Trail route proposal draws backlash from Dish commuters

Feb. 18, 2014, 12:49 a.m.

As part of a countywide initiative to build walking and biking trails, Stanford has proposed a “perimeter trail” route that would complete a network of regional trails connecting the Arastradero Preserve to the Bay.

In order to do so, Stanford has proposed moving half of the 33 parallel-parking spots on Stanford Ave. to a parking lot on Coyote Hill Rd., about a mile away from the Dish gate. However, a group of Dish commuters have mobilized to protest the arrangement, requesting that Stanford either move parking spaces closer to the Dish gate or entertain opening new points of access to the Dish trail.

The Committee for Dish Access, the citizen group representing those commuters who do not live on or near campus, has alleged that Stanford’s parking plan serves to restrict Dish access for commuters and those who do not live or work in the immediate Stanford area.

In an undated open letter, the Committee wrote that “Stanford’s current proposal…can only be explained as an effort to limit the number of hikers and runners on the Dish.”

“The walk from Coyote Hill to the Dish takes 15 to 20 minutes one way,” said Marcia Sterling J.D. ’82, the committee’s chair. “[The proposed new plan] requires crossing Palo Alto’s busiest and most dangerous intersection. It has seven lanes, commuters flooding in from [Highway] 280 to the University…we feel it’s very dangerous.”

Sterling also attributed increasing car chaos on Stanford Ave. near the Dish to the University’s prior actions, noting that the University has increasingly limited parking on residential side streets over the last several years.

James Sweeney Ph.D. ’71, professor of management science and engineering and president of the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders (SCRL), maintained that Stanford is under no obligation to accommodate the whim of every community member that chooses to hike the Dish. In fact, according to Sweeney, Stanford is not even obliged to open the Dish to the public.

“Stanford originally made [the Dish] available only for students, staff and faculty,” Sweeney said, noting that the Dish and lands are on private property. “Now, you have people in the community saying, ‘well, Stanford, if you let us use the private property, you owe us parking, you owe us bathroom facilities, you owe us other amenities.’”

At a Palo Alto City Council meeting on Feb. 3, approximately two dozen community members urged city council members to take sides on the debate. According to Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd, however, council members could not respond because the complaints were raised during oral communications.

“The city council has not taken it up on agenda. It’s not on our work plan,” Shepherd said.

Citing Palo Alto’s bicycle and pedestrian master plan, which came before City Council in 2012, Shepherd said there was no need to re-evaluate City Hall’s position on the trail.

Trail construction a longstanding headache

The dispute over this half-mile long stretch of trail is, however, only the latest hitch in a series of development projects that have occurred over a decade and a half.

Larry Horton ’62 M.A. ’66, senior associate vice president for government and community relations, said that the University’s decisions on Stanford Ave. cannot be separated from the land-use issues surrounding the other trail development negotiations that have taken place since 2000, when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved the Stanford University General Use Permit (GUP). The GUP placed conditions on Stanford land use–including the construction of the perimeter trail–in exchange for approval to develop it.

Over the last 15 years, the University has been negotiating with the various stakeholders in GUP-imposed trail projects, including Stanford community members, the City of Palo Alto and the counties of Santa Clara and San Mateo.

In a letter dated Aug. 29, 2002, a University official uses the precise example of the Dish in describing lands that, in his opinion, were not legally required to be open to the public.

“While Stanford voluntarily provides public access to areas such as the Dish road, it controls that access,” wrote Gordon Earle to Santa Clara County planner Tim Heffington. “Because neither Stanford nor any other entity can know what the future educational needs of the University will be, Stanford believes it is critical that it maintain the rights over its land in order to retain sufficient flexibility to meet those needs in the future.”

Horton suggested that Stanford may not have been clear enough about who actually owns the land in question.

“From 2000 to 2005, there were extraordinary pressures…to try to get us to agree to an interior trail [running through campus],” Horton said, noting that any time the University engages in land issues, “[Stanford] would have to work around the trail. We can’t move things around. It’s for perpetuity. It’s forever.”

Sterling, for her part, believes that Stanford should try to look beyond its legal concerns and look for ways to benefit both those who can walk to the Dish and those who would prefer to commute to it.

“We support Stanford in a billion ways,” she said, referencing her own standing as an alumna. “Some of the folks who fought with the county on this a decade ago still feel concerned about someone trying to take away their private land. I don’t think there’s any risk of that.”

Contact Edward Ngai at edngai ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.

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