Viewpoint - November 16, 2011

Contrasting views of offer to rebuild the Alpine Road trail

Editor's Note: The Board of Supervisors has given Stanford until Dec. 13 to accept three additional options for a total of six alternate Alpine Road trail plans, or very likely the $10 million in funds provided to improve the bicycle-pedestrian trail on Alpine Road will be turned away. Here are contrasting points of view about whether the trail should be improved.

There is wide support for rebuilding the trail

(This letter was addressed to the Board of Supervisors and submitted on Nov. 2)

By P.J. Utz

The headline 'Alpine Trail is the trail nobody wants' on a guest opinion by Lennie Roberts in the Nov. 2 Almanac is an insult to all of us who have argued about this issue on both sides over the past few months.

I would say unequivocally that some people oppose the trail. It is also fair to state that many people support fixing the trail. The Ladera Community Association sent an email to residents Sept. 28 describing their poll of the neighborhood: "While the community perspective was not unanimous, it was overwhelming in support of improving the trail."

I fully acknowledge the problems that the residents of Stanford Weekend Acres face every day — traffic noise, congestion, pollution, difficulty with entering and leaving their community, and their plummeting property values. I see it twice every single day as I bike to work on the existing trail, on their frontage roads.

If they think that their plight will magically disappear if a "no" vote occurs on Dec. 13, then they have been mesmerized by Ms. Roberts and the Committee for Green Foothills. When Stanford completes its hospital expansion, things will only get worse. Not linearly but logarithmically.

Weekend Acres will exist as its own little, isolated atoll, with a dead-end trail on both sides, and with indifferent nearby communities in Ladera and Portola Valley that will have moved on to issues of greater importance. I would not relish Weekend Acres having to fight those who wish to maintain a scenic corridor where traffic lights and lower speed limits ruin the ambiance. I will wave as I bike past the traffic on their frontage road, which doubles as a community-owned, multiuse path.

Having just acknowledged that there are opponents of the trail, I must say that there are many citizens who strongly favor a trail. I don't mean favor a new trail. I mean favor fixing the existing trail that right now runs right through the paved frontage roads in Weekend Acres. I mean fixing not just the trail but the entire corridor. We must not let the supervisors cede this existing trail so that Weekend Acres has a place to park their cars on the community's existing C1 trail. This latter battle will wage long after the Dec. 13 vote.

Sadly, if the trail is not improved, almost everyone will lose, particularly Weekend Acres residents who would have to go it alone to salvage "their way of life." Supervisor Pine stated at the Nov. 1 hearing that a regional grants program does not exist, so Ms. Roberts and the Committee for Green Foothills may have lost their chance to divert these funds to fix the Upper Alpine Trail. Are there winners? You bet. Stanford residents who will get $10 million-plus in new recreational facilities, as dictated by the university's General Use Permit, signed 12 years ago.

P.J. Utz is a Ladera resident and Stanford professor

Call for trail ignores issue of Stanford Weekend Acres

By Gunter Steffen

I would like to take issue with Christine Martens' comments in last week's Almanac, regarding what people in another community (not hers) do or do not want fronting that entire community. She alleges that Lennie Roberts, in an earlier article, asserts falsehoods, was wrongheaded and used "utterly discredited" ideas and that "some" people have even come to believe them. What facts does she advance to buttress those claims?


Did she follow the voluminous string of emails written by Stanford Weekend Acres residents protesting what Stanford is trying to force down their collective throats? Did she read the extensive studies that have been conducted in cities across the country that have all pointed out the dangers and pitfalls of such trails in areas similar to those in Stanford Weekend Acres? Did she examine the accident and fatality statistics associated with such trails? Closer to home, did she read the study, conducted by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston for the city of Palo Alto, regarding Class 1 and bicycle trail designs or the recommendations in the California Highway Design Manual?

Has she read the comments submitted by Steve Schmidt, former mayor of Menlo Park, or Jon Silver, former Portola Valley councilman, who all argued passionately against this proposal? This information is all readily available to her. Does she even know what's at stake in Stanford Weekend Acres and why people living here are up in arms over this issue? Does she even care?

Based on her assertions I can only conclude that the answer to all of the above is a resounding no. I would strongly suggest that Ms. Martens do her homework rather than parroting Stanford's tiresome rhetoric and slandering the likes of Lennie Roberts, legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills and one of the Bay Area's most respected environmental leaders.

In addition, her call for all San Mateo County residents to pressure their supervisors is ludicrous since the money does not benefit those residents one iota but forces an unwanted and highly undesirable solution to one of Stanford's problems only onto Weekend Acres residents. In this instance, the only beneficiary of the acceptance of funds from Stanford is ... Stanford.

Ms. Martens is entitled to her opinions, however uninformed they may be, but she should not try to foist them onto other people without demonstrably factual underpinnings of any kind.

Gunter Steffen lives in Stanford Weekend Acres.


Posted by confused, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 19, 2011 at 7:11 am

Of course ALL San Mateo residents will be affect by the Alpine Trail decision since it will be our money that is used to make the plans to fix the problems that currently exist. The county has no plans, not even plans to make plans, and no ballpark on how much repairs will cost. Repeatedly these figures have been requested to no avail. The supervisors fear how much of the Stanford money will be wasted on simply making plans, yet are quite willing to accept the cost for having to create some of these same plans on the taxpayer's dime. The county does not even have the money to repaint the bike lane under 280 to alleviate the death trap there.

The Alpine Trail needs to be repaired. It is a community resource that predates many of the homes in Stanford Weekend Acres. It certainly predates just about all but three or four of the residents. The rest of these residents bought their homes next to the trail. No one is forcing a new Trail upon SWA, we want to fix the existing trail and make it safer. SWA uses a portion of the trail more than any other community as a sidewalk to get to their school bus stop. This is an opportunity to change Alpine to make life better for SWA residents by at least putting in a stop sign so their children can one again have their bus stop on the opposite side of Alpine Road.

