Search the Archive:

Back to the Weekly Home Page


Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 30, 2002

Bottleneck may be widened Bottleneck may be widened (January 30, 2002)

Menlo Park softens position, is willing to talk about it

by Don Kazak

Back in 1997 when Palo Alto approved the Sand Hill Road Project -- including widening the road and extending it to El Camino Real -- Stanford University desperately wanted Menlo Park to agree to broaden the short stretch at the San Francisquito Creek bridge.

No way, Menlo Park officials said at the time.

Now, it could happen.

Menlo Park Mayor Steve Schmidt announced last week he's willing to talk about widening the road to remove the traffic bottleneck there. By most accounts, that bottleneck has gotten worse since the rest of the road has been widened and extended to El Camino Real.

Widening the road from two to four lanes at the San Francisquito Bridge may be necessary to make other planned improvements at the Sand Hill Road/Santa Cruz Avenue intersection work, Schmidt said.

Widening that stretch of road was in fact required by the city of Palo Alto as one of the conditions for approving the three-part Sand Hill Road project. (The others were road improvements, shopping center expansion and housing for seniors and Stanford faculty and staff.) But since that part of the road lies within Menlo Park's jurisdiction, there isn't anything Palo Alto can really do to enforce its wishes.

Schmidt said he now ready to talk about widening the road at the bridge, in conjunction with designed improvements at the Sand Hill Road/Santa Cruz Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard/Alpine Road intersections.

Stanford made a commitment five years ago to pay for the widening and the necessary improvements at the two nearby intersections.

The designs for the two intersections may not work as proposed, Schmidt said. "We are very interested in building the proposed (intersection improvements)," Schmidt said. "That convinced me it's time to revisit (it), so we can start building that now and get some traffic relief."

Both Stanford and Palo Alto officials are heartened by the news there might be some movement on Menlo Park's part.

A key determinant might be what, if anything, Menlo Park wants in return. Any kind of a tie to a future limitation of campus development isn't likely to play well at Stanford.

The university won a new general use permit (GUP) from Santa Clara County in December 2000, which includes 2 million square feet of new academic buildings and 3,000 housing units. Part of the GUP requires that a "sustainability" study be done, perhaps to determine a maximum build-out for the Stanford campus.

Although the sustainability study isn't required until Stanford builds its first million square feet of new academic buildings, County Supervisor Liz Kniss wants to speed up the process. Stanford appears less than eager to do so.

And in the past, when Palo Alto proposed approving a Stanford project in exchange for holding other areas free from development, university officials have been extremely reluctant to do so.

But Schmidt said he isn't thinking of any kind of substantial tradeoff, although he would be interested in making sure Stanford Golf Course isn't developed.

"It's important that we approach this in a positive manner," said Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations. "We look forward to meeting with the Menlo Park mayor. We want to move things along."

The cost estimate for the road improvements -- widening Sand Hill and improving the two nearby intersections -- is about $15 million. Stanford's offer to pay the tab for the work is a 10-year offer, which means it expires in 2007.

Palo Alto Mayor Vic Ojakian said he is interested in hearing what Schmidt is proposing. A key point will be if the improvements are consistent with what's in the Sand Hill project EIR, Ojakian said. "My feeling is I want to help Menlo Park in any way that I can," he said. "We have to see how this plays out."

"I think it's an important move he's taking," Palo Alto City Councilman Jim Burch said of Schmidt. "It's time to resolve this and move on."

Horton said he hasn't met yet with Schmidt to talk about the road. But Stanford officials, including President John Hennessy, have met with Schmidt in the past to talk about the traffic bottleneck.

-- E-mail Don Kazak at


Copyright © 2002 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.