Almanac

News - November 9, 2011

Supes up ante on Stanford's trail offer

• Weekend Acres residents win a round.

by Dave Boyce

The ball, suddenly, is in Stanford University's court. With an expiration date looming for San Mateo County to accept an offer of millions of Stanford's dollars to redesign a narrow and unsafe roadside path along Alpine Road, the county supervisors set their own new deadline.

The supervisors, in a 4-1 vote with board President Carole Groom dissenting, gave Stanford until Dec. 13 to expand to six options what has been a set of three options to fix the path as it passes the communities of Stanford Weekend Acres, which opposes Stanford's offer, and Ladera, which supports it, by and large.

Stanford is offering an inflation-adjusted $10.4 million to improve the path and a creek bank, but it expires Dec. 31 unless the supervisors ask for a two-year extension.

The offer fulfills a condition in Stanford's use permit with Santa Clara County (which will receive the money if San Mateo County refuses it).

In voting no, Ms. Groom said she would have let the offer expire. The board rejected this offer by unanimous votes in 2006 and 2010.

Stanford spokesman Larry Horton, asked to comment on the Dec. 13 deadline, smiled and said, "We'll see in December."

The options

Stanford has offered these options:

• Move sections of Alpine Road north to make room for an adequate trail on the south side of the road.

• Leave Alpine Road alone and make do without the extra space.

• Do nothing because the trail cannot be made safe.

The supervisors on Nov. 1 requested these three options be added for study purposes:

• Build a trail that hugs the north side of Alpine Road after crossing at Piers Lane (to avoid Weekend Acres).

• Build a trail that crosses Alpine at Piers Lane and heads across Stanford land toward Sand Hill Road.

• Upgrade the trail between Ladera and Piers Lane and no further.

Making things worse?

Space is scarce for a two-way trail on Alpine Road as it passes Weekend Acres, and residents talk of long waits to pull in and out of the neighborhood. County public works department studies show 18,000 vehicle trips daily on Alpine Road by the neighborhood. Residents worry that an improved trail would draw cyclists and pedestrians and make things worse.

Ginger Holt said she polled 180 of her Weekend Acres neighbors recently about such a trail between Piers Lane and Menlo Park. One hundred sixty-five respondents, or 83 percent, opposed it.

The poll, a copy of which was sent to the Almanac, involved visits to 128 of the 130 total households, of which 106 responded, Ms. Holt said.

Opposition is not as severe in Ladera, where the roadside allows a wider path.

A staff report from the county manager's office recommended accepting Stanford's offer of an extension, citing widely held views that the path is unsafe. The report notes comment material from three community meetings and at least 200 emails.

On Nov. 1, the supervisors heard from some 60 members of the public, many opposing the offer, many from Weekend Acres.

"Engineering and design can do wonderful things but they can't do magic," resident John Peterson said.

"Why are we here again?" resident Diana Gerba asked. "I think you should stand by your last two votes. ... We do not want this trail."

"I want to live in a county that's in charge of its own destiny, not dictated to by Santa Clara County and particularly by Stanford," said resident Joseph Brown.

"I'm almost certain not to be believed here," said P.J. Utz, a Stanford professor from Ladera, "but there is now a groundswell of support (for Stanford's offer) from Ladera."

The $10 million is "an unprecedented opportunity" to fix the Alpine Road corridor, added Heidrun Utz. "You could make an evidence-based decision and not an emotion-based decision."

"Will you decommission the existing trail if you reject the funding?" asked Noel Hirst of Portola Valley. "The (Weekend Acres) poll cannot be considered unbiased (and) was based on historic emotions."

Hidden motives?

What is Stanford really up to? Theories abound.

Alpine Road as an expressway for traffic from an expanded Stanford hospital?

"I have never heard this prospect mentioned by anyone at any time," Mr. Horton wrote via email. "There is certainly no effort under way by any Stanford official or employee to make Alpine Road an expressway, and I do not think the notion has crossed anyone's mind here."

A Stanford traffic engineer, through Mr. Horton, acknowledged projections of hospital-related traffic impacts at the intersection with I-280.

A trail would probably make "a very big difference for those who choose to ride a bike (east) to Menlo Park, Palo Alto, or Stanford rather than drive a car ... particularly for youth and those uncomfortable riding on a busy road," he added.

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