After San Mateo County rejected Stanford’s proposal to spend $10 million to repair the Lower Alpine Trail in December, how these funds might be spent instead remains unclear.
Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders (SCRL) and local environmental advocacy groups testified two weeks ago before the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors as to how the $10 million should be spent. These leaders spoke to The Daily about the future status of both the funds and the trail.
James Sweeney, professor of management science and engineering and president of the SCRL, highlighted a strong push by advocates to use the funds for a community grant program. The initiative would provide grants for applicants subject to a competitive process.
Larry Horton, senior associate vice president and director of government and community relations, emphasized, however, that the funds’ potential applications are limited.
“Stanford and Santa Clara County entered into a contract in 2006 that requires Stanford to pay this money to Santa Clara County if San Mateo County did not want to use it to fix their own badly degraded and unsafe trail,” Horton wrote in an email to The Daily. “That same contract also requires that this money paid to Santa Clara County must be used only to provide recreational opportunities for Stanford campus residents and facility users.”
Sweeney said that he hopes the funds will be used for projects that directly benefit on-campus residents including homeowners, students, faculty and staff. He recognized, however, that the county is unlikely to make a decision quickly.
“I think the County Board of Supervisors’ General Counsel is going to have to make some judgment as to whether that is even legal,” Sweeney said, “and then there would be the political judgment on whether the county board of supervisors wants to go beyond what were the legal requirements because there is a lot of political pressure on them to ignore the legal requirements.”
P.J. Utz, a professor in the School of Medicine and leader of the Committee to Fix Lower Alpine Trail, said that several local groups — such as the Committee for Green Foothills — have presented proposals to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to use the funds for various projects beyond the Stanford campus.
Meanwhile, representatives from SCRL suggested several ways for the funds to be used, including the development of an inner and outer hiking and cycling loop trail around and within campus land. Other proposals included park restorations and the construction of a park near the Mausoleum.
Sweeny said that, regardless of the current proposals, the SCRL is looking to create an internal process in which they can give a voice to all residents, including students, as to how the fund should be used.
“These proposals are suggestions, but we would like a process that allows a weighing in of those for whom the money was intended,” Sweeney said.
At the public hearing, Supervisor Liz Kniss requested that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ lawyers report back on how the county can legally use the funds by the end of March. While there is no set time limit for the County’s decision, all parties must wait until the County lawyers investigate the legal limitations.
“It really all boils down to what the lawyers say,” Utz said. “If the lawyers say you can build anything you want, anywhere you want, then I would not be surprised if there was a descent to going to court, but that’s just my pure speculation.”
Horton said, however, that Stanford is still willing to negotiate some form of compromise.
“We have testified before the Santa Clara County Board that Stanford would like to work with the County to find a mutually agreeable resolution that is satisfactory to both parties of the contract,” Horton said. “Stanford remains a party of interest in this matter.”
As for the Lower Alpine Trail, which remains in a state of dangerous disrepair, according to Utz, while San Mateo County Supervisors are in contact with Santa Clara County Supervisors to try to receive some funding for the trail’s repair, the likelihood of any funding relief is slim considering San Mateo County’s earlier rejections of the funds in their entirety.
“If the funding is going to be used to build things on campus,” Utz said, “then there will probably be more discussions about trying to bring some of the money over to help fix the trail. But, again, I would view the likelihood of that happening as less than 1 percent.”