Residents revisit Stanford's offer to upgrade trail along Alpine Road


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."

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Posted by Cyclist
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

While I understand the argument for a "proper" trail being the intent of the original agreement with Stanford, since it isn't going to happen, it would seem better to get something improved in the area rather than letting it go to a general SC county slush fund.

That being said, I have to wonder what the point of this multi use trail is right there. If it replaces bike access on Alpine road, it will not be serving a significant portion of the user base. Alpine is a heavily ridden road by avid road riders and the new trail further up Alpine is lovely but inappropriate for this kind of use. (too much meandering and crossing driveways, eventual maintenance issues etc.). This kind of trail is wonderful for general rec access, and safe commuting for kids and adults. However, let's make sure we don't cut off the moderately safe areas for through-riders on the main roadway.

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Posted by Janet
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Larry Horton was emphatic that ONLY $10.2 mill. was available. The County says "Don't worry about the money, vote YES or NO on having a trail and we will negotiate funding later" So everyone thinks up what it will take to make the "trail" safe but there is no absolutely guarantee that any "mitigations" will ever occur, nor that Stanford would pay for all the regulatory processes, design, engineering drawings, etc. LET ALONE THE ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION. Stanford has repeatedly changed its position and stalled over any mitigations that were required under the GUP for over a decade. Stanford cannot be trusted to follow through on anything that people think they are getting. There should be no vote until all the proposed details are revealed AND the funding guaranteed in an iron clad agreement. What is proposed is a totally opaque process.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

December can't come soon enough. Meanwhile, the community and the county can duke it out. Stanford has better things to operate a university. Larry Horton deserves a medal or peace prize of some sort.

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Posted by trail user
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

The "trail" along Alpine now is not very safe for runners or recreational bikers (this mainly means kids since serious cyclists will stay on the road). Let's use the money to make improvements for the general community rather than let the few residents of Weekend Acres thwart progress to protect their own interests.

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Posted by The Book Doctor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 20, 2011 at 1:44 pm

San Mateo County supervisors should get off their rear ends and build a trail with Stanford's $10.2 million. We can't have it both ways. Either we make Stanford draw up a plan within the limits of its generous offer and quit complaining, or we draw up our own plan and quit complaining. I vote for drawing up a design by Oct 1, offering it ONCE for comment within 2 weeks, and starting to build by Nov 1. I'd like to see the trail finished before I die. I've already waited 10 years for the supes to make a sensible decision. I will be watching this one.

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Posted by huh
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm

So we're actually talking about rejecting $10.2 million dollars to improve a path that already exists? I'm confused as to why anyone would oppose it. The path is going to get used regardless, let's make it safer.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm

The Weekend Acres residents don't want to make the path safer because it might encourage more people to use it. With logic like that, how can we go wrong? It makes more sense to turn down the money and then complain. Or, more likely, complain regardless of what happens.

Like this comment
Posted by Nate McKitterick
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Sep 22, 2011 at 9:49 am

Most bike commuters will continue to ride on the road, for the reasons mentioned by Cyclist, above (this is not always true for multiuse trails vs a bike lane, but in this location it is likely true). The bike commute issue in that location is the abysmal nonexistent condition of the bike lane as you approach Santa Cruz, especially now that it is contrasted with the excellent repaving job before that. Here's hoping that regardless what happens, that gets improved.

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Posted by holy smoke screen
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm

First of all, if the EXTENSION is requested Stanford will have to recalculate the offer and it will go up somewhat.
Second, Stanford says they are willing to pay for the planning AND the environmental impact report, done by whoever the County wants, and the County can STILL say NO to following though. At that point, the County would know for certain how much it would cost for fixing what HAS TO BE FIXED. Right now they have no clue, despite being responsible for the path, road, and creek, they have done no work to make any sort of financial plan.
Third, and you can all CHECK with Stanford. If the work is given to Stanford to do for a set price. Stanford will pay for any cost over runs. Having watched Stanford put in the new Stanford Stadium. They can move mountains, if that's what we want. (Emphasis on WE!)
Fourth, if the county ends up deciding to do this work without Stanford's help, will they have to raise taxes or make cuts?? One would require a 66% vote (no?) the other is going to make someone somewhere unhappy.
Fifth..... in this economy we're turning down a 10 million dollar infusion of money? (Then again, it will be presumably be spent on the campus somewhere if we say no)

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Posted by concerned resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Rewind one moment. Strip the issue of Stanford’s philanthropic integrity, of existing traffic problems on Alpine Road, existing creek erosion and existing drainage problems at SWA and now, of whether or not bicyclists are safer on roads or pathways. Look merely at the existing trail on the books of SMC. Fact: It is in dire need of repair and, as exists, is clearly unsafe at various points not only due to disrepair but its narrowing width and proximity to traffic, particularly on curves heavily trafficked with absolutely no barrier to said traffic. Fact: There is 10+ million dollars on the table to fix existing hazards on the path. Fact: Given the dialog on fixing the path, issues such as traffic problems on Alpine, existing creek erosion and existing drainage problems at SWA have the ability to be addressed and mitigated. Don’t use those existing problems to say no to the trail. Realize we have an opportunity here that will not repeat itself to make substantial improvements to hazards we face here as residents along the Lower Alpine Trail corridor. All the issues that have surfaced are good ones, but they should stop obscuring the prime concern – do we take the money to do something with rational minds and a concerted community effort to fix what needs fixing to the degree possible? Why not join together and make this happen while we have the opportunity? None of these problems can be fixed for free. Turning down the money to mitigate whatever safety issues exist is a travesty of muddled good intentions.

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