Where to Put the Trails

November/December 2002

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Almost two years after the University signed the 10-year General Use Permit (GUP) with Santa Clara County that governs development on Stanford lands, construction has not yet started on two public recreational trails that the GUP requires. “We want to begin the process of making them a reality,” Gordon Earle, vice president for public affairs, wrote to the county board of supervisors in August. But two months later, he acknowledged that negotiations had reached an impasse.

Under the terms of the GUP, the University can develop 2 million square feet of academic facilities and up to 3,018 new housing units on the core academic campus as long as it meets 128 conditions. One of them calls for two 16-foot-wide trails on Stanford lands that would link hikers and bicyclists to other regional trails. Stanford has spent nearly $500,000 planning an eastern trail along Page Mill Road and a western route along Alpine Road, and the University expects to spend at least $8 million on construction of approximately five miles of paved pathways. The point of debate is where, exactly, to locate them.

The GUP stipulates that the trails must be located in areas that the University agrees to dedicate solely for that purpose. Stanford consistently has said that it wants the trails on the edge of its lands, to protect its rights as a property owner and ensure future flexibility for pursuing its academic mission. Both the GUP and the Countywide Trails Master Plan show the trails on the periphery of Stanford lands, and Stanford and county park department staff came to an agreement last December on two such trails. But the board of supervisors must approve the agreement, and seven environmental organizations—Acterra, the Committee on Green Foothills, Mid-Peninsula Action for Tomorrow, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, People for Access to Trails in the Hills of Stanford, the Sierra Club and the Stanford Open Space Alliance—are lobbying the supervisors for different trails. The groups have proposed routes that veer into the interior of University lands, shadowing Campus Drive and curving up toward the Dish area. In August, the University said it was not obligated to pay for a $172,555 supplemental environmental review that includes the newly proposed trails.

At press time, Earle had received no official response to the letter he wrote to the county supervisors summarizing the University’s position, and public hearings had not yet been scheduled. “The ball is in their court,” he said. “They’re deciding what the next step will be.”

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