Viewpoint - August 17, 2011

Guest opinion: A counterpoint on Stanford's Alpine trail

by P.J. Utz

A recent guest opinion in the Almanac by my Ladera neighbor Lennie Roberts did not fairly represent the pertinent issues regarding the Alpine Road Trail. I will focus solely on six facts, and provide my personal opinion as a concerned citizen.

Fact No. 1. The trail in question is not just a "bike/pedestrian trail/sidewalk" as described in the Almanac article. It is a designated trail in official county trail maps. It is designated the "C1 Connector Trail" in the Santa Clara County Trail Map and the "E12 Lower Alpine Trail" in the San Mateo County Trails Plan. This trail is the precise trail that was designated for rebuilding in Stanford's approved General Use Permit.

Fact No. 2. Stanford has offered over $10 million to San Mateo County to rebuild the Lower Alpine Trail. If San Mateo County does not accept the funds or requests an extension by Dec. 31, 2011, the $10 million will be given to Santa Clara County. The situation is simple and unambiguous. Our county Board of Supervisors can either approve revitalizing a Lower Alpine Trail that badly needs work, or it can reject the proposal. There are no provisions in the agreement for grants to fund other trails or projects within San Mateo County.

Fact No. 3. If Stanford's funds are sent to Santa Clara County after Jan. 31, 2011, San Mateo County staff members have said that taxpayers would have to pay for needed, costly trail and creek repairs.

Fact No. 4. Repairs will not require "the destruction of sensitive creek and riparian habitats. ..." It is indeed a fact that the creek bank will need repair, as it has already eroded into the trail near the Interstate 280 interchange. Without a remedy, the creek will carve its way all the way into Alpine Road. For the next 135 days we have a choice on how it will be repaired and who will foot the bill.

Fact No. 5. Continued scare-tactics warning about a "12-foot-wide super sidewalk" is yesterday's falsehood. No one — not Stanford, not the county, not the residents — is advocating any such thing. The town of Portola Valley accepted Stanford's funds and chose to construct a modest 8-foot path. San Mateo County has the same ability to choose for itself.

Fact No. 6. San Mateo County has decided to take another look at the Stanford offer. It will be holding a number of educational meetings over the coming months to educate the community regarding these facts and to encourage dialogue on the issues.

Now a mixture of facts and opinions. My family have been strong advocates for the environment for the 12 years we have lived in Ladera. We are a one-car family. We bike to work and school on this dangerous trail. We recently completed a green remodel of our home. And we regularly use hiking trails in the Bay Area.

We are in agreement with the Almanac article, that says, "San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have a shared interest in providing safe, cost-effective facilities for walkers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians." This will best be accomplished by first making Alpine Road and the Lower Alpine Road Trail, by far the most heavily trafficked areas in Portola Valley, as safe and as useable as possible, for as many residents as possible.

We must insure that the residents of Weekend Acres and Ladera are educated on the issues, and that they be positively served by the changes. Concerned citizens should use the remaining 135 days to learn the facts at upcoming informational meetings. It is financially irresponsible to turn away Stanford's funds that are already earmarked to rebuild this designated trail.

P.J. Utz lives in Ladera and is a Stanford professor.


Posted by Lovinda, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Hear, hear!

Posted by gunste, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm

The so called trail, next to a very busy road is hardly worth the name. Just look at the first part of the "trail" along Page Mill Road, going west of Junipero Serra: it is an bicycle trail to keep off the main road. Not for walking, sauntering.

What Stanford should have done is to build these trails across their lands at least 20-50 feet away from the highways. For Alpine that means on the south side of Los Trancos Creek. The proposed location was turned down for good reason that it would be a great place to inhale exhaust fumes while walking, not a healthful place for exercise.

The location along the Ladera area was particularly bad, since it would be along the north side of Alpine Road, adjacent to the fences of Aliso Way and then require demolishing the trees along Ladera Shopper parking. --- Might as well take a hike on the bicycle section of Alpine.

Stanford objectives have always been for their self-interest and this whole project was to bribe Palo Alto and the two Counties to go along with endless expansion and traffic congestion at minimum cost.

