Santa Clara County supervisors hit the brakes Tuesday morning, May 22, on a proposal by Supervisor Liz Kniss to spend $5 million on a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 in Palo Alto, opting instead to delay the decision on the project until August.
The plan was heartily embraced by Palo Alto officials, who see the new bridge as a key component of the city's bicycle master plan, and by various environmentalist and bicyclist organizations. But it also drew criticism from Stanford residents, some of whom argued that Kniss' proposed projects don't have a strong enough link to the campus community.
Stanford had contributed the funds to mitigate the impacts of its recent campus expansion. In 2001, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a General Use Permit that allowed Stanford to build up to 5 million square feet in new construction at its campus. To counter the loss of recreational opportunities resulting from the new construction, Stanford had agreed to provide $8 million to the county, a pot of funds that has since grown to $10.4 because of interest. Though the money was recently targeted for a trail in San Mateo County, that project died in December when that county's supervisors voted 3-2 to abandon it.
Santa Clara County board President George Shirakawa had initially proposed delaying a decision on these funds to an unspecified future date to give staff time to fully vet Kniss' proposal and consider other ideas. The board, he said Tuesday, is not ready to make a decision just yet. His colleagues ultimately agreed but they also accepted Kniss' suggestion to create a clear timeline for a decision. Under the timeline, which the board unanimously adopted, the board will resume its discussion of Stanford funds in June and make a decision in August.
"It's difficult to consider the projects when we didn't have a process to consider all the other projects," Shirakawa said.
The Santa Clara County board did not discuss on Tuesday the merits of Kniss' two proposed projects. But members agreed that other projects should be thrown into the mix. These will likely include an alternate proposal by campus residents to improve trails along Stanford Avenue and near the Stanford Dish.
James Sweeney, board president of Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders, told the board that the campus residents fully support delaying the decision on how to spend the Stanford funds. The projects, he said, should benefit the Stanford community along with the general public. He had told the Weekly that his board doesn't believe many people at Stanford would use the amenities included in Kniss' plan.
"We believe we're a major portion of the people who this mitigation was intended to benefit," Sweeney told the supervisors Tuesday morning.
Others disagreed and urged the board to make a decision. Alice Kaufman, legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills, told the supervisors that the projects in Kniss' proposal are an appropriate use of Stanford's recreation funds. Former Menlo Park Mayor Steve Schmidt also urged the board to fund the new bridge and the trail improvements.
"This has been a process that's been going on for 12 years," Schmidt said. "I think it's time to move forward."
Kniss said Tuesday she supports using the funds on more than one project and that it should benefit various residents and commuters in and around the Stanford campus. She characterized the board's position as a "difficult one," but also a "fortunate one," noting that the county rarely gets an opportunity to spend funds that are allocated for recreational opportunities in a specific geographical area.
"I think the money needs to be parceled out in such a way that it's fair and is given in some part to the different communities that are in this narrow geographical area," Kniss said.
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