Press Release: Supreme Court To Issue Opinion Tomorrow in Litigation Over Stanford Sidewalk Expansion

(CGF sent out this press release today.  -Brian)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2010                               

PRESS CONTACTS: Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate, 650.968.7243w, 415.994.7403c, [email protected]

Supreme Court To Issue Opinion Tomorrow in Litigation Over Stanford Sidewalk Expansion

California Supreme Court to announce whether it will dismiss lawsuit on technical issue or allow trial to proceed

PALO ALTO, CA    The California Supreme Court announced today that it will issue its opinion tomorrow over a technical issue involving deadlines for a lawsuit regarding a controversial Stanford University proposal to expand an existing sidewalk in San Mateo County to fulfill Stanford’s promise of a trail on its lands.  The decision for this stage of the litigation will end the lawsuit if the Supreme Court overrules the appellate court finding that the Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) correctly relied on a longer deadline for filing its complaint.  If the court rules in favor of environmentalists, the case will proceed to trial; but regardless, San MateoCounty has rejected Stanford’s proposal as environmentally damaging and dangerous.

Either a 30-day or a 180-day deadline applied to the lawsuit filed against Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty.  Committee for Green Foothills argues the 180-day deadline applies because the decision to exclude the trail from Santa ClaraCounty was done without environmental review, which allows 180 days for a challenge.  Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty argue that certain parts of the wording of the December 2005 decision and in one of the documents filed at the CountyClerk‘s office show they relied upon previous environmental reviews, and a 30-day deadline was required.  CGF says that 30 days is wrong.  The trial court ruled against CGF, but the appellate court ruled in favor of the 180 day deadline.

“Cut your way through the technicalities, and the problem is that Stanford is trying to get out of fulfilling a promise it made in return for being allowed massive new development,” said Brian Schmidt, Legislative Advocate for Committee for Green Foothills.  “It promised two trails on its own land to make up for the cumulative impact that its new development would have on the broader community.  Expanding an existing sidewalk on a dangerously-busy street doesn’t provide a recreational experience, and Stanford’s proposal to build alongside and into the San Francisquito Creek would have significant environmental impacts, none of them reviewed in previous environmental documents.”

Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty argue that San MateoCounty will have to review the environmental effects of Stanford’s proposal prior to making a decision.  However, the decision that the trail could not go on Stanford land in Santa ClaraCounty, as the trail was shown to go in Santa ClaraCounty‘s own trail map, was made by Santa ClaraCounty in December 2005 and environmental review should have been done at that time.

San Mateo County residents, County officials, and the CountyBoard of Supervisors had sharply negative reactions to Stanford’s proposal when brought to them after the December 2005 decision, and San MateoCounty has already rejected Stanford’s proposal.  San MateoCounty‘s position will stop the sidewalk regardless of court litigation.  Stanford has until 2011 to change San Mateo‘s position, with a potential two-year extension into 2013 if Santa ClaraCounty agrees to further delay.  If the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion does not happen, the money for the expansion reverts to the Santa Clara County Parks Department to spend on recreational improvements in the vicinity of Stanford, something that Supervisor Liz Kniss had advocated since 2005.

Another effect of the Supreme Court litigation might be on Stanford’s decision in 2006 to stop constructing the other one of the two trails it had promised, the S1 Trail running near to

Page Mill Road

.  Committee for Green Foothills had not sued over the S1 Trail decision and said it did not oppose that trail’s construction or alignment, but after CGF filed its lawsuit, Stanford halted construction on the S1 Trail and blamed CGF’s lawsuit.  CGF responded that its suit only concerned the substitution of the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion for the other proposed trail on the north side of the Stanford Foothills.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of CGF, then the dispute over the S1 Trail continues.  If the Supreme Court says the litigation was filed too late, a question will arise as to whether and when Stanford will construct the S1 Trail that it had promised.

The third aspect of the trails controversy concerns the Alpine Road sidewalk in the jurisdiction of PortolaValley.  The environmental damages and large expense associated with expanding the sidewalk elsewhere generally do not apply to the section in PortolaValley, but the decision to expand that portion of the sidewalk was an inseparable part of the decision to exclude the trail alignment from Santa ClaraCounty that Committee for Green Foothills had litigated.  If the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court decision, then it remains unclear whether the PortolaValley section can proceed.  If the Supreme Court rules against CGF, then PortolaValley work could proceed.

“Regardless of what happens tomorrow, it is still possible to do something besides throwing away money on a destructive and useless expanded sidewalk,” said Schmidt.  San MateoCounty called for a grant program instead of harming San Francisquito Creek and instead of taking out part of a hill as Stanford proposed.”

