Sudden slowdown for bridge plan
Facing Stanford protest, county supervisors agree to vet other ideas
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 proposal, which Kniss unveiled last week, calls for using funds contributed by Stanford University more than a decade ago to build a new bridge at Adobe Creek. It also calls for spending $3 million on the Dumbarton link to the Bay Trail, connecting Redwood City and Alviso.
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 drew criticism from Stanford residents, some of whom argued that Kniss' proposed projects don't link strongly enough to the campus community, a requirement for use of the funds.
Stanford had contributed millions — originally $8 million but now totaling $10.4 million due to interest — as a way to ease the loss of recreational opportunities resulting from its planned campus expansion. In 2001, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a General Use Permit (GUP) that allowed Stanford to build up to 5 million square feet in new construction. Though the money was recently targeted towards a new hiking trail in San Mateo County, that project died in December when that county's board of supervisors voted 3-2 to abandon it.
The contract between Stanford and the county states the funds can only be used to ease "the adverse effect on recreational opportunities for existing or new campus residents and facilities users that will be caused by the housing and academic development approved by the GUP."
Santa Clara County board President George Shirakawa had initially proposed delaying a decision on Kniss' proposal to an unspecified future date to give staff time to fully vet the idea and consider others. His colleagues agreed Tuesday, but they also accepted Kniss' suggestion to create a clear timeline for a decision. The board unanimously agreed to resume its discussion of Stanford funds in June and make a decision in August.
Board members also agreed other recreation projects should be considered. 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 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 money allocated for recreation 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.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at email@example.com.