In June 1973 the last seven miles of Interstate 280 opened with great fanfare. Stretching from Raymundo Drive in Woodside to the Eugene Doran Memorial Bridge that crosses the canyon of San Mateo Creek, this final link completed some 50 miles of highway that was designed to blend with nature (as much as a six-lane freeway cutting through foothills possibly could). A Caltrans commemorative brochure from 1973 dubbed it “the world’s most beautiful freeway,” and waxed poetic about the scenery, the vistas, the waters, the woods, and the hills.
Today’s unspoiled vistas, enjoyed by millions of residents and visitors, are due to the hard work of Committee for Green Foothills and many others over the past 50 years.
Beginning with the Palo Alto Foothills, we turned back early schemes to develop all the way to Skyline Boulevard, cities and landowners that had planned massive development found themselves changing their plans and expectations. Here are some notable examples of things you don’t see along 280:
1) You don’t see a golf course, industrial park, luxury homes, or a high school on Stanford’s foothill lands: The oak-studded hills from Arastradero Road to Sand Hill Road remain open space and grazing lands, with a few low-intensity research facilities. This is thanks to Stanford University’s own decision 20 years ago to adopt smart-growth principles and concentrate development within the immediate campus area, east of Junipero Serra Boulevard. Previous generations of University officials had contemplated (1) relocating the historic Stanford golf course to a site near Felt Lake to free up room for campus expansion, (2) building an income-producing industrial park on the Webb Ranch next to Ladera, (3) locating luxury homes on top of Jasper Ridge’s world-famous biological preserve, (4) constructing a new high school on 40 acres of “Guernsey Field,” now part of the Horse Park at Woodside. Other discarded proposals along Sand Hill Road west of 280 included disposing of dirt on the former Christmas Tree Farm property (burying the oak woodland six to ten feet deep), a golf course at the Horse Park, and even a major sports stadium.
2) You don’t see a major freeway on Sand Hill Road: The “Willow Freeway” was to begin at the bay, cut through Menlo Park generally along San Francisquito Creek, and follow the route of Sand Hill Road and La Honda Road up and over Skyline to San Gregorio on the coast. A revolt in Menlo Park and subsequent funding shortfalls sent the Willow Freeway to the dustbin of history.
3) You don’t see an extension of Edgewood Road to the coast: Early county highway plans included the extension of Edgewood Road through the San Francisco watershed lands west of Cañada Road up and over Skyline to meet Higgins Purisima Road and Highway 1 near Half Moon Bay.
4) You don’t see homes, a state college, a research facility, or a golf course in Edgewood County Park and Preserve: Originally porposed to be the site of 2,200 homes and condos (in the 1960s), a state college site (also in the ‘60s), a federal solar energy research facility (1976), and a golf course (late ‘70s), Edgewood County Park and Preserve now protects unique and rare serpentine grassland habitat as well as other important foothills habitats. Committee for Green Foothills and a coalition of over 20 environmental groups fought for that.
5) You don’t see 23,000 homes near Crystal Springs: The 23,000 acres of forests, chaparral, and grasslands that surround the lakes in the Crystal Springs watershed, stretching from Woodside to San Bruno, were zoned for residential development in the 1960s. A historic settlement among San Francisco, the federal government, San Mateo County, and Caltrans regarding the routing of Highway 280 resulted in scenic and recreational easements that protect the watershed from development.
6) You don’t see sports facilities in Crystal Springs Watershed near Woodside: Three golf courses plus tennis courts and an equestrian center in the southern area next to Woodside were part of a “recreational plan.” All of those proposals were dropped eventually, while Committee for Green Foothills and other environmental groups advocated for permanent protection of these lands. At the intersection of I-280 and Highway 92, Bob Lurie and the San Francisco Giants proposed a new baseball stadium. After Congresswoman Anna Eshoo arranged for a meeting among San Mateo County Planning, Committee for Green Foothills, and the Lurie representatives, this idea was quickly abandoned.
Lucky us here on the Peninsula! Instead of urban sprawl, people from all over the world marvel at the unspoiled vistas they enjoy along the “world’s most beautiful freeway” so close to the densely populated cities of the Peninsula.