Editorial: Supervisors need more time for Alpine trail decisionTo upgrade Alpine trail or not to upgrade the trail — that is the question, but one that doesn't have to be answered just yet. The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 1 will take up the question of whether to accept Stanford University's offer of $10 million to widen and improve an existing trail along Alpine Road, between Menlo Park and Portola Valley. County staff is recommending that the supervisors ask Stanford for a two-year extension on the offer, a recommendation we endorse.
There are too many unknowns about what the trail project would entail, according to Assistant County Manager David Holland, but the supervisors face a Dec. 31 deadline to accept or reject Stanford's offer, which is opposed by a number of environmentalists who criticize details including a massive cut into a hillside to move Alpine Road and major work on the banks of nearby San Francisquito Creek.
Also opposing the project are a significant number of residents, the majority of whom live in Stanford Weekend Acres. Weekend Acres residents argue that egress from their neighborhood onto Alpine Road is difficult — and unsafe — enough now. An upgraded trail for bicyclists and pedestrians would likely worsen the situation and increase the danger to motorists and trail-users alike, they say.
Many of the residents say that a trail upgrade is in order, because the existing trail is unsafe and uninviting. But they object to the scale of the project as envisioned by Stanford — some say it would turn the trail into a "super sidewalk."
Stanford's offer to upgrade the trail originated in conditions put on the university in 2000 by Santa Clara County, when Stanford was given approval to add 5 million square feet of buildings on its campus. The university agreed to build two trails to offset the loss of recreational opportunities, but its choice of upgrading the Alpine Road trail as San Mateo County's mitigation project, rather than creating a new trail on its own property, caused instant protests. When it became clear that Stanford's choice of projects for a trail to benefit San Mateo County was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, some of the opposition died down, but safety and environmental concerns haven't gone away.
Mr. Holland, the assistant county manager, has said that a detailed trail design to study and debate is needed before the county can make an informed decision about whether to accept Stanford's trail-upgrade offer. He told attendees at a recent community meeting that he thinks issues and concerns raised about the project can be addressed with mitigation measures such as on-demand traffic lights to slow traffic and allow motorists better access onto Alpine Road.
Designing a more detailed trail plan that would address safety and environmental issues is the right thing to do if the project is to go forward. But that will take far more time than the 10 weeks remaining before Stanford's deadline. The supervisors should ask Stanford for the extension.