Editorial: Stanford should free 'Alpine trail' funds | February 20, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 20, 2008

Editorial: Stanford should free 'Alpine trail' funds

After alienating San Mateo County supervisors, university should rethink its position on trail links, or at least remove the time delay on $8.4 million

With the unanimous rejection last week by San Mateo County Board of Supervisors of Stanford University's ill-conceived offer of $8.4 million to the county, there is no good reason we can see for a nearly four-year delay in making those funds available to Santa Clara County, as now required.

Stanford made the offer, plus several million dollars more to receptive Portola Valley town officials, to pay for improvements to Alpine Road and build a wide, paved bicycle/pedestrian path that would run along Alpine Road most of the way.

Fierce opposition from residents along Alpine Road and strong dissatisfaction on the part of the supervisors with Stanford's "intransigence" on the so-called trail plan not only killed the plan but is a sign of the public-relations disaster the proposal has proved to be.

The long, sad history of this trail plan is too detailed to get into — stories are available by searching Palo Alto Weekly files on www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

But the plan stems from Santa Clara County approval in late 2000 of a massive growth outline for the main Stanford campus — a "general use permit" for about 3 million square feet of new academic buildings and 3,000 housing units. As part of the mitigations for the impact of that growth, Stanford agreed to create two trails to link the flatlands to the lower foothills.

An alignment for a southern trail has been approved along Page Mill and Arastradero roads in Palo Alto, but Stanford balked at creating a northern trail on Stanford lands.

Instead it quietly invested about a half-million dollars in engineering studies and made unannounced "concept" presentations to San Mateo County and Portola Valley officials, putting more than $11 million on the table if officials would agree to the Alpine Road alignment.

University officials bend over backward to rationalize the alignment, pointing out policies in various documents to negate a simple trail-alignment map that was part of the 2000 approval documentation. That little map clearly shows a dotted-line trail along Los Trancos Creek — on Stanford lands.

Heavy lobbying on Stanford's part got Santa Clara County supervisors to accept the concept of what amounts to a buy-out of the trail requirement, if San Mateo County went along. There's a condition that if the alignment isn't accepted by the end of 2011 the funds go to Santa Clara County for some other recreational mitigation project in the area — instead of reverting to Stanford as originally proposed by Stanford.

All along, we wonder why there isn't more concern within the Stanford community, including trustees and officials, about spending millions of dollars just to buy off a mitigation requirement to which the university agreed.

With the final rejection of the plan, there is no longer a reason to hold back those buy-off funds, which would mean a delay of another generation of young people (including Stanford students) getting their benefit. This entire matter also raises the issue of whether Santa Clara County has the wherewithal to enforce its own mitigation conditions.

The mitigation (but not construction) has already been delayed nearly eight years, the university's credibility has been damaged and it's time to get past this stupid situation and hear no more about "the Stanford-foothills trails battle."