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Dish parking plan irks residents

Proposal would shift parking from Stanford Avenue to Coyote Hill Road

With plans afoot to expand the trail network near the Stanford Dish, dozens of residents who frequent the scenic hiking hub are lashing out against one aspect of the plan -- the transfer of parking spaces from Stanford Avenue to a site more than half a mile away from the main entrance.

More than 40 residents from around Stanford attended Monday night's meeting of the City Council to raise concerns about the parking proposal, which is part of a plan by Palo Alto and Stanford University to expand the trail network near the campus and the nature preserve, which is on Stanford land. A handful spoke during the council's joint meeting with Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian. The Board of Supervisors last year authorized a grant to fund the trail project.

Under the proposal currently on the table, 33 of the 60 parking on Stanford Avenue, which leads up to the main gate of The Dish, would be shifted to Coyote Hill Road, about six-tenths of a mile away from the entrance. This shift has created consternation from some of the regular users of the popular destination, which attracts more than 600,000 visits a year.

Stuart Klein, one of the speakers at Monday's meeting, argued that the parking plan would create a new barrier for the tens of thousands of community members who hike or run The Dish on a regular basis.

"The proposal that Stanford has made to move the parking to Coyote Hill Road creates profound safety questions for crossing a five-lane road and creates major health and welfare questions regarding taking away an asset that is so prized by this community," Klein said.

Concerns about safety and access to the Dish are far from new. Simitian, who had previously served on the City Council and on the Board of Supervisors before going to Sacramento and then returning to the county, recapped on Monday some of the recent clashes surrounding the scenic preserve. Once an unfenced area that allowed visitors to enter from just about anywhere, the Dish became more restricted in the late 1990s, when Stanford decided to fence it in, limit visitors to a main walking path, and create a main gate on Stanford Avenue for visitors.

This naturally resulted in more cars and people using Stanford Avenue, which prompted further changes, including a reduction in speed limit and a speed table to slow down cars. Still, for people like Jean Mayer, who has lived on Stanford Avenue since 1974, there were plenty of negative consequences. Mayer said the influx of people using Stanford has created a noise and at times filthy environment near her home, with car alarms blaring at 6:15 a.m. and Dish visitors urinating and defecating near her fence. Most people, Mayer told the council, don't think of the area around the Dish as a residential neighborhood.

"Most hikers are oblivious to their surrounding," Mayer said.

She was the only speaker who said she would welcome the transfer of Dish parking from her street to the Coyote Hill site, further from residential areas.

Ruth Lowy, another speaker at the meeting, sympathized with Mayer's dilemma but urged the city to find a middle ground between protecting residents and keeping access to the Dish unrestricted.

"There should be some way to have a balance so that people are not restricted or terribly impeded from getting to the Dish by having parking very far away," Lowy said.

Stanford has already made some revisions to its parking plan. Initially, the proposal called for converting the parking spots on one side of Stanford from parallel to diagonal alignment, which would have required cars to back up over bike lanes as they exit. This plan was scrapped because of safety concerns.

The university has already had two community meetings and revised its proposal to incorporate the Coyote Hill site, Jean McCown, Stanford's vice president of communication, said that while that's the proposal currently on the table, there is still room for further adjustments.

"It sounds like it's an open question," McCown told the Weekly. "We'll continue to listen to people."

Simitian cited the changes that have already been made and urged the residents to remain engaged in the process. He noted that the compromise should be developed by the school and the city – the official applicants for the trail project -- not the county. He said he found it encouraging that the controversy over the trail proposal is limited to just this one segment of the project.

"I think the process to date has actually provided some change in thinking," Simitian said. "I hope people will keep talking to the university and keep talking to the city."

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