Resolving some of the Stanford trail mysteries

Over the last week or two, we may have figured out some of the questions surrounding the extremely disappointing action by Santa Clara County in choosing an expanded the sidewalk along Alpine Road instead of a real trail in the Stanford foothills. So here are some questions:

Why did Stanford fail to support Supervisor Liz Kniss’ $11.4 million proposal to mitigate the recreational impacts from Stanford expansion elsewhere, instead of having an expanded sidewalk that is of little use? There are four possibilities.

Number one: Stanford truly believed that expanding the Alpine Road sidewalk is the best option for the community, and was willing to undergo the tremendous criticism it has received solely because it is looking out for the greater good. Okay, moving along then.…

Number two: even if fighting the Supervisor Kniss proposal provided no advantage to Stanford, they just want to win. While Stanford is intensely competitive, I think it is likely that they actually had some kind of ulterior motive and were not just fighting this proposal to show their power.

Number three: Stanford is trying to save money. Until recently, this was my favorite possibility for why Stanford acted this way – aiming to come to an agreement for doing minimal changes along the Alpine Road, and thereby have to spend much less than the $11.4 million they would have to give under the Supervisor Kniss proposal. While I still think this may play a role, Stanford has not shown much interest in saving money on any other land-use issue. Instead, they seem to be much more fixated in maximizing future development potential. So while this option is a possibility, the next option is what I think is most likely actual reason Stanford had.

Number four: Stanford wanted to kill the C1 Trail and never have it come back. I’d guess this is probably the real reason and the reason why they view the expanded sidewalk as better than paying an equivalent amount to recreational opportunities in Santa Clara County. If the expanded sidewalk is identified by Santa Clara County as the C1 trail, then Stanford expects it will never again have to fight with community groups over whether the C1 trail should run along the Stanford foothills, as it is shown to run in the 1995 Trails Master Plan Map. By contrast, if Stanford just paid the same amount of money to mitigating its recreational impacts, then the next time a new General Use Permit was under discussion, the C1 Trail alignment as potential mitigation for future Stanford impacts would come back onto the negotiating table.

So setting aside Stanford’s stated reasons, trying to kill a real trail and to kill it so it never comes back seems to be the most likely reason for the way Stanford acted.

Another question: why did Stanford say that the trail along the southern part of the foothills, the S1-C, would cost so much money? They said it would cost over $7 million even though the amount of work needed to be done to construct the trail would be far less than the amount needed for the extensive work required to build the Alpine Road sidewalk along a creek bed, let alone moving Alpine Road as planned for the C1 Trail. I would hesitate before accusing Stanford of an outright lie, but exaggerating and distorting the costs are possible. Why do it?

The answer might lie in Stanford’s strategy of offering the S1-C alignment originally, and then taking it off the negotiating table at the right time. A letter from Stanford dated August 30, 2005, argues that the S1-C alignment is far more expensive then the S1-A alignment. In other words, Stanford implies the S1-C alignment is so incredibly generous that it is appropriate for Stanford to take that particular alignment off the table unless Santa Clara County does everything Stanford orders it to do on the C1 Trail. While this does not make sense in terms of matching Stanford’s original, unconditioned offer of the S1-C Trail alignment, it appears to have been a successful negotiating tool for pushing the County around.

One question that is not yet answered: what would happen if Stanford reaches an agreement with San Mateo County and Portola Valley to do some type of construction on the Alpine Road Trail but does not end up spending the full amount of money that Stanford committed? It may still be possible that any remaining funds will get reverted back to Santa Clara County, but we are still trying to resolve the issue.

And a final question: what about maintenance? Stanford promised in the General Use Permit to maintain the C1 Trail, so where’s the funding for that? Will the County let Stanford ignore that provision as well?


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