It's back: Stanford's offer to improve Alpine trail
By Barbara Wood
It's an issue that refuses to die, despite the fact that the San Mateo County's Board of Supervisors has voted twice to reject a Stanford University offer to pay to widen and improve a trail along Alpine Road between Menlo Park and Portola Valley.
On July 26 the supervisors voted unanimously to go back to residents of neighborhoods near the trail, including Ladera and Stanford Weekend Acres, to see if time has changed their opposition to the proposed trail improvements.
Citing changes in the financial and political climate, and the deterioration of the existing trail, the supervisors agreed to take one more look at the proposal before it expires at the end of December. They rejected a staff recommendation to ask Stanford for a one-year extension of the deadline for making the improvements, saying that if an extension is needed they can ask for it after hearing from the public.
If San Mateo County rejects the offer and lets the deadline pass, the money will go to Santa Clara County. When the San Mateo County supervisors initially rejected the money they asked that Santa Clara County use it to form a regional grants program for recreational uses.
The offer, which was valued at $8.4 million in 2006 but with inflation, is now up to $10.5 million, originated in conditions put on Stanford by Santa Clara County in 2000 when the university was given permission to add 5 million square feet of buildings on campus. To offset the loss of recreational opportunities, Stanford agreed to build two trails. The location of the trails, which many had assumed would be on Stanford's own property, were debated for years and were the subject of lawsuits.
One trail, located south of Page Mill Road and Foothill Expressway and running through the foothills, opened this spring. Portola Valley is now working on a section of trail running from Ladera to Ford Field along Alpine Road, which is scheduled to reopen by October.
Stanford's trail proposal for the San Mateo County area was strongly opposed by neighbors, who derisively called it a "super sidewalk," and by environmentalists who objected to details including a massive cut into a hillside to move Alpine Road and major work on the banks of nearby San Francisquito Creek.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss sent a representative to the July 25 supervisors' meeting to ask that Santa Clara County be allowed to weigh in on the issue. Scott Strickland, who is a senior policy analyst for Supervisor Kniss, said she plans to ask the Santa Clara County supervisors to discuss putting the $10 million from Stanford into a regional grant fund if San Mateo County rejects the Stanford offer a third time.
Mr. Strickland said the matter will probably come before the Santa Clara supervisors some time in August.
If a regional fund is formed, San Mateo County could apply for money to make improvements in the existing trail without having to get plans approved by Stanford. County officials spent years negotiating with Stanford trying to find a trail plan that was acceptable both to the neighbors and to the university, but finally gave up in 2008 when the Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected the offer.
The rejection was reaffirmed in 2010 when the supervisors again voted unanimously against it.
New supervisor and former San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley said he was influenced by the fatal bike accident on that stretch of Alpine Road in November 2010 to take another look at the offer in the hopes of finding a way to make the area safer. "That trail is simply not safe as it stands," he said.
"I would like to hear what the residents say," Mr. Horsley said. "I think there are a lot of areas we could negotiate on."
Fifteen people showed up at the July 25 meeting to comment on the proposal, and, as in the past, their opinions were mixed.
Janet Davis, who lives on Alpine Road, accused Stanford of "trying to pressure local residents into something they don't want." She cited concerns of privacy and traffic hazards.
Barbara Ann Barnett, who said she has lived in Stanford Weekend Acres for more than 40 years, said that getting in and out of the neighborhood is already a nightmare and the trail would make that worse. "I personally am really, really nervous about the safety issues," she said. "I hope we do not go down this road again.
Noel Hirst, who has lived in Ladera for 14 years and works at Stanford, said the existing trail has its own safety problems. "I used to bike to work two times a week during the non-rainy months," she said. She has given it up because of the trail conditions. Now, she said, "I can't get there and I won't put my kids at risk to possibly not have a mom." If the county doesn't use the Stanford money to repair the trail, it will have to spend its own money to repair it, she said.
Ellyn Rubin, who has lived for more than 30 years in Ladera, agreed. The current trail is unsafe for cycling, she said. "More and more people are biking. It's just going to get more and more dangerous if nothing is done."
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside.