Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 17, 2000
Hennessy defends Dish restrictions, details spending plans


President John Hennessy last week defended the new rules the university has put in place for the Dish and said the university has budgeted as much as $5 million on conservation measures for the area.

The new rules have raised the ire of many in the community, especially those who liked to bring their dogs with them for hikes in the foothills.

Hennessy's explanation of the Dish area restrictions came in response to a question and comments from Robert Polhemus, English, at last Thursday's Faculty Senate meeting.

"That project and its carrying out disturbed me greatly as an aging jogger. And, to me, who sees department searches being put on hold, it looks like waste," Polhemus said.

"How much is the university spending in a time of potential scarcity for our main academic mission on this project with its burgeoning security forces and workers, its paving and repaving of existing roads, its busy work and developmental activity, its posh wooden fences that look like something out of Sunset magazine marketed for millionaires, and its hugely increased vehicular traffic that defeats the purpose of conservation?"

Hennessy noted that the Dish area has been open to the general public only since the late 1980s, and that at that time three regulations were set: that people remain on marked trails, that dogs be kept on leashes, and that the area close at sunset.

"Needless to say, all three of those rules were broken on a regular basis," Hennessy said.

The Dish area soon became quite popular. In a survey undertaken in August, "there were, over nine days, 9,000 visitors to the Dish area," Hennessy said. "That is, by the way, double the number of people who visited [Palo Alto's] Foothills Park in the entire month of August. So we have roughly six times the number of visitors that Foothills Park has. You can not operate an open space area without paying some attention to keeping the area well run and well managed."

If only because of liability issues, the area requires stepped-up patrolling, he said.

As a result of public use of the area, "by 1998, we had over two times the trail density in terms of miles per acre established through ad hoc trails in the dish," Hennessy continued. "The area was quite truly a mess, an environmental disaster. Many of those trails were at slope levels which no public park would have accommodated or allowed."

Chronic violations of the leash law have driven out other wildlife that once roamed the area, he added. "I am happy to report that one of our colleagues who hikes regularly every week at the Dish saw for the first time in 15 years a fox in the Dish area. As you know, dogs and foxes are not compatible animals. In just one month, we've seen some restoration of the local fauna to the area," he said.

In addition to these issues, Hennessy said the possible designation of the California tiger salamander as an endangered species makes it likely Stanford will need to create a new habitat for it, an effort that is being overseen by the Center for Conservation Biology.

Hennessy said the overall budget for the Dish is currently between $4 million and $5 million, including $225,000 in startup costs, $600,000 in one-year operating costs and $3 million in capital costs as well as gate improvements and repaving.

The paving was done in part to prevent additional erosion, particularly in steep areas. Also, $550,000 has been budgeted annually for conservation measures including salaries for faculty and staff and a postdoctoral scholar overseeing conservation activities, he said.

Hennessy said there are no plans for increased vehicle use in the area, but that there had been a "temporary surge" in such use that will fade away as the improvements are completed.