Residents of Ladera and Stanford Weekend Acres gathered last week to reconsider a controversial offer by Stanford University to spend up to $10.2 million to repave and upgrade the timeworn trail that meanders through their communities along Alpine Road between Portola Valley and Menlo Park.
Whether the communities will accept the money and conditions that link renovations to that stretch of road is an open question. In 2006, a vociferous group of residents, backed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, rejected it.
A sense of current opinion should materialize once the county manager's office posts results from two community meetings: The one held Thursday, Sept. 15, in Ladera; and the next set for Tuesday, Sept. 20, with facilitation from the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.
Stanford's offer, which expires in December, would fulfill a condition in the university's use permit with Santa Clara County. The environmental group Committee for Green Foothills argued in court that the trail should run on the Santa Clara County side of the creek, but the state Supreme Court decided in Stanford's favor.
The existing trail merges with Alpine Road in places; the asphalt is old, bumpy and cracked on that trail. But residents preferred this familiar path to the prospect of a "suburban sidewalk," as they called Stanford's offer in 2006.
A new trail design, including its width, surface, route along Alpine Road, and method of dealing with creek bank erosion, would be up to San Mateo County, university spokesman Larry Horton wrote in an email.
"San Mateo County is the owner of this trail and as such it can decide all the details about trail design," Mr. Horton wrote. "There are only two conditions: 1) that the trail must be a multi-use trail for bicyclists and pedestrians, and 2) that it must be a safe, continuous trail. How that is accomplished is up to San Mateo County."
Stanford will not complain if its offer is spurned, Mr. Horton said. "We will be satisfied that we met the letter and spirit of our agreement with Santa Clara County. We will accept San Mateo's decision with good spirit, and we move ahead working cooperatively with Santa Clara County."
The $10.2 million would revert to Santa Clara County for recreational purposes, but not for use on Stanford's land without Stanford's consent, according to the text of the agreement.
So why does Stanford care about improving this trail? The campus is a not infrequent destination for residents, including university employees who would rather bike to work, Mr. Horton wrote. "Reducing automobile traffic is a major objective of transportation planners."
The county has scheduled two follow-up sessions in Ladera: Thursday, Sept. 29, and Tuesday, Oct. 4. The supervisors are expected to vote on the offer on Oct. 18, Assistant County Manager Dave Holland said. A two-year extension, to December 2013, is available.
A snapshot of reaction
Of the 80 people gathered around about 10 tables for the Sept. 15 session, veterans of 2006 were everywhere. Of the 10 residents sitting at the table attended by the Almanac, nine expressed opposition or significant reservations about Stanford's offer.
Opinion, particularly in Ladera, may shift this time, Mr. Horton said. "There is apprehension in Weekend Acres, but the impacts on Weekend Acres cannot be determined until there is a proposal and environmental review is conducted," he added.
Indeed, there is apprehension. Weekend Acres residents told stories of long waits in cars to pull out on to busy Alpine Road, and how an improved trail would increase pedestrian and bike traffic and make things worse.
The county, said Weekend Acres resident John Pencavel, should take its lead from Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam when cars and bikes share a road: lower the speed limit to 20 mph and put in speed bumps.
"I feel like I'm caught in the tail of a nightmare," said Barbara Ann Barnett of Weekend Acres. The existing trail is safe and just needs maintenance and a police presence occasionally to reduce speeding, she said. "It worries me (that Stanford requires a continuous trail.) It's their way or the highway."
"The urban nightmare is a fact of life, in my opinion," said Brian Wall of Ladera. "Let's take the ($10 million) and make the most of it."