Almanac

News - December 7, 2011

Supervisors face the music on Stanford trail offer

• The issue returns to the supervisors Dec. 13.

by Dave Boyce

Moments of truth have come and gone for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, Stanford University and the residents of Ladera and Stanford Weekend Acres in the five-year odyssey to determine the fate of a rickety asphalt path along the south side of Alpine Road that passes by both communities.

Another moment, perhaps the moment, is coming Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 9 a.m. when the supervisors meet to weigh in a third time on a 2006 offer from Stanford to pay millions of dollars to upgrade the roadside path that leads east from Portola Valley to Menlo Park as well as Palo Alto and Stanford.

The board, which rejected Stanford's offer in 2006 and 2010, meets in the Hall of Justice and Records at 400 County Center (corner of Bradford Street and Hamilton Avenue) in Redwood City.

Stanford's offer expires Dec. 31 unless the supervisors ask for an extension and agree to have various path options studied at Stanford's expense. And there is the rub. The supervisors in November added three options to Stanford's original three.

Stanford has offered up to $10.4 million (inflation adjusted) to study three options, then building one of the two that involve actual construction and paying for it with the remaining funds.

Those three options are:

• 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.

A majority on the Board of Supervisors added three more options on Nov. 1:

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

• Build a trail that crosses Alpine at Piers Lane, hugs the north side of the road and re-crosses at Stowe Lane to continue into Menlo Park (to avoid Weekend Acres).

• Upgrade the existing trail on the south side of the road between Portola Valley and Piers Lane and stop (to avoid Weekend Acres).

The common theme in those last three options — avoiding Stanford Weekend Acres — is at the heart of what adds controversy to what might otherwise seem a welcome infrastructure investment from a wealthy neighbor, particularly in hard economic times.

Supervisor Dave Pine introduced the alternative options, adding that the trail cannot be left as it is. Board president Carole Groom and supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Rose Jacobs Gibson made it fairly clear that they would oppose accepting Stanford's offer if Stanford does not agree to fund the study of Mr. Pine's three additions.

Asked for a reaction at the time, Stanford spokesman Larry Horton smiled and said, "We'll see in December."

A recent poll of 180 Weekend Acres residents regarding a trail between Piers Lane and Menlo Park showed opposition by 165 respondents, or 83 percent. The poll, which the Almanac has seen, involved visits to 128 of the 130 total households, of which 106 responded, said resident Ginger Holt, who surveyed the community.

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 studies show 18,000 vehicle trips daily on Alpine Road running by Weekend Acres. Residents worry that an improved trail would draw cyclists and pedestrians and make things worse.

The trail's right-of-way is a) wildly inconsistent in width and topography, which could affect heritage trees and what remains of Weekend Acres' secluded lifestyle; b) located along a twisting, heavily traveled two-lane artery where speed limit violations may get worse if the project straightens part of Alpine Road; and c) is unsafe, according to practically everyone.

But an improved trail for pedestrians, cyclists, kids and dogs could add to headaches for Weekend Acres who have to cross it to get into and out of their community.

Ladera residents, by and large, tend to support the proposal to upgrade the path. The right-of-way in Ladera is relatively uncomplicated by comparison: it is flat, straight, wide, not so near the creek, and not running alongside heavy commute traffic in and out of Stanford, Menlo Park and Palo Alto twice a day.

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