The bumpy history of Sand Hill
Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 29, 1997

The bumpy history of Sand Hill

The origins of Sand Hill Road can be traced, humbly enough, to a cow path running from San Francisco Bay to Middlefield Road. In the late 1800s, it was paved and named Willow Road.

Debates over its future began not long after the introduction of the Model T Ford.

"The road issue goes all the way back to 1927," said Andy Coe, Stanford's director of community relations, when a connection was proposed from the old Willow Road (now known as Sand Hill) to El Camino Real, the Bay Area's major thoroughfare at the time.

"In the 1930s, the State Highway Division proposed a highway from the Central Valley to the Pacific that would have run right through the Sand Hill corridor area," Coe said.

But the highway was delayed by the Depression, World War II, and Stanford officials who objected to a highway through campus.

The shopping center was built in 1955 and bills were introduced in the Legislature to expand Willow Road into a state freeway. Friction arose between Palo Alto and Menlo Park, with each city recommending that the new freeway run through the neighboring city.

In 1961, the state Highway Department recommended a $33 million freeway requiring the demolition of 585 houses in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Palo Alto officials approved the highway, but 1,758 Menlo Park residents signed a petition to stop it. In 1963, the Menlo Park City Council refused to sign the freeway agreement with the state.

In 1966, an alternative plan for the Willow Expressway was devised. The plan, which would result in the removal of 433 houses, was accepted by both cities and counties. But the plan stalled, and in 1971, Menlo Park citizens voted 4,750 to 1,987 to defeat the expressway plan.

Undeterred, in 1974 CalTrans proposed a Willow Expressway from Highway 101 to Highway 280. The expressway was targeted to run from Willow Road in Menlo Park, into Palo Alto along San Francisquito Creek at Ruthven Avenue in the Downtown North neighborhood, and across El Camino to Sand Hill Road (at that time still called Willow Road). Palo Alto rejected the plan and asked CalTrans to delete the expressway from its maps and change the name of Willow Road. In 1975, the road's name was changed to Sand Hill from Arboretum Road to 280.

In 1977, Menlo Park agreed to a four-lane extension. In 1978, Stanford applied to extend Sand Hill to El Camino and widen it to four lanes. The Palo Alto City Council approved the plan 4-2, but could not gather enough votes to form an assessment district to pay for it.

In 1982, Stanford proposed 1,200 units to house Stanford faculty and staff on the Stanford West site and 194 units at 1100 Welch Road. In 1983, the City Council gave approval for 1,100 units, but Stanford found the conditions--which called for limits on future growth--unacceptable and shelved the project.

In 1984, Stanford proposed a two-lane Sand Hill extension. The Palo Alto City Council approved it on a 7-2 vote. The city of Menlo Park sued claiming that the EIR did not fully assess impacts of the El Camino intersection. A Menlo Park residents group, Citizens for Sensible Planning, also sued on the grounds that the EIR had not adequately addressed impacts on Menlo Park.

The city's challenge was dismissed, but the citizen group's challenge was upheld, and the court decided a supplemental EIR was needed. Stanford decided not to pursue it.

In 1987, Stanford came forward with a 322-unit townhouse project and a 450-unit senior housing development along San Francisquito Creek. The City Council approved 890 units with the condition that Stanford submit plans for the vacant site on the south side of Sand Hill Road in order to avoid piecemeal projects.

In 1992, Stanford first applied for the current set of projects. After a community outreach program, the projects were substantially revised and resubmitted in 1994.

--Peter Gauvin 

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