Editorial: The new trail to nowhere | May 20, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - May 20, 2011

Editorial: The new trail to nowhere

Despite abundance of land and money, Stanford fails at trail-building project

As a world-class university with one of the largest endowments in the country, Stanford has never had a problem funding a continuing growth program that will culminate in a few years with the $3.5 billion expansion of the Stanford Medical Center, Medical School and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Over the last decade, the university has built a new football stadium, numerous multimillion-dollar classroom buildings, including a new business-school building funded by Nike running-shoe magnate Phil Knight. Microsoft's Bill Gates is the namesake of a computer-science building, and there are many other elegant structures around the burgeoning campus that sport notable backers.

In addition, hundreds of housing units for students, professors and workers have been added to the campus, which also boasts one of the area's best traffic-management plans that has resulted in more than 30 percent of Stanford's non-medical employees walking, biking or using mass transit to get to work each day.

But amid all the hoopla and hustle bustle of the university's aggressive building program, one of the simplest projects ever tackled by Stanford — to build two public recreational trails on the periphery of its north and south campus — is a colossal disappointment.

After more than 10 years of discussion with the Board of Supervisors that ultimately awarded the university the right to develop 2 million square feet of campus buildings, and later litigation filed by the Committee for Green Foothills challenging the environmental impact report, only one of the trails is ready for public use, and the northern trail, which Stanford proposed be built in San Mateo County, very likely will not be built at all. Neighbors at Stanford Weekend Acres on Alpine Road strenuously objected to the trail design and placement. And so far, San Mateo County Supervisors have supported their position and turned down Stanford's offer to pay the entire cost of a trail built just a few feet from the road.

One short stretch of trail, along Alpine Road west of Interstate 280, has been accepted by the town of Portola Valley, and construction is expected to start on that segment in a few weeks. It will end at Arastradero Road.

We doubt if the nearly completed trail along Page Mill Road and over a ridge off Deer Creek Road, will be popular with local residents or the university's faculty and students. The first leg of the trail, to Deer Creek Road, is paved and about to open to bikes. But from there, it is gravel for hikers only and unceremoniously ends at a county bike and hiking trail along Arastradero Road, just north of the Interstate 280 underpass. It may not be a trail to nowhere, but it is close.

Looking back on the head-butting between Stanford, the county and the environmental community, Stanford was determined to keep both trails from crossing university lands, which then could have linked them with other trails in the Arastradero Preserve. Instead, rather than creating a couple of trails that would have provided a great hiking experience for local users, the end result is that one trail, which Stanford wanted to locate along traffic-choked Alpine Road, will not be built at all, and the other has no parking area and does not lead to a place anyone would want to go.

It is sad to see this outcome for what could have been a pair of very appealing trails. Perhaps that was the problem — Stanford really doesn't want to provide access to its lands in light of how popular the Dish loop has become. The Dish hiking trail is one of the most popular activities Stanford provides to local residents, as well as its own students and faculty. A companion trail over the southern edge of the foothills to Old Page Mill Road and under 280 at the existing cattle tunnel would have enabled hikers to reach the trails in the Arastradero Preserve, and, at least for a time, was the preferred route.

But this sensible and appealing alignment was not acceptable to Stanford and the result is a noisy paved trail along busy Page Mill Road with a short gravel extension that unceremoniously winds up on Arastradero Road where it connects to a bike lane that passes underneath 280.

This trail is an embarrassment that we hope Palo Altans and the Board of Supervisors do not forget, so that the next time Stanford seeks a development agreement, the first question will be: How about building those trails we thought we were going to get back in 2006?

Perhaps that was the problem — Stanford really doesn't want to provide access to its lands in light of how popular the Dish loop has become.

YOUR TURN: Could Stanford have done a better job making new trails user-friendly?


Like this comment
Posted by trail to nowhere
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I heartily agree that the "trail to nowhere" is a big embarrassment to both Stanford and to Palo Alto. It is an embarrassment to Stanford for building an almost useless trail. And it is embarrassment to Palo Alto for letting them build this when they had promised a useful trail connecting the campus neighborhoods to the Arastradero Preserve.

I also agree with this article that Stanford was trying to scam the city all along. What a shame. The residents of Palo Alto deserve so much better.

Like this comment
Posted by Local resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 23, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Wait a moment folks we don't need a trail alongside Page Mill Road. That land should be left to mountain lions, deer and the occasional horse.

Over the years more and more humans have been taking over the foothills, leave them for wild life. Maybe I've lived here too long but I can remember when deer creek road really did have deer on it.

Like this comment
Posted by trail runner
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 23, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I think there still are deer out there. Not too many years ago, I was driving toward Arastradero Preserve on Page Mill Road near Coyote Hill road, and a deer leaped from the brush along the road and hit the side of my car. The deer did not survive and my van had $3000 worth of damage. I think the roads present a lot more danger to the deer than a pathway.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A trail to nowhere? Hell, that is what I thought the whole idea of trails was. If you want to commute, use the roads. If you want to walk, walk in a circle.

Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

"Stanford really doesn't want to provide access to its lands in light of how popular the Dish loop has become."

Why should they? Would you want a trail through your backyard? Why does the public feel that they have a right to trepass on Stanford lands?

Like this comment
Posted by Chronic whiners
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Right on, peter. Notice how much of the opposition is from people that do not want talks near their home. So why should stanford give up it's land. Too many people have a sense of entitlement when it comes to what belongs to stanford, led by the committee for the green foothills, peter drekmeier and other like minded organizations and people. Read the nasty letter in todays PA daily news for an example of the mindset of these people. Time for stanford to rethink free access to the dish area for palo alto residents. BTW , the above editorial is poorly written and ignores the history of this whole issue.

Like this comment
Posted by trail to nowhere
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm

These trails are not a generous gift to local residents. As spelled out in the article, the city and county government traded numerous rights and permits to Stanford in exchange for publicly useful trails to connect local neighborhoods to parkland west of I-280. Stanford went ahead with their 2 million square feet of building projects, but never fulfilled their end of the deal. This is all a big scam by Stanford.

Peter Carpenter asks why should Stanford fulfill their promise? Because a promise is a promise! Why can't Stanford understand that?

Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Stanford fulfilled their promise - some people just don't like the result.

Again, would you want a trail through your backyard even after you had already built one in your front yard?

The ONLY reason that Palo Alto is able to engage in this extortion is because Stanford annexed the site of the hospital to Palo Alto years ago when Palo Alto was a part owner of the hospital. When Palo Alto walked away from its hospital ownership Stanford should have reclaimed the land from Palo Alto's planning jurisdiction.

Like this comment
Posted by Chronic whiners
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 24, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Trail to nowhere ignores the real facts and parrots the rhetoric from organizations like committee for the green foothills, claiming that stanford had not kept their end of the bargain. This is another example of people never being satisfied with what stanford has given you and feels that stanford should be subject to endless extortion from some people. Time to rethink free access to the dish for palo alto residents.

Like this comment
Posted by I agree
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm

We should let the rich and powerful, the huge endowment, the big staff of lawyers and developers at Stanford have their way.
So they lied, not a new phenomenon.

Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on May 25, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Walter, great comment!

For many, dissing Stanford will always be a spectator sport.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Nora Charles, so nice to read your post! How have you been? I liked Walter's comment, too. I always loved trails that led "nowhere" because one person's nowhere is another person's somewhere or doesn't-matter-where-because-I'm-happy-to-be-alive-&-kicking where ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by Bryan Wilson
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 27, 2011 at 7:43 am

I agree it's not very useful as a bike trail, but for a run or a walk from Barron Park or the Stanford Research Park area the new trail is really very nice, and it does provide access to an area that was previously off limits. Maybe some day we'll still be able to get that connection through the tunnel to the Arastradero preserve.