A proposal by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss to use funds contributed to the county by Stanford University for a new bike bridge over Highway 101 in Palo Alto is facing resistance from the Stanford community, where residents and officials are urging the county to slow down and consider other alternatives for the funds.
The plan, which Kniss and Supervisor Dave Cortese unveiled Wednesday, May 16, calls for using $5 million in Stanford funds for the bike bridge at Adobe Creek and another $3 million to complete the Dumbarton link in the Bay Trail between Redwood City and Alviso. The money would come from a $10.34 fund that Stanford pledged to the county when it was applying for a General Use Permit (GUP) 11 years ago. The permit allowed Stanford to add up to 5 million square feet of construction to its campus. The $8 million recreation fund (which has since grown to $10.34 million because of interest) was intended to mitigate the loss of recreational opportunities that would result from the new construction.
But while Kniss maintained Wednesday that her proposals would boost recreational opportunities for Stanford students, residents and the wider community, members of the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders (SCRL) board of directors have other thoughts. The board, which is elected to represent the Stanford campus community, had its annual meeting last Wednesday night and Kniss' plan did not go down well with the board, said James Sweeney, the board's president.
Specifically, the board feels that the benefits of Kniss' proposed projects would provide little or no benefit to the campus residents, Sweeney said. Stanford had planned to use the funds to build a trail in San Mateo County but that plan fizzled in December, when the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to nix the idea.
The GUP specifies that if the trail proposal doesn't move forward, the funds would be used to reduce "the adverse effect on recreational opportunities for existing or new campus residents and facility users that will be caused by the housing and academic development approved by the GUP, which will reduce the availability of recreational facilities, while increasing the demand for such facilities."
Sweeney said he and the board believe that the projects proposed by Kniss fail to meet this criteria. Though they would provide benefits to the general population, they are too distant from Stanford's campus to get much use from the university community. Ideally, he said, the projects would benefit both Stanford and the public at large.
"We had a very strong negative reaction and we have not been able to identify anyone else who believes they'd have any benefit to them on the campus," Sweeney said, referring to the board's discussion of Kniss' proposals.
One proposal that the SCRL board supports is a plan to improve a trail along El Camino Real, between Stanford Shopping Center and Stanford Avenue and to enhance the existing trail along Stanford Avenue, which stops just short of the Stanford Dish. The proposal would stretch the trail to the Dish and to the newly completed S-1 trail on Page Mill Road.
University officials are also urging the Board of Supervisors to slow down. Though the board was scheduled to consider Kniss' proposals Tuesday morning, Stanford officials are calling for the board to continue the meeting to another date. Jean McCown, Stanford's vice president for communications, said Stanford has been waiting for the board to come up with a process for selecting a project that would be funded through Stanford's contributions.
McCown said that while the university does not have an official stance on Kniss' proposals, these ideas shouldn't be the only ones that the board considers. She noted that SCRL and the university have been considering their own proposals and that the board should consider those as well.
"These (Kniss') ideas should be in the mix and there are other ideas that we want to bring forward that should be in the mix as well," McCown told the Weekly.
Stanford's proposal has at least one supporter on the five-member board -- George Shirakawa, the board president, has proposed continuing the decision on Stanford funds to a later meeting. Stanford officials hope other board members will join him in slowing down the process. Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations, wrote a letter to the board Monday seeking to urge the rest of the board not to rush to a vote on the Kniss proposals.
"Stanford anticipated the County would seek input from the people directly benefited by this provision -- campus residents and those who come to Stanford to use its facilities -- before selecting a set of projects to propose for funding," Horton wrote, noting that university officials have met with Board members several times to discuss concerns over the recreational funds. "We also stated many times that Stanford and probably the Campus the residents would like to submit proposals for consideration. However, we were not consulted regarding the current agenda item, nor have we been informed of the process for submitting projects to the County for consideration."
Meanwhile, local bike enthusiasts and members of conservation groups, including the Committee for Green Foothills and the Sierra Club, have submitted letters urging the board to follow Kniss' lead and to approve the projects she proposed. Alice Kaufman, legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills, said her group "looks forward to completion of the Bay Trail and a new connection at Adobe Creek so Stanford residents and facility users, as well as residents of the surrounding communities, can access these regional facilities."
Corinne Winter, president of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, agreed and also urged the board to approve Kniss' plan.
"I urge you not to let this opportunity pass us by," Winter wrote. "The money invested by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors should benefit as many residents in the county and region as possible -- not solely Stanford University students and staff. The proposed projects will serve a far greater number of people and help keep the whole area healthy and active."
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting will begin at 9 a.m. on May 22 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at 70 West Hedding St., San Jose.