The fight over Willow Glen Trestle goes back to court

A battle between San Jose city officials who want to see a long-delayed trail connection in Willow Glen come to life and a group devoted to preserving a historic train crossing made its way back into the courtroom this week.

The bitter court battle has raged on for the past five years, with the most recent hearing held last Thursday. The court again sided with the city, but granted a group of trestle supporters an injunction until Monday, effectively stopping the city from touching the bridge. If the appeal isn’t granted, the city could begin demolition, though San Jose Public Works Director Matt Cano said work would begin only after the legal case is settled. Supporters of the trestle have filed an emergency request with an appellate court and are waiting to hear back.

Built in 1922, the Willow Glen Trestle was once used by the Union Pacific Railway to carry plums, apricots and other goods to the local canneries.

Today the roughly 200-foot-long crossing sits in disrepair. Over the last six years, the city has pushed to replace the bridge and move forward with plans to connect Willow Glen with Del Monte Park. However, a group of the trestle’s supporters want to see that piece of San Jose’s past preserved.

“It’s part of our history,” said Larry Ames, member of the Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle. “This bridge carried the fruit to market.”

Ames and others are fighting the city’s claim that the trestle is not a historical resource. In 2014, the group filed court documents challenging the city’s approval of the Three Creeks Trails project and argued that an environmental impact report was required. A trial court initially agreed with the group, but a court of appeals later sided with the city.

San Jose Councilmember Dev Davis, whose district includes Willow Glen, is frustrated by the project’s delay.

“(Let’s) just get this wrapped up and the trails connected which was always planned,” she said. “The construction costs have increased over the five years.”

The new bridge slated for the replacement project has been sitting in storage for five years, Davis noted, a fact that rubs some of the trestle supporters the wrong way. They say that shows city leaders intended to demolish the beloved Willow Glen Trestle before going through a public process or settling the legal challenge.

“We have known for years that the city purchased a replacement bridge long before the project was underway and is still trying to justify the expense,” wrote Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commissioner April Halberstadt in an email to San José Spotlight.

Davis’ predecessor, Pierluigi Oliverio, shares the councilmember’s views.

If it weren’t for the litigation, he says, the area residents could already be enjoying the connected trail.

When it comes to a compromise involving placing the new bridge over the existing trestle — an idea Ames said came from a city official — Oliverio said that’s simply not feasible.

“Putting that over the creosote timbers would be fuel for a fire,” he said, adding that the beams are already charred due to fires he claims were set by nearby homeless people.

Friends of the trestle say they aren’t disputing connecting the trails, but would prefer to see the bridge renovated rather than destroyed.

Willow Glen resident Severn Edmonds can see the old trestle from his backyard.

He moved to his current home in 1986 and remembers riding the train over the trestle and befriending the engineer — before the train stopped running in the early 2000s. Now, Edmonds can see the city’s bulldozers out in the area and senses the end of an era.

“They’re hell bent on tearing it out,” Edmonds said. “I have a real bad taste in my mouth about it.”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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