Posted by Janet, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Prof. Utz who is a brand new resident of Ladera is uninformed and misinformed. The GUP agreement did NOT point to Alpine Road. It is irrelevant what Santa Clara trails depict. Alpine DID have a nice little trail that was used by horses. However, that was before Stanford made it a truck route and increased the number of vehicles on the road to about 32,000/day. Stanford IS proposing an 8 ft. "trail" with 4 ft. of borders. That equals 12 ft. The route crosses many driveways and streets that would make it ultrahazardous. Many accidents occur along Stanford Weekend Acres portion of the road and cars even go over the embankment. Any pedestrian would be killed if in the way. Menlo Park's "trail" connecting to Sand Hill road is dangerous, and not often used. Even if there were a paved "trail" the majority of bikes would not be on it. The creek DOES NOT need armoring as SU insists. Lastly he was not at the recent BOS meting where it was agreed that this would be discussed with Liz Kniss and Santa Clara reps. There are just so many inaccuracies and misstatements in Utz's letter that it defies credibility that the Almanac would even print it.

Posted by artcohn, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm

"What Stanford should have done is to build these trails across their lands at least 20-50 feet away from the highways. For Alpine that means on the south side of Los Trancos Creek. The proposed location was turned down for good reason that it would be a great place to inhale exhaust fumes while walking, not a healthful place for exercise."
I would heartily agree, But there are are only 129 days left before the money is done, and this is not going to happen!
Let us hope that they run out of money before they get to the section along the north side of Alpine Road, adjacent to the fences of Aliso Way that would require demolishing the trees along Ladera Shopper
parking area.
Maybe they could plant near-mature trees on the south side of Alpine to intercept the exhaust of the auto traffic.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm

"The route crosses many driveways and streets that would make it ultrahazardous."

Help me to understand how the existing bicycle route is less hazardous. Riding a bike (along side the road) crosses many streets and driveways. The existing route includes gauntlet under 280 where a recent death occurred. The existing route includes cars legally driving at 60 ft/sec within inches of bicycle riders. How can the existing situation be any less hazardous?

"The creek DOES NOT need armoring as SU insists"

I don't know how this statement can be supported. Part of the existing trial is falling into the creek. As was indicated in the guest opinion, it will not be long before the creek has begun to destroy the road.

As a Ladera resident, bicycle rider (on this stretch of road several times per week) and not an employee of Stanford, I am nonplussed at as to why there would be opposition to this project. The existing situation is unsafe.

Why listen to me or anyone else as to the current situation, take a hike or a ride from Ladera to Alameda de las Pulgas and determine the facts first hand.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I ride this route occasionally -- the rickety trail on the south side of Alpine Road that goes under 280 and into Ladera. It's slow going but I am a slow goer. I like this trail as it is. I like the fact that few use it. I like its character. I like the fact that neighbors like this trail as it is and when I meet them, or anyone, there seems to be a common appreciation of taking life at a slower pace. It's an old trail in a community with little that is old in a state not known for the rootedness of its population. It's a comfort.

A slick clean modern smooth newly paved trail would ruin all this, replace it with some Disneyland version of what a trail is. Clean and orderly and new, like the university, like the self-interested, self-aggrandizing machine that this university is from top to the very, very bottom.

Posted by Joe, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I agree that while riding under 280 the trail is acceptable however, there are many places where the existing trail is difficult.

Here are the difficulties that I encounter while using the existing trail:

There is a place where I pass within inches of bicyclists going in the opposite direction on the shoulder of the road.

There is a place where the trail is about 1.5 ft wide with a 6 foot drop on one side and guard rail posts on the other.

There is a place where, on occasion, I've had to ride on the road in the wrong direction because someone parked on the trail while hiking at the dish.

There are several places where the path becomes dirt. One is a parking lot where the path has been completely blocked by parked cars.

Due the width of the existing trail, I've had to stop for other bicyclists and pedestrians and have not encountered the community spirit that you allude to on these occasions.

The small portion of the trail that has been improved is not slick and clean but it is in fact quite dirty. However it is reasonably safe and there is room to safely pass walkers and other bicyclists.

Posted by Path User, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm

To say the current path is safe is insane. The path currently crosses all the afore mentioned driveways. I hope the county has the money to pay for all the lawsuits that will be brought to bear when an accident occurs after this offer allowed to die. The path is their responsibility to keep safe, and they have done nothing for years.

Stanford is willing to foot the bill to fix the entire length of road and path. To say you can get all that done and get other trail work done as well on the good word of Santa Clara County goes against what Stanford has already agreed to do. You don't get both. Those of us in San Mateo, including PJ, who is by no means a "new" resident in Ladera, are going to have to wait years for anything to happen if anything ever does. This has gone on long enough. Portola Valley is getting their paths done now.

Menlo Park and Palo Alto are about the largest contributors to the gridlock on 101 thanks to their cities inability to connect roads in logical ways for the influx of traffic they create. Stanford made 280 possible for the entire Bay Area, and gives us access across their lands, for their traffic as well. To say they should give us more after being the heart of the Peninsula's economy for the last 50 years is really hypocritical. They want to spend 10 million dollars. AH! Socialists! Captalists! No.... actually... just incredibly great neighbors. Look around. See that open space? That's Stanford, and it's not costing you a dime.

I call on San Mateo to meet with Stanford to improve the path and Alpine Road itself. When they build things they do it right. Santa Clara? Sorry. You put this in San Mateo's county.

I call on San Mateo and Santa Clara to reduce the speeds on Alpine Road to 35 miles per hour for its entire length into Portola Valley where they hold their speeds to 35 mph, also to properly mark all crosswalks as Portola Valley has done and to ensure that any changes Stanford makes to the Alpine route will ensure proper bike lanes and safe access to the road for all residents.

With any luck the property owners of Stanford Weekend Acres will see their properties values enhanced like those poor people on the north side of Sand Hill Road that had to suffer through Stanford's last crazy road expenditures.

Posted by Ladera neighbor, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Read Prof. Utz' comments and they are reasonably accurate. I do vigorously object to the word "approved" in fact no. 1. The plan was approved by Stanford and Santa Clara County NOT by San Mateo county and the local neighborhoods adjoining the path

Posted by Path User, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 19, 2011 at 7:53 am

Dear Ladera Neighbor,
You say "I do vigorously object to the word "approved" in fact no. 1" except there was nothing to approve. San Mateo can accept help in correcting all the faults that currently exist with the path and Alpine or we can decline. Why would we not take this chance to help Stanford help us.

Stanford already got what it wanted by avoiding the pressure to put the path to the foothills through their property. Now they have to live up to the bargain of making the path and Alpine safe. San Mateo can continue to ignore the path forever especially since they lack the funds to do the job right anyways. JOIN the process and help make this work.

Many people want to try to back to argue an issue that Santa Clara has already lost. Some think there's enough money to do a slight fix to the path to leave money for paths elsewhere that have nothing to do with access to the foothills for everyone else. We are getting better access. We just need a safe way to get to our schools and work on bikes, and a safer road for the "real" bike enthusiasts who use the Alpine Loop.

Slower speeds and better merging for the Stanford Weekend Acres would also help. San Mateo (and Santa Clara) could do one of those without spending much money at all. The speeding ticket income would pay for the new signs.

Posted by laderamo m, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Dr. Utz has lived in Ladera for 12 years, so he hardly qualifies as a brand new resident. I think we all agree that path through the Stanford Foothills would gave been great, but the issue PJ brings up is that Stanford would like to be in agreement with San Mateo County to use these funds to repare and replace an aging recreational multiuser path. All he asks is that we encourage our neighbors to become educated about the benefits of using these funds.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 19, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I've used the current bike/horse/pedestrian trail as well as the Alpine bike lanes. The problem with the current trail is that it's narrow, rutted and makes for very slow going when commuting. The poor condition and very narrow profile along parts of Weekend Acres also makes navigation difficult especially in low light conditions, even with bike lights. The Alpine bike lane already runs in front of Weekend Acres so I don't understand the objection to having Stanford provide an improved trail, especially since the proposed trail would provide more separation from Alpine traffic than the current bike lane. I'm a longterm Ladera resident and also commute to work via bicycle most days as well as cycle recreationally. I see the Stanford mitigation agreement with respect to the lower Alpine Trail as representing a real opportunity for making necessary improvements to the current trail. I'd certainly be more comfortable with children biking to La Entrada if the improvements to the trail were made. In addition if the trail were improved I and other commuters might chose to use the "improved" trail rather than riding on Alpine road as I do now.

Posted by call it a sidewalk, a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Aug 19, 2011 at 6:55 pm

An substandard width paved path is unsafe for anything other than pedestrian traffic. Instead of calling it a "trail", just call it a sidewalk which is exactly what it will be. Restrict it to pedestrians.

