Friday, December 23, 2005

Resolving some of the Stanford trail mysteries

Over the last week or two, we may have figured out some of the questions surrounding the extremely disappointing action by Santa Clara County in choosing an expanded the sidewalk along Alpine Road instead of a real trail in the Stanford foothills. So here are some questions:

Why did Stanford fail to support Supervisor Liz Kniss’ $11.4 million proposal to mitigate the recreational impacts from Stanford expansion elsewhere, instead of having an expanded sidewalk that is of little use? There are four possibilities.

Number one: Stanford truly believed that expanding the Alpine Road sidewalk is the best option for the community, and was willing to undergo the tremendous criticism it has received solely because it is looking out for the greater good. Okay, moving along then.…

Number two: even if fighting the Supervisor Kniss proposal provided no advantage to Stanford, they just want to win. While Stanford is intensely competitive, I think it is likely that they actually had some kind of ulterior motive and were not just fighting this proposal to show their power.

Number three: Stanford is trying to save money. Until recently, this was my favorite possibility for why Stanford acted this way - aiming to come to an agreement for doing minimal changes along the Alpine Road, and thereby have to spend much less than the $11.4 million they would have to give under the Supervisor Kniss proposal. While I still think this may play a role, Stanford has not shown much interest in saving money on any other land-use issue. Instead, they seem to be much more fixated in maximizing future development potential. So while this option is a possibility, the next option is what I think is most likely actual reason Stanford had.

Number four: Stanford wanted to kill the C1 Trail and never have it come back. I’d guess this is probably the real reason and the reason why they view the expanded sidewalk as better than paying an equivalent amount to recreational opportunities in Santa Clara County. If the expanded sidewalk is identified by Santa Clara County as the C1 trail, then Stanford expects it will never again have to fight with community groups over whether the C1 trail should run along the Stanford foothills, as it is shown to run in the 1995 Trails Master Plan Map. By contrast, if Stanford just paid the same amount of money to mitigating its recreational impacts, then the next time a new General Use Permit was under discussion, the C1 Trail alignment as potential mitigation for future Stanford impacts would come back onto the negotiating table.

So setting aside Stanford’s stated reasons, trying to kill a real trail and to kill it so it never comes back seems to be the most likely reason for the way Stanford acted.

Another question: why did Stanford say that the trail along the southern part of the foothills, the S1-C, would cost so much money? They said it would cost over $7 million even though the amount of work needed to be done to construct the trail would be far less than the amount needed for the extensive work required to build the Alpine Road sidewalk along a creek bed, let alone moving Alpine Road as planned for the C1 Trail. I would hesitate before accusing Stanford of an outright lie, but exaggerating and distorting the costs are possible. Why do it?

The answer might lie in Stanford's strategy of offering the S1-C alignment originally, and then taking it off the negotiating table at the right time. A letter from Stanford dated August 30, 2005, argues that the S1-C alignment is far more expensive then the S1-A alignment. In other words, Stanford implies the S1-C alignment is so incredibly generous that it is appropriate for Stanford to take that particular alignment off the table unless Santa Clara County does everything Stanford orders it to do on the C1 Trail. While this does not make sense in terms of matching Stanford's original, unconditioned offer of the S1-C Trail alignment, it appears to have been a successful negotiating tool for pushing the County around.

One question that is not yet answered: what would happen if Stanford reaches an agreement with San Mateo County and Portola Valley to do some type of construction on the Alpine Road Trail but does not end up spending the full amount of money that Stanford committed? It may still be possible that any remaining funds will get reverted back to Santa Clara County, but we are still trying to resolve the issue.

And a final question: what about maintenance? Stanford promised in the General Use Permit to maintain the C1 Trail, so where's the funding for that? Will the County let Stanford ignore that provision as well?


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Disappointing, bad policy, and illegal"

Those are the words that I would use to describe the actions by Santa Clara County yesterday that have the effect of approving a sidewalk along Alpine Road. The article by the Mercury News is a good summary of what happened.

The County's action is disappointing for all the reasons we specified in the letter that we sent to the County that is copied in our previous blog post here. Supervisor Liz Kniss had proposed an alternative that would take the money that Stanford had said it is willing to spend on mitigation and use it for real mitigation somewhere within Santa Clara County in the vicinity of Stanford. Instead, money will be spent on a trail that is nothing more than an expansion of a sidewalk along a road that provides virtually no mitigation value for all the impacts Stanford's expansion has on recreational facilities.

Besides the core issue of prioritizing the building of an expanded sidewalk that is a bad option for the community, there are additional aspects of the deal that are bad policy. There is a "poison pill" in the agreement that effectively prohibits San Mateo County from considering an alignment outside of San Mateo County as part of the environmental review process. This handing of an environmental review control away from San Mateo County and to Stanford is something that could prevent the process from moving forward.

Finally, for the reasons we noted in our letter, this action is illegal. It violates the General Use Permit and makes the environmental decision to exclude the trail from Santa Clara County without any environmental review, as well as setting up a situation where virtually nothing could be done in terms of trail improvements for the C1 Trail, also without any environmental review.

