Widgets Magazine

Stanford trail project moves forward

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, The Daily did not properly identify Larry Horton. He is the senior associate vice president for public affairs at Stanford. The story also said the trails project would not require the use of Stanford land; in fact, some Stanford land is used for the project, according to Horton.

Stanford is once again moving to complete a trail system it agreed to build as part of its land use agreement with Santa Clara County, beginning with a one-mile stretch along Alpine Road in Portola Valley. But a major roadblock to the project’s completion remains: the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors has declined Stanford’s offer to build the planned trail within its jurisdiction.

“As far as the board is concerned, the issue is off the table,” said Richard Gordon, the president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

For the University, this is the final drama in a decade-long process that was harried by a contract dispute, which was resolved in 2006, and a lawsuit filed by the Committee for Green Foothills to prevent construction along San Francisquito Creek, which the California Supreme Court invalidated in February.

The section of the trail that would be in San Mateo County runs from the border of Menlo Park to Piers Lane on Alpine Road.

From the board’s perspective, Gordon said, “that stretch would be a sidewalk, not a trail.”

In addition, Gordon said, residents have complained that an expanded trail might encroach on their land.

The Board of Supervisors proposed an alternate trail from Piers Lane to the Portola Valley city limits, but Larry Horton, Stanford’s senior associate vice president for public affairs, said Stanford declined on the grounds that the trail would not be continuous, and would therefore not fulfill Santa Clara County requirements.

Horton said the University’s offer to build the trail would stay open through 2011, per the agreement, which allows Stanford and Santa Clara County to extend the offer through 2013.

The San Mateo Board of Supervisors, however, doubts the dispute can be resolved before the contract expires.

“We’ve made a fairly clear decision: we think this is done and don’t see any reason to change that,” Gordon said.

If not now, Horton believes eventually the offer will become too good to refuse.

The Board of Supervisors “will come back at some point, but I don’t think right away,” he said. “In my own view, I think it will be much healthier for people to see the quality of the trail in Portola Valley, see the quality of the trail in Menlo Park.” Then, he believes community demand to connect the finished trails will cause the San Mateo Board to revisit the agreement.

Otherwise, the $8.4 million offered to San Mateo County for the trails go to Santa Clara County to spend on other measures designed to offset negative conditions for campus residents that it says result from Stanford’s expansion.

Meanwhile, Portola Valley is preparing to rebuild parts of the one-mile section of Alpine Road between Arastradero Road and La Cuesta Drive to provide a larger trail, add more native plants and give a “more rural experience,” according to Howard Young, the Portola Valley director of public works. The University will fund up to $2.9 million of the cost for attorneys, staff, permits and, later, construction.

Young estimated about $248,000 has been spent to date on design and planning.

For the University, working with Portola Valley has been relatively easy. With regard to the San Mateo Board’s objections, “their issues weren’t our issues,” said Ann Wengert, a Portola Valley town council member.

After the conclusion of the lawsuit filed by the Committee for Green Foothills, there has been no major dispute about environmental impact on and mitigation for San Francisquito Creek.

“Both sides have a great sensitivity to the creek,” Wengert said. “There are some very specific protocols we follow.”

General Use Permit

Stanford owns 8,180 acres of land in six jurisdictions. Roughly half is in Santa Clara County and a third is in San Mateo County. The rest is split between Palo Alto, Woodside, Portola Valley and Menlo Park.

When something like a trail or a road goes through multiple jurisdictions, each jurisdiction must approve the project, which caused the University’s quagmire.

In 1962, Santa Clara County created the General Use Permit (GUP), which restricts Stanford’s expansion to a certain number of square feet. The current GUP, which was renewed in 2000, has 104 conditions — among them, Horton said, that Stanford “does the trails.”

The GUP condition and the Santa Clara County master plan call for two trails on either side of Stanford land, one along Page Mill Road and the other along Alpine Road.

According to Horton, Stanford agreed to build the trails because they “thought it would be a nice recreational thing to do” and wouldn’t require the project to use Stanford land.

“We would never have agreed to do a trail down the middle of our land,” Horton said. “Then we would have challenged the law, but we thought it would be easy. That turns out to be the most serious mistake we ever made.”

When Santa Clara County elected new supervisors, “they decided to reopen the question of where the trails should be,” leading to the contract dispute, Horton said. “We know very well that our opponents don’t like this trail at all, but we feel very good about it and think it’s going to be a great trail when it’s finished.”

  • Brian Schmidt

    I work for Committee for Green Foothills and would like to clarify three points:

    1. our lawsuit was rejected by the court over a technical issue (deadline for filing), and not over the merits which were never addressed.

    2. the Portola Valley segment of the sidewalk expansion doesn’t raise the environmental issues raised by the other segment, especially from 280 to Junipero Serra, so it is unsurprising that they apparently have not encountered serious problems in Portola Valley. This in no way justifies the destructive proposal that Stanford submitted for the major portion of the sidewalk.

    3. the location of the trail has been an open and controversial issue since the Stanford permit was approved in 2000. Stanford has not shown where it stated before permit approval that it only wanted the Alpine Road sidewalk as the trail substitute. The map included with the approval documents actually showed the trail on Stanford Foothill lands, in Santa Clara County.