Bicycles can use the main road, which they already do in large numbers.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 19, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I have lived in Ladera for over 18 years and regularly use the current path (Lower Alpine Trail) in both directions. During this time period, continued creek erosion and encroachment on the trail is evident to any regular walker using the path. As to bicycle safety, one thing that amazes me is no one is speaking about developing an available path for children to use for bicycling. The path is not usable or safe for such use in its current condition. Children should not be expected to ride on Alpine Road bike lanes. The need for improvement of this path/walkway/trail is evident to most individuals who have viewed the path. I would posit one question to everyone weighing in on this matter: If Google made a proposition to San Mateo County to provide $10 million to "improve the existing Lower Alpine Trail," allowing the County to work with local residents to develop and make final decisions on what needs or can to be done, would we be having the same discussions? Or could we all be working toward improvements that have value for all affected and create a sustainable and safe walkway and path for everyone, including our children.

Posted by wondering, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Aug 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Has anyone wondered how many trees would have to be cut down in order for this "trail" to be built?

Posted by Tina, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Aug 20, 2011 at 7:04 am

Prof Utz has lived in Ladera for 12 years, I lived in ladera for many of those years with them! To rebut him as a new resident of Ladera is just wrong! He and his family have been very active in this community, their children's sporting activities and active in St. Denis church for over a decade. If he is a "new" resident, I guess it is only the folks at the Sequoias that are established!

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 20, 2011 at 8:59 am

Rejecting Stanford's gift of $10 million is the ultimate of looking a gift horse in the mouth - sure you may find a few bad teeth but that is no reason to reject the gift.

Posted by Path User, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

Call it what you want as long as it looks like the "SIDEWALK" that Stanford is putting in for Portola Valley. It's not only the path that needs to be "fixed" The nonsense that we have now is thanks to San Mateo's design.

Let kids use the Alpine Road?? You send your kids out there first.

Lower the SPEED! Do any of really need to save 4 seconds on that stretch of road?? Take half of the force out of collisions.

Make all of our crosswalks as safe as those in Portola Valley! Get the cars to slow down!

Trees?? You have been on the Stanford campus haven't you? They move trees around with the technology that Bonfonte Gardens used. They'll put MORE mature trees in then they take out, but you'd better be part of the process to be sure you like their placement.

Does anyone want to go back to the old bridge over the creek on Alpine?? Let Stanford finish the job.

Posted by Path User, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

Sorry 4 seconds was wrong. Driving 35 mph for 2 miles instead of 45 mph you'd lose 45.71 seconds. Someone else can calculate how many more cars get stopped by a red light if they are all going 45 mph vs 35 mph.

Posted by Len Horowitz, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Recent postings gave me the impression that some members of our community would like us to reject outright Stanford's $10-million-dollar offer to have the "Lower Alpine Trail" improved. Did I understand correctly that, according to these contributors, our community should not even consider concrete proposals that might be evaluated and refined through community input and discussion? In my view, PJ Utz's thoughtful, clear-headed, and (to me) persuasive comments provide a very strong argument for proceeding systematically to see whether the monetary offer can be turned into a real community amenity at no cost to taxpayers.
I have lived in Ladera for almost 40 years. A few months ago, after a major surgery and prolonged convalescence, I began searching for easily accessible forms of physical exercise that I could expand as my health improved. I therefore began walking, and later jogging, along various stretches of the Alpine Trail, and I have now hiked or jogged the enter stretch between Junipero Serra Boulevard and Golden Oak Drive. In many segments, to be sure, the "trail" is a very poor exemplar of a modern recreational trail. In some places, for example, it is dangerously narrow for two simultaneous users; in some places, potholes, rocks, and other impediments already suggest an accident waiting to happen. Lots of "deferred maintenance" is long overdue. But are these reasons to do nothing by rejecting Stanford's offer?
One should also note that, in places, there are lovely stretches of trail, which, with a little improvement, could provide a model for re-designing other segments of the trail. For example, on the south side of Alpine Road, across the street from the church's parking lot, two posts indicate the start of a trail segment. Two paths—one paved for bicyclists, the other unpaved for hikers/joggers—come to follow the contour of the San Francisquito Creek, and a canopy of trees and shrubs provides a woodsy atmosphere, filled with dappled sunlight and gurgling sounds from the creek. These paths do need improvement, to be sure, but the area has a pleasing layout (away from the main road) that could be replicated elsewhere along the trail.
I am writing in hopes that we can put aside our first impressions, biases, and other sources of emotional dissatisfactions so that we might examine Stanford's offer objectively. In the coming weeks, representatives of San Mateo County will be available at community meetings to discuss possible uses of the Stanford funds. Let us at least examine some concrete plans that community input could ultimately turn into a real source of community pride and enjoyment.

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