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Stanford Report, November 14, 2001

University, county officials to discuss trail alignments


When Stanford finalized the 10-year General Use Permit (GUP) with Santa Clara County last year, one stipulation was that the university permanently dedicate two trails on its land in coordination with the Countywide Trails Master Plan.

In the GUP, the county proposed two trail alignments, which are designated Trail C-1 and Trail S-1. These run along the east and west side of campus, connecting to other existing or planned trails in the region.

Key: Solid black lines indicate a trail route outlined in the Countywide Trails Master Plan. The black dashes indicate the trails suggested by Stanford. The red lines indicate trails suggested by a coalition of opposition groups. Map illustration: Anna Cobb

Now, with a one-year deadline looming, Stanford is required to submit detailed routes for these two trails. University officials have submitted their ideas for where they believe the two trails should run. They will meet on campus Thursday night with officials from Santa Clara County to discuss the plans during a public informational meeting. The Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department will sponsor the meeting, which takes place in the Tresidder Oak Lounge from 7 to 9 p.m.

Trail C-1 follows Alpine Road along the west side of campus. Trail S-1 was originally planned to run along Matadero Creek. But citing environmental concerns, the university also has offered to implement a different route to the east of the creek, in open space along Page Mill Road.

In choosing the paths, the university must balance three things, Provost John Etchemendy explained. Those considerations are the trail's recreational desirability, the environmental desirability and the desirability from Stanford's perspective as the owner and steward of the land.

"We really want to find trails that best satisfy these three goals," he said.

The trail dedications aren't without controversy. A coalition of six organizations has voiced opposition to the university's suggested trails. The groups -- Acterra, Committee on Green Foothills, Mid-Peninsula Action for Tomorrow, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Sierra Club and the Stanford Open Space Alliance -- have instead proposed their own trails, which would run deep into the Dish area.

However, Government and Community Relations Director Larry Horton said the coalition's suggested trails don't follow the Countywide Trails Master Plan and don't conform to the original GUP agreement.

"We would have objected to any condition to the General Use Permit that required dedication of public trails that cut deeply into the interior of Stanford lands," Horton said.

Stanford already has trails across the Dish area. However, if the university were to dedicate those trails to the county, the land would be permanently set aside for that use.

Etchemendy said he believes that some of the groups have legitimate recreational concerns, but others are politically motivated, hoping to limit Stanford's future use of its lands. Etchemendy said he thinks Stanford has taken a balanced approach given the complexity of the issues involved.

"The trail routes we are proposing are environmentally superior to those in the county plan," he said. "Our S-1 route also has stunningly beautiful views up and down the bay.

"I don't deny that there are many really wonderful trails that might be carved out of Stanford land," Etchemendy added. "But that does not mean Stanford has an obligation to permanently dedicate those trails.

The university also may face opposition from the Menlo Park City Council. The council was to vote on a resolution Tuesday night that criticizes the university for proposing a trail that partially runs outside Santa Clara County.

However, Stanford planners were only following the stipulations set by the Countywide Trails Master Plan, explained Horton in a letter to the council.

According to the plan, Trail C-1 has already been completed, and it runs on the San Mateo side of the county divide. Stanford has offered to pay for improving the existing trail, rather than build a separate trail on the other side of the county line.

"Stanford would make it a much nicer trail," Etchemendy said, pointing out that the existing trail runs along the west side of the San Francisquito Creek.

"If we were to build a trail on the east side of the creek, then what we've done is we've boxed in the creek," he explained. "We've chopped up the area and we lose the biological connectedness. That's something you just don't want to do if you're concerned about conservation."

Although the GUP agreement was with Santa Clara County, the trail was never intended to be constrained to Santa Clara, Horton added.

"For several months, Stanford has been collaborating with the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department, and there has been a commonly shared assumption that the trail would be accomplished where the existing trail is already dedicated," he said.

The Menlo Park resolution also criticized the university's Trail S-1 proposal, stating that it doesn't provide a direct connection to the Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto.

However, Horton points out, the preserve isn't on Stanford land. It was also not a requirement of the GUP agreement that the university provide a route across its land to connect to the preserve, he said.

Stanford will accept the Trail S-1 route put forth in the Santa Clara County Community Plan, but the university has also offered to instead implement a route that is more environmentally sound and that has a safer crossing of Interstate 280. Either one is acceptable, Horton said, and both routes connect to other parts of the planned County trail system. The more environmentally sensitive route, however, provides a less direct route to the Arastradero Preserve.

The university has until Dec. 12 -- the one year anniversary of the GUP agreement -- to come to an agreement with the county on the alignment of the two trails.