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February 23, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Guest Opinion: Stanford's trails veer off the right path Guest Opinion: Stanford's trails veer off the right path (February 23, 2005)

by L. Craig Britton

It's a great deal for Stanford University: In exchange for building two minor public-trail alignments that cross the periphery of its undeveloped lands, Stanford gets the right to develop 5 million square feet of buildings over the next 10 years.

But as spring approaches and people's thoughts turn toward the foothills and the hundreds of miles of trails we and others have created there, their feet or bike tires will have trouble following those thoughts. There's a well-publicized missing link in Stanford's lower-foothills lands.

Stanford's current position is a bad deal for trail users. The three alternative trail alignments proposed by the University don't provide a reasonable, direct and safe connection between Foothill Expressway/Junipero Serra Boulevard and Palo Alto's Arastradero Preserve.

Stanford should change course and consider alternatives supported by environmental organizations, public and private agencies and trail enthusiasts.

The superior recommended trail alignment along the southerly end of the Dish ridge (designated S1-E on maps) would provide a direct connection from Arastradero Preserve to Foothill Expressway, and keep trail users off busy Page Mill Road.

But Stanford took this alternative off the table with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Why? Because Stanford maintains that the "intent" of the Countywide Trails Plan is to connect regional trails using existing public parks and open space preserves or public rights-of-way. If private land (especially theirs) is needed for trail connections, Stanford says trail alignments should be located only on the perimeter, so they could eliminate the better alignment.

However, Stanford is not just another private-property owner. It is one of the largest landowners and institutions in Santa Clara County and has a responsibility far beyond that of an ordinary landowner. It is incumbent upon the university to be an active member of and supportive of the greater community in which it exists.

Stanford is a "world class university," and it deserves that reputation -- except when it uses that reputation to lobby local permitting agencies into ignoring their public objectives and cave in to Stanford's demands.

Given that Stanford has recently been granted an entitlement for nearly 5 million square feet of development, and that the current size and density of the university and its accoutrements (plus the regional shopping center and massive corporate development) place an inordinate demand on public services and infrastructure -- including open space and recreation resources -- Stanford should welcome the opportunity to participate in providing desirable community service and cooperation -- such as direct, safe public-trail access to public open space and park lands in the foothills.

This is especially true when Stanford holds the "key" to safe and direct access in the area of the S-1 trail system.

Instead, Stanford wants trail users to merge into the right-of-way along Page Mill Road and negotiate the confusing and congested I-280 interchange (S-1A). That would be extremely dangerous. Alternatively, Stanford wants to align a trail to continue along Page Mill Road and follow the freeway on-ramp within the I-280 right-of-way (S-1D). hat would be costly because you'd have to build walls and guardrails to protect users from traffic, even if Caltrans would approve such a project.

Finally, Stanford's third alternative would not link to Arastradero Preserve at all -- it would become a trail of local significance only and not a regional trail and would take trail users south toward Los Altos Hills (S-1C).

Let's face it: Stanford's reputation does not stand alone -- it is also tied to its location within the City of Palo Alto, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The magic and beauty of its campus relies on the nearby rolling hills and permanently protected open space as its backdrop -- with easily accessible recreational opportunities for thousands of students, faculty and staff.

Stanford should do the right thing, show more appreciation and civic-mindedness, and join the County of Santa Clara, the City of Palo Alto, the Town of Los Altos Hills, citizen groups, countless individuals and local newspapers and choose the direct connection from Foothill Expressway to Palo Alto's Arastradero Preserve and the regional open spaces beyond.

L. Craig Britton is general manager of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. He can be e-mailed at

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