The Committee for Green Foothills, other community groups, and the neighbors will have to decide what steps we may need to take next.


UPDATE: There's a potential additional problem -
the agreement may set up a scenario whereby if Stanford reaches an agreement with the different jurisdictions to do no more than token improvements on the Alpine Road sidewalk, then Stanford is free of all obligations, and the vast majority of the $11 million Stanford promised to spend would instead return to the university. Supposedly it's been fixed, but I'm not sure it has. The agreement says that if there's no agreement:

Stanford shall instead pay $8.4 million (as increased annually pursuant to the indexing mechanism in Section 4.e) or any portion of that amount that either was not paid to San Mateo by Stanford or was reimbursed by San Mateo to Stanford, to the County of Santa Clara

This is at least poorly written - what does the "any portion" mean if there IS an agreement? The possibility of losing the vast majority of the funding still seems present.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

CGF position on Stanford Trails

The following is the letter we're sending today about Stanford trails.



December 13, 2005

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
County Government Center
70 W. Hedding Street, 10th Floor, East Wing
San Jose, CA 95110

Re: Agenda Item #57 – Stanford GUP relating to trails

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors;

The Committee for Green Foothills opposes the recommendation of the County staff as completely unacceptable regarding the C1 Trail, although we have no objection to the S1 alignment. While the recommendation of County Supervisor Liz Kniss is not our preferred option, it is something we can live with. Our preference is that Stanford University simply do what it promised to do five years ago in developing a new trail on Stanford lands in Santa Clara County. Given the long delay that Santa Clara County has tolerated, Supervisor Kniss' suggestion that the recreational mitigation be constructed elsewhere appears to be a viable way to move forward.

We believe that the recommendation by County staff violates the Stanford General Use Permit and violates CEQA. The County Wide Trails Master Plan Map clearly shows the trail to be in Santa Clara County, as does multiple other pieces of evidence from the trails Master plan. There is a single checkmark box elsewhere in the Master Plan supporting Stanford's position, but since the two parts of the document are in conflict, we think the map shows a much better indication of what was actually intended.

County staff's recommended action would exercise County discretion by excluding the trail from Santa Clara County and by setting up a contingency where no trail could occur. These decisions have environmental ramifications and legally cannot be taken without prior environmental analysis.

We expressly reserve the right to litigate if the County follows the recommendation of County staff. We note that the recommendation by Supervisor Kniss would need limited environmental review and a General Use Permit amendment, but because this is a superior option to what County staff is recommending, we are not reserving the right to litigate if Supervisor Kniss’ proposal is followed today.

A significant improvement in the Supervisor Kniss proposal is that it would eliminate the possibility of no mitigation inherent in the County staff proposal. Inserting an amendment to the staff proposal with some type of monetary reversion to the County, should the Alpine Road sidewalk not be constructed, is inadequate for three reasons. First, the Alpine Road sidewalk expansion is a terrible “trail” that provides no significant recreational value – it should be rejected, not prioritized. Second, adding a reversion clause would mean adding seven years to the years of delay we have already faced. Third, Stanford will use community opposition to the Alpine Road sidewalk to reduce the changes to token modifications and thereby make only a token monetary contribution. A reversion clause will not fix the “token contribution” loophole.

While we believe it fits the intent of Supervisor Kniss’ proposal, we seek clarification that recreational facilities could include purchasing trail easements, and that the monies could be shared with other land use agencies within the geographic limit.

If Stanford opposes Supervisor Kniss’ proposal, we recommend the following:

1. Reject the County Executive’s recommendation.

2. Do not yet certify the Supplemental EIR for the S1 Trail, but prepare documents certifying the SEIR conditional upon Stanford’s written and unconditional proffer of the S1-C alignment.

3. If Stanford attempts to withdraw the S1-C offer, direct County Counsel to examine whether the County’s detrimental reliance on the S1-C offer means:

a. Stanford legally cannot withdraw the S1-C offer; and

b. Whether Stanford’s withdrawn offer puts it in non-compliance with the GUP.

4. If County Counsel determines that Stanford can withdraw the S1-C offer, direct staff to reinitiate the SEIR for the S1 trail to consider alternative alignments.

5. Begin the SEIR process for the C1 Trail. If Stanford refuses to pay for this process, find them in non-compliance with the GUP. Stanford must pay in advance, and has no control over the contents of the SEIR, including over alternatives to be considered.

6. If the Supervisors think they may want to accept the County Executive’s recommendation, defer any decision pending a written response from San Mateo County and Portola Valley regarding whether they are interested in the proposal.

Finally, regardless of any other action taken today by the Board of Supervisors, we are gravely concerned by Stanford’s placing additional conditions on the S1-C alignment that it did not make previously. The County relied on Stanford’s unconditioned S1-C offer when the County rejected alternative alignments supported by community groups. We urge the Supervisors to refer to County Counsel/staff the question of whether Stanford partially withdrew or otherwise added conditions to the S1-C offer that Stanford had not included originally, and recommend whether to develop a standard “firm offer” form for negotiating with Stanford, where Stanford acknowledges it is legally bound by the offer it has made.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt

Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Golf course violates permit in Morgan Hill