Sad legal result on Stanford Trails litigation, but the fight continues in San Mateo County

The California Supreme Court has ruled against CGF over a technical issue regarding the right time to file our lawsuit about Stanford’s proposal to expand the Alpine Road sidewalk on top of San Francisquito Creek.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a chance to even discuss in court the merits of our argument.  Fortunately, though, San Mateo County has listened both to us and to Stanford and concluded in February 2008 that the proposal was environmentally harmful and dangerous.  Stanford will doubtless try to wave construction money at them to change their minds, but we’ll be there still to fight that extremely bad idea.  CGF’s press release is below.


Committee for Green Foothills


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 11, 2010                               

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

Supreme Court Decision on Stanford Trail Issue  Turns Attention to San MateoCounty‘s Opposition to Sidewalk Expansion

Decision overturns appellate court rulingon technical filing issue that ends litigation; San mateoCounty‘s opposition not affected by ruling

PALO ALTO, CA  —  The California Supreme Court announced today that contrary to an appellate court ruling, Committee for Green Foothills (CGF) relied on the wrong deadline for filing litigation over 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 ends the lawsuit without considering the merits of CGF’s argument that excluding a trail from Santa ClaraCounty had unexamined environmental impacts.  San MateoCounty has already rejected the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion proposed by Stanford to substitute for a trail on Stanford lands in Santa ClaraCounty.  The end of litigation means that San MateoCounty‘s previous decision and any potential change of mind will ultimately decide the trail issue.  If San MateoCounty continues to reject the sidewalk expansion, Stanford must provide an equivalent amount of money to Santa Clara County Parks Department to mitigate for impacts caused the massive new development permitted on campus since 2000.

“We haven’t had time to review the Court opinion,” said Brian Schmidt, Committee for Green Foothills’ Legislative Advocate, “we just know the outcome.  We’ve seen the arguments on filing deadlines and we are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision, but it’s important to remember that regarding the trail controversy, the decision is only about a technicality.  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 Schmidt.  “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.  We are very grateful that San MateoCounty has stood up to Stanford, and we hope that continues.”

The Court ruling concerned whether a 30-day or a 180-day deadline applied to the lawsuit filed against Stanford and Santa ClaraCounty.  Committee for Green Foothills argued 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 argued 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.  With the Supreme Court overturning the appellate ruling, the case will be dismissed without considering the environmental issues.

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 will 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.

The question now arises 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.  With the Supreme Court ruling ending the litigation, the decision on the PortolaValley proposal could proceed depending on PortolaValley‘s decision whether to accept Stanford’s proposal.

“Regardless of what happened today, 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.  That is what should happen, now, and given San MateoCounty‘s control over the issue, we agree with previous statements that it is unconscionable for Stanford to continue delaying and refusing to provide for its side of a deal it received for massive development rights.”


“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

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