Without any prior discussion with Stanford University officials and on just a few days notice, County Supervisor (and candidate for Palo Alto City Council) Liz Kniss's proposal to allocate more than $8 million to construct a bike bridge over highway 101 and a bayfront trail fell abruptly on its face last week.
Consideration of Kniss's plan was quickly and appropriately postponed by her colleagues after a Stanford homeowners group and the university protested the lack of any prior notice, discussion or invitation of other ways of spending the money, which is available due to San Mateo County rejecting a trail which Stanford had committed to funding as part of obtaining its current use permit.
Stanford was obligated under the use permit, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2011, to build trails that would help complete the county's regional trail plan. After Stanford's proposed trails, one along Page Mill Road and the other along Alpine Road, became mired in controversy and resulting delays, the board finally approved the Page Mill trail and left it up to San Mateo County to negotiate the Alpine Road trail.
With San Mateo County's rejection of Stanford's trail plan, some $10 million is now available to the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors to allocate for recreational purposes relating to the impacts of new development on the Stanford campus. Kniss had attempted to broaden this language back in 2006 to require the money be used to pay for recreational facilities within 10 miles of the campus, but her colleagues rejected the change.
Exactly what the parameters are for spending the $10 million will undoubtedly be a debate itself. Other conditions of Stanford's use permit already require the university to replace, using separate dollars, lost recreational resources caused by new development on campus.
We think a case can be made that using some of that money for a bike bridge over 101 is consistent with the agreement, but other options should be on the table and both Stanford and the general public should have more than a few days to discuss it.
Clearly, a bike bridge would be a major enhancement to Palo Alto's bicycle master plan and would add to the ability of some Stanford workers or students to bike to work, but there are likely other options that are as good or better. The Stanford homeowners group offered a few, including creating new or improving existing bike paths on the periphery of the campus.
With $10 million available to spend on trails or other recreational uses in the Stanford area, the Board of Supervisors needs a process that generates constructive input from Stanford, the City of Palo Alto and the public.
Kniss would be wise to focus her efforts on outreach to her constituents and on building a consensus within the community on the best use of these funds.