Almanac

News - December 21, 2011

Supes reject Stanford's $10.4 million trail offer

By Dave Boyce

The vote was not unanimous as in 2006 and 2010, but the outcome was the same: the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors rejected, on a vote of 3-2, an inflation-adjusted offer of $10.4 million from Stanford University to upgrade a deteriorating asphalt path along Alpine Road into a two-way multi-use trail from Portola Valley into Menlo Park and the university.

The decision by supervisors Adrienne Tissier and Rose Jacobs Gibson and board President Carole Groom was welcome to a large majority of residents in Stanford Weekend Acres, which sits along a maddeningly complicated and heavily traveled mile and a half of public right-of-way.

Supervisors Dave Pine and Don Horsley, who voted to accept the offer to study various trail designs with the option to build one at Stanford's expense, had support from many residents in Ladera. The right-of-way past Ladera is smooth, flat and wide by comparison.

The board faced a Dec. 31 deadline, after which Stanford's offer expires. University spokesman Larry Horton, when questioned on the school's motives for funding a trail in a neighboring county, has always cited an agreement with Santa Clara County obligating Stanford to build an east-west recreational trail. Stanford has refused to do this on its own open space.

The board chamber, which seats 115, was half empty when the supervisors voted but had been standing room only when the discussion started. Ms. Groom noted requests to speak from 60 people, a turnout similar to a November meeting.

"Incredible relief is what I feel. It was anybody's guess as to the outcome," said environmental activist, Stanford opponent and Ladera resident Lennie Roberts in the hallway outside the chambers.

"It's over," Mr. Horton said. "The board has acted. We accept that with good faith."

"I'm amazed it was that close," Weekend Acres resident Walter Nelson said. He credited research that showed extreme danger in building a multi-use trail next to a busy road, research he expected to be ignored.

P.J. Utz, a Ladera resident and ardent advocate of upgrading the path, commented via email: "The Supervisors have spoken," he said.

Why the rejection?

Ms. Tissier and Ms. Jacobs Gibson said they disliked how six trail options became just three with any hope of being built:

• Move Alpine Road north, making room on the road's south side as it passed Weekend Acres.

• Leave Alpine Road alone and fix the south side despite the complications along Weekend Acres.

• Cross Alpine Road ahead of Weekend Acres, continue on the north side to avoid the complications, then re-cross past Weekend Acres.

All three trails would have run next to an arterial road choked with commute traffic twice a day.

The supervisors had added a more inviting idea: crossing and re-crossing Alpine as just described, but running the trail in open space on the north side. But the kibosh is that it would have passed over land controlled by the SLAC National Linear Accelerator and the Department of Energy, who were seen as unlikely to agree to that.

Ms. Groom suggested more traditional ways of addressing the problems.

• Repair the cracks and bumps to make the path useful to pedestrians.

• Seek grants and help from San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Board to address the eroding creek bank.

• Revisit a regional trails program, funded in part with Stanford's millions that now go to Santa Clara County.

• Direct cyclists to Alpine Road's bike lanes.

Supervisor Horsley, supporting Stanford's offer, cited the widely held view that the path is unsafe and that the creek bank needs attention. Even if Stanford had ulterior motives, Mr. Horsley said he was confident that San Mateo County would not be outsmarted. "I feel like we have to do something," he said.

Supervisor Pine said he was acting in the public interest, broadly defined. "Stanford is offering us $10 million. We don't have $10 million to work on this corridor. We just don't." A trail on Stanford land is not going to happen, he added.

A four-foot trail?

Much of the right-of-way near Weekend Acres could accommodate a common 4-foot-wide sidewalk. Stanford's agreement proposed an 8-foot-wide Class 1 trail, but width was an open question.

Mr. Pine broached the 4-foot idea on Dec. 13, a late date. In an interview, he said it could have been Option 7.

A sidewalk between Portola Valley and Menlo Park could accommodate pedestrians, follow the existing path and acquire a sidewalk culture — prohibitive to bikes. And it was probably the only idea with any chance of support in Weekend Acres, Mr. Pine said.

"If that had been listed (as an option), would there have been three votes for it? I don't know," he said.

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