Background

“Stanford tried to get out of its obligation to build a trail crossing its land in return for substantial development rights,” said Brian Schmidt.  Santa ClaraCounty capitulated to Stanford’s intense lobbying, tossed the trail out of Santa ClaraCounty and proposed instead to expand the existing sidewalk/trail along busy Alpine Road in San MateoCounty. This decision to move the trail across the creek and out of Santa ClaraCounty was done without the required environmental review.”

Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty did not seek approval of San MateoCounty before deciding to replace its trail with the sidewalk expansion. Residents strongly oppose the proposed 16-foot wide sidewalk because of safety concerns where the expanded sidewalk would cross many private driveways in the Stanford Weekend Acres area, environmental impacts to sensitive creek and riparian areas, the proposal’s need to armor creek banks to support the expanded sidewalk, and to cut into a steep hillside to move Alpine Road.   Inquiries about replacing the sidewalk with other trail options outside of Stanford lands have been rebuffed.

The lower court ruled in October that Committee for Green Foothills had only 30 days to file suit over the decision that Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty made in December 2005.  The Committee filed suit in June 2006, under the belief that a 180-day deadline should have applied.  To date, the court has not reviewed the merits of the case.

Stanford required to provide two trails

The Santa ClaraCounty 1995 Trails Master Plan identified two trails crossing on the northern and southern sides of Stanford lands, identified as the “C1” and the “S1” trails.  As a condition of Stanford University’s 2000 General Use Permit that allowed the University to build an additional 5 million square feet of housing and academic facilities, Stanford was required to come back to the County with a plan to move forward with ‘building, dedicating and maintaining’ these two trails on University lands by the end of 2001.  “During this 5 year period, Committee for Green Foothills and other community members proposed several alternative alignments and several compromise alignments, all of which were rejected outright by Stanford,” said Schmidt. 

In 2003, the County decided to split the planning of the two trails and moved forward with planning for the less-controversial “S1 Trail” first, and initiated an extensive review process to determine the S1 Trail alignment.

Stanford offered an alternative alignment for the S1 Trail that moved it away from

Page Mill Road

, but when the County indicated in the fall of 2005 that it would accept that offer, Stanford added another condition.  It offered to make the “S1 Trail” available immediately, but only if the County immediately decided to exclude the second trail, the “C1 Trail” from crossing Stanford lands in Santa ClaraCounty.  Stanford proposed that instead of going forward with the C1 Trail within its lands, it would offer to pay San MateoCounty and the Town of Portola Valley to expand an existing sidewalk along Alpine Road.  The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to accept this proposal in December, 2005.  The County’s approval did not contain any environmental review of the C1 alignment, even though the environmental review for the S1 Trail had been extensive.

“Stanford’s offer for the S1 Trail was used to get the County to throw out better alignments proposed by the environmental community.  Later, Stanford said its S1 Trail offer was unavailable unless the County immediately excluded the C1 Trail, or unless another long delay ensued to hold up the S1 Trail until the C1 Trail had also been reviewed,” said Brian Schmidt, CGF’s Legislative Advocate.  “Even if San Mateo County eventually does review the proposal, that doesn’t release Santa Clara County from conducting its own review of its own decisions.”

Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty also changed plans without environmental review by agreeing to take money instead of a trail if San MateoCounty or PortolaValley rejected plans for an expanded sidewalk.  This decision to eliminate a potential Santa ClaraCounty trail in return for money is another approval made by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors without environmental review.  This agreement also leaves unclear what happens if Stanford money is spent by San Mateo County or Portola Valley to prepare environmental reviews but then did not go forward with the sidewalk expansion , then it is quite possible that no trail would get build nor would Stanford need to provide any money to build trails elsewhere .

“There’s a striking contrast between the S1 Trail decision with a full scale Environmental Impact Report, and the more-destructive decision on the Alpine Road sidewalk, which was made with no review at all,” said Schmidt.  “That was our basis of argument that the 180-day period in which to file suit should have applied.”


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About the Committee for Green Foothills

Committee for Green Foothills is a regional grassroots organization working to establish and maintain land-use policies that protect the environment throughout San Mateo and Santa ClaraCounties.  Committee for Green Foothills, established in 1962, is a Bay Area leader in the continuing effort to protect open space and the natural environment of our Peninsula.   For more information about the Committee for Green Foothills or about our work on this issue, visit www.GreenFoothills.org.

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