Trails issue may be nearing resolution

For more than a decade, Stanford has been working to fulfill its obligations to build two public hiking trails.  After many public meetings and a lawsuit over where the trails should be located, a resolution may be near, as San Mateo County supervisors reconsider Stanford’s $10.2 million offer to upgrade the Lower Alpine Trail while Portola Valley finishes its Stanford-supported trail.

For more than a decade, Stanford has been working to fulfill its obligations under the 2000 General Use Permit negotiated with Santa Clara County to build two public hiking trails as outlined in a Countywide Trails Master Plan.

After many public meetings and a lawsuit over where the trails should be located, a resolution may be near, as the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors reconsiders Stanford’s $10.2 million offer to upgrade its portion of the Lower Alpine Trail.

Larry Horton, senior associate vice president for government and community relations, talks about what is at stake.

L.A. Cicero Howard Young and Larry Horton

Portola Valley Public Works Director Howard Young and Larry Horton, Stanford senior associate vice president for government and community relations, cross a bridge on a new portion of the trail set back from Alpine Road.

The deadline for San Mateo County to accept Stanford’s offer of $10.2 million to restore the Lower Alpine Trail ends Dec. 31. What is going to happen between now and then?

San Mateo County staff will begin a public outreach and education program in mid-September to determine community opinion on the current condition of the Lower Alpine Trail and on what to do, ranging from reconstructing the trail to doing nothing. 

County staff will report its findings to the Board of Supervisors. If the board wishes to fix the trail, it can accept the funds offered by Stanford. San Mateo County and Stanford can also agree to extend the deadline for agreement and completion of trail repairs for two more years, until Dec. 31, 2013.

If, however, San Mateo County has not accepted Stanford's offer before Dec. 31, 2011, or that deadline has not been extended, Stanford's offer to San Mateo County will formally expire and the funds will be paid to Santa Clara County for purposes specified in an agreement between Stanford and Santa Clara County.


The poor condition of the trail along some sections of Alpine Road seems to make riding a bike or hiking on it unsafe. What would the $10.2 million do to make the area safer, should San Mateo County accept Stanford’s offer?

Bicycle safety along the Lower Alpine Trail is a matter of serious concern. A reconstructed Lower Alpine Trail in unincorporated San Mateo County would connect at one end to the new trail being built by Portola Valley and at the other end to the existing trail in Menlo Park.  That would create a safe, continuous, off-road bicycle option along Alpine Road for recreational and commuter use from Arastradero Road in Portola Valley all the way to Stanford, including a safe under-the-road crossing of Junipero Serra Boulevard.

The reconstruction of the Lower Alpine Trail can also include new bike lanes that will improve bicycle safety for bicyclists who choose to ride on Alpine Road instead of on the trail. Increasing safety is definitely a huge plus in improving the Lower Alpine Trail.


What role has Stanford played in the new mile-long trail construction in Portola Valley?

Stanford offered up to $2.8 million to Portola Valley for improvements in its portion of the Lower Alpine Trail.  Portola Valley staff and a citizens committee worked closely with Stanford and outside engineers to redesign the trail the way Portola Valley wanted it. The Portola Valley Town Council accepted Stanford’s offer of funding, and the redesigned trail is under construction now. It should be completed in a matter of weeks. Portola Valley is very pleased with its new trail, and the working relationship between Stanford and Portola Valley has been cordial, cooperative and productive. The engineering challenges in the San Mateo portion are greater than those in Portola Valley, but both sections are part of the same trail system.


What happens if San Mateo County turns down the $10.2 million?

If San Mateo County chooses not to accept Stanford's $10.2 million to reconstruct the trail, then the existing problems with the trail, including dangerous erosion from the creek and serious safety concerns, will remain and, if uncorrected, will worsen. The responsibility for future action will belong to San Mateo County, and the costs will be paid by San Mateo County taxpayers unless another source of funds can be found.


If the Lower Alpine Trail is, indeed, restored, what will that mean for people who hike or bike in this area, especially with the completion of the new trail in Portola Valley and the new Matadero Trail?

It would mean that recreational bicyclists, joggers and walkers will be able to enjoy an uninterrupted, high-quality trail from Menlo Park on the edge of the golf course through unincorporated San Mateo County along Alpine Road up past Ladera and on through Portola Valley to Arastradero Road. Added to the Dish access permitted by Stanford, the new Matadero Creek Trail near Page Mill Road, and a new pathway Los Altos Hills may construct with Stanford funds, the new trail will be a welcome addition for safe bicycling, running and walking.


The trails issue has been going on for more than a decade. What led to the prolonged delay in upgrading the Lower Alpine Trail?

For nearly half a decade, there was a dispute over the location of two trails specified by Santa Clara County as a condition of Stanford's General Use Permit. That issue was resolved in 2005 by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which clarified just where the two trails would run.  Shortly after that was decided, the Committee for Green Foothills sued Stanford and Santa Clara County, challenging the County’s decision. After several years, the litigation was finally resolved by the California Supreme Court, which threw out the lawsuit. While litigation was under way, San Mateo County declined Stanford's offer, but because a Stanford-Santa Clara County Agreement required that the offer must remain open until it expires, the offer remains open until Dec. 31, 2011. 

San Mateo County has decided to conduct outreach on the offer of the $10.2 million, and some residents of the area are supporting a fresh look and want improvements in the trail. The decision now belongs to San Mateo County.