The creek is already undercutting Alpine Road, in some places as stated in public meetings. The repairs need to be planned and completed. We've put this off for a decade now thanks in part to campaigns against the trail that have created illusions of how the path would ruin our lives. We make the plan. There is no plan currently.

The Trail is unsafe. This has been said by both sides, though the idea that 20+ homes' driveways cross the path is ludicrous. Exactly TWO driveways cross the trail at the SWA. All of the other driveways and roads cross the trail when it is using the frontage to Alpine, that in one stretch used to BE Alpine Road. We dismiss the "sidewalk" studies because the trail at those points in not a sidewalk. We all know what sidewalks look like, they are all over our cities. We would all agree that riding bikes on them would be dangerous due to driveways. That is not how the Trail is arranged. Where bikes use the trail in SWA they are on a road. Are the SWA residents afraid to use this road? Noting the cars parked on it, and the basketball court, I would say, no.

Alpine Road has been changed in the past in ways that benefitted SWA giving them a frontage road and extra parking it seems. Parts of Alpine Road were expanded and put on top of the Trail, or right next to the trail. Some of those changes can be alleviated without creating the feared "Alpine Expressway" that is the current illusion being used as a reason to turn down the money to make our own plans. No one wants an expressway. Stanford is not making the plans. If anything, we all would like to slow down the traffic and allow ways to get SWA residents in and out of their neighborhood safely.

Traffic along Alpine Road is only going to get worse, though a stop sign that will apparently be put at the 280 off ramp due to the Hospital's EIR might convince many not to bother trying to get off the highway as 280 is backed up.

There are a couple points along the path where the Trail has been impinged by Alpine Road. This was not done by Stanford, but by the county that took the cheapest means to widen the road for bike lanes. Stanford is willing to pay for Alpine to shift a bit onto their land to allow for the trail space. If SWA can come up with a different plan, then let's start planning. They can't push the trail elsewhere. The Trail ends at Junipero Sera and connects to the trail that Stanford was already forced to improve. Could it cross and climb the hill? Perhaps, but it won't take a lot of money to know if the grade is too steep to qualify as a multi use trail.

If Stanford wanted a four lane expressway down Alpine Road, why didn't they construct a wider bridge?? Is Stanford really that short sighted? If our children are supposedly safer in the bike lanes of Alpine Road with it's increased traffic, and OUR trail is so dangerous, then please post the facts from the Alpine Road Corridor that would prove that point. The bike paths in Palo Alto have thousands of driveways that cross them compared to very few that cross the Alpine Trail. Can we figure out how to get around the 280 off ramp? No, we can't, not without some money to make plans

Posted by PJ Utz, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 20, 2011 at 11:42 am

My opinion piece was modified and edited extensively by Tom Gibboney, the Editor of the Almanac, to the point that it does not resemble what I wrote. I demanded that it be retracted and that an apology be published. Tom refused. I emailed again multiple times to complain and he stated it is their policy to do whatever they want. I'm on many editorial boards for scientific journals and am very familiar with fair editing. The Almanac has repeatedly shown that they are completely biased on the trail issue. The editors should be castigated for their unfair practices. I spoke to another well-respected editor of a local newspaper who told me he would never, ever, publish an opinion piece that had been edited withour first asking permission and providing a red lined copy with changes to the author. I will not be publishing in the Almanac again under these circumstances. To others who write - beware that Tom has made it clear he will alter what you write without your permission.

As for Gunter's attack on the outstanding piece by Chris, and Peter's equally excellent comments above - please remember that this is AN EXISTING COUNTY TRAIL and that every one of us loses if the Supervisors vote no - except of course Santa Clara County and Stanford Faculty who live on campus who will get $10M! I'll probably still ride in on bike each day anyway, largely because traffic is going to get so bad with the new hospital anyway that it will be faster and healthier to ride on the trail anyway, dodging all the parked cars on the trail/SWA frontage roads!

[Editor's Note: I am sorry that Mr. Utz is unhappy with the editing at the Almanac. On the Viewpoint pages, our goal is to present both sides of all issues as was the case here. We also try and focus guest opinions on the topic, not the personality of other writers. As for bias, we have been covering the trail issue since 2005 without ever being accused of bias. Also, I would like to remind readers that our editorial position on an issue like the Alpine Road trail NEVER influences our coverage. TG.]

Posted by Janet, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 22, 2011 at 8:10 pm

"Confused" is just that. There never has been a "trail" along SWA. It has always been a neighborhood PATH not a trail. I know because I've lived here nearly 50 years.
Secondly,The Almanac is an outstanding paper that reliably reports in an unbiased manner and has done for many years. One may sometimes disagree with the Almanac's own Editorials, but they are always FACTUALLY CORRECT, and they do not cast aspersions on individuals, a point that Utz should consider.
Thirdly, the author of the piece cited by Utz as "outstanding" had many misrepresentations in the piece and had the audacity to call Lennie Roberts a liar! Lennie has been honored for her tireless work to make recreational trails available to the residents of the County

Posted by JB, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Call it a trail, or call it a path, it has existed for at least the last 35 years. It is also distinctly NOT purely a neighborhood path. It connects out to a paved pedestrian route that goes all the way out into Portola Valley.

For people living in Ladera or eastern Portola Valley, it is also the *only* practical route into Stanford, PA, and MP for pedestrians and young bicyclists who choose not ride on a road where the speed limit is 40 MPH.

It has been used as a connector trail in this fashion for at least the time period I mentioned above.

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