, the historic designation didn’t supersede the demolition.

      The process went sideways at the outset because the City took shortcuts, and didn’t follow their own ordinances when approving the demolition / purchase of the new steel bridge (which will require fire sprinklers). On nearly every procedural finding, the City lost. Not doing a proper environmental analysis initially. Not bringing the determination before the City’s designated historical body, the Historic Landmarks Commission, until after they were challenged in court. Cherry picking evidence for environmental reports when first hand sources contradicted their findings.

      At the end of his tenure as a City Councilman, Don Rocha broke ranks, and admitted that, had he been provided with the full breadth of information, he would *not* have voted to approve demolition. City Council was fed a narrative (all of which is public record) that defended and justified, after the fact, the premature purchase of the new bridge before they had legal clearance to remove the trestle. They got caught breaking their own rules.

      Had the City followed the proper procedures (given the fact that the City Council need not approve / agree with the HLC’s findings), this entire process could’ve taken years less, and resulted in either the steel bridge *or* the reconditioned trestle already being open.

      Expedience trumped procedure, as it did on Thursday. While a court hearing was underway for a Temporary Restraining Order, the City’s subcontractor “accidentally” started demolishing the creosote-soaked timbers by hitting them with a backhoe – when the demolition permit laid out very specific environmental conditions and procedures that were required. The City’s own attorney, that day, told the judge that work would not commence until Monday; either a lie or a convenient ‘mistake’.

      The presence of the creosote was one of the (provably debatable) excuses the City used to defend the removal of the trestle; they then violated environmental law by spreading the very same toxin across the site, and potentially into the stream. Irony is dead.

  7. The Three Creeks trail is beautiful. As for the creek well I volunteered To help beautify San Jose. I helped clean the Los Gatos Creek from Bascom ave to Lincoln & Coe. It’s a shame that the creek is contaminated. Lots of trash, etc. I believe it would take years of cleaning before children can enjoy the beauty of the creek like my mom, aunts and uncles did back in the day. Despite all the trash and encampments it was a Joy to see fish, crawdads, ducks and geese.

  8. Of course incorporating the trestle for the trail is the most logical and expedient approach. It was strong, historic, and interesting to look at. It was an example of early engineering and was part of the railway history of Willow Glen. With cheaper and easier upgrades, the trestle could have been part of the trail years ago. Ripping out the trestle increases contamination of creosote as opposed to leaving the trestle in place. It was a giant structure that a lot of us loved. Shame on San Jose for failing to even compromise and for declaring the trestle not-historic when it was,. There was absolutely no sound reason to demolish that trestle!

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