Trails saga, like soap opera, seems endless

The Mercury News
February 13, 2008

Trails saga, like soap opera, seems endless

by Patty Fisher

It’s my favorite soap opera, and it’s back after a yearlong hiatus.

I call it “Stanford Trails to Nowhere.”

It’s the eight-year-long saga of the efforts by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to get Stanford University to build a couple of hiking trails along the edges of its campus, trails that would hook up with others and make it possible for folks to walk from Palo Alto to the ocean.

Back in 2000 when the agreement was made, I actually thought that one day I might be able to make that hike. But considering how slowly things are moving, I now have a feeling that by the time these trails are finished — if they ever are — I’ll be in no shape to make the trip.

For those who have been following this soap opera over the years, here’s the latest news: On Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors rejected Stanford’s offer to build one of the trails through the county, along Alpine Road, at a cost of $8.4 million.

As the world turns

So how did San Mateo County get involved? Good question. Stanford promised the trails when Santa Clara County gave it permission to expand its campus by 2 million square feet. Stanford refused to build the trail through its own land and proposed a route on the San Mateo side. Residents near Alpine Road insist they don’t want the trail, which they say is just a glorified sidewalk. In fact, no one besides the Stanford folks seems to want it.

After a year of negotiations, San Mateo County supervisors said no thanks.

They suggested that Stanford hand the $8.4 million over to Santa Clara County, which negotiated the deal in the first place, to be spent on some other recreational opportunities for residents.

One life to live

So, now the trail saga shifts back to Santa Clara County, where officials hope to persuade Stanford to fork over the money. But don’t expect anything to happen soon. According to the 2000 development agreement, Stanford has until 2011 to build the trail or turn over the money. Larry Horton, the university’s point man on this issue, said Tuesday the offer to San Mateo County will remain on the table until then. He’s still hoping folks there will change their minds.

“It’s very difficult to get a decision when passions are high,” he said. “But we’ll continue to work with them.”

San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon said he finds that attitude “unconscionable.”

“If Stanford were truly a good neighbor, they would release the money now and get the whole thing over with,” he said. “They owe it to the region to give the money to Santa Clara County now.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss agrees. Kniss has been a regular on this show from the beginning. She said the trails were supposed to compensate the folks in the area for impact on their community of an additional 2 million square feet of campus buildings. If Stanford can’t find a trail route that works, then the money should be put to use some other way.

I asked her how she would spend $8.4 million on recreation, but she wasn’t ready to offer specific suggestions. Others have said it should be used to improve other trails — maybe even trails in San Mateo County.

“I hope we’ll begin conversations as quickly as possible to determine the best use of that money to mitigate the needs,” she said.

Kniss is clearly tiring of the Stanford trails saga.

“Surely, this must be the longest running soap opera ever.”

No, actually, that would be “Guiding Light.” But I know what she means.

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