Viewpoint - December 21, 2011

Editorial: Money wasn't the issue on Alpine trail

Last week county supervisors turned down more than $10 million from Stanford to build a trail for pedestrians and cyclists along Alpine Road from Portola Valley to Menlo Park, a corridor that often is choked with Stanford commuters and others bound for Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

The offer, already twice-rejected by the supervisors, was brought up one last time in an effort by the university to meet its obligations under the terms of a use permit it received from Santa Clara County to build up to 5 million square feet of buildings on the campus over 25 years. At the outset of the agreement, the trails were supposed to be built on Stanford lands, inside Santa Clara County boundaries. But through a long process, it became apparent that Stanford would never agree to such a trail alignment, and instead decided to bring its trail needs to San Mateo County.

So for the last five years, Stanford has attempted to dangle its offer of what began as $8.4 million and is now more than $10 million, as the carrot for San Mateo County to build a trail that divided nearby communities and was twice rejected.

Last week the supervisors held fast, again refusing to go along with what we hope will be the last offer to build a contentious project that clashes in many ways with the terrain and traffic patterns along Alpine Road as it passes Stanford Weekend Acres, an enclave of about 130 homes.

Central to the discussion was the belief that it would be foolhardy for the county to reject an offer of $10 million when the economy is rotten and the likelihood of finding any funds to make even minor improvements could be years away. But why should the county accept a project it considers inferior and in many respects, unsafe? In these circumstances, Stanford is simply a private company attempting to build a project that meets its needs, but at the expense of the residents who would have to live next to it.

County supervisors went more than the extra mile to find a reasonable compromise that could be accepted by Weekend Acres residents and other parties, but in the end, rejected Stanford's offer on a 3-2 vote. Now Stanford's $10 million will revert to Santa Clara County, to be used on other trail systems. Some local residents hold out hope that some of the funds could still be used regionally, including on trails in San Mateo County, although there is no certainty about that.

During the last gathering of supervisors and the public on the fate of this trail, Supervisor Dave Pine, who with Supervisor Don Horsley voted to accept Stanford's trail money, proposed simply building a four-foot sidewalk between Portola Valley and Menlo Park for pedestrians, and pushing all cyclists into the current bike lane. But the idea was not one of the six options on the table, and was not given enough time to be seriously considered. Later, Mr. Pine told the Almanac: "If that had been listed (as an option), would there have been three votes for it? I don't know," he said.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the entire debate is the clearly poor condition and dangerous intersections of the present trail, which we hope supervisors will not forget in the months and years ahead when opportunities arise to make improvements. And, we hope money can be found soon to design a new bicycle corridor through the Interstate 280 intersection, where a cyclist was killed by a large truck last year.


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