By Barbara Wood
Special to the Almanac
Call it the $8 million offer that won't die: Stanford University's proposal to pay for trail improvements along Alpine Road between the Menlo Park and Portola Valley boundaries (with interest, now up to $10.5 million), which was unanimously rejected by the San Mateo Count Board of Supervisors in 2008 and again in 2010. Well, it has sprung back to life.
On Tuesday (July 26) the supervisors voted unanimously to go back to residents of the areas near the trail, including Ladera and Stanford Weekend Acres, to see if time has changed their minds about the proposed trail improvements.
Citing changes in the financial and political climate, and the deterioration of the existing trail, the supervisors agreed to take one more look at the proposal before it expires at the end of December this year. They rejected the staff's recommendation to ask Stanford for a one-year extension of the deadline for making the improvements, saying that if an extension is needed they can ask for it in December after hearing from the public.
If San Mateo County rejects the offer and lets the deadline pass, the money will go to Santa Clara County for recreation.
The offer of money for the trail originated in conditions put on Stanford by Santa Clara County in 2000 when the university was given permission to add 5 million square feet of buildings on campus.
Stanford agreed to build two trails to offset the loss of recreational opportunities. One trail, located south of Page Mill Road and Foothill Expressway and running through the foothills, opened this spring. Portola Valley is now working on a section of trail running from Ladera to Ford Field along Alpine Road, which is scheduled to reopen by October.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss sent a representative to the meeting to ask that Santa Clara County also be included in talks about the trail improvements and how the money from Stanford could be used.
New supervisor and former San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley said he was influenced by the fatal bike accident on that stretch of Alpine Road in November 2010 to take another look at finding a way to make the area safer. "That trail is simply not safe as it stands," he said.
"I would like to hear what the residents say," Mr. Horsley said. "I think there are a lot of areas we could negotiate on."
Fifteen people showed up at the meeting to comment on the proposal, and, as in the past, their opinions were mixed.
Janet Davis, who lives on Alpine Road, accused Stanford of "trying to pressure local residents into something they don't want." She cited concerns of privacy and traffic hazards.
Barbara Ann Barnett, who said she has lived in Stanford Weekend Acres for more than 40 years, said that getting in and out of the neighborhood is already a nightmare and the trail would make that worse. "I personally am really, really nervous about the safety issues," she said. "I hope we do not go down this road again.
Noel Hirst, who has lived in Ladera for 14 years and works at Stanford, said the existing trail has its own safety problems. "I used to bike to work two times a week during the non-rainy months," she said. She has given it up because of the trail conditions. Now, she said, "I can't get there and I won't put my kids at risk to possibly not have a mom." If the county doesn't use the Stanford money to repair the trail; it will have to spend its own money to repair it, she said.
Ellyn Rubin, who has lived for more than 30 years in Ladera, agreed. The current trail is unsafe for cycling, she said. "More and more people are biking. It's just going to get more and more dangerous if nothing is done."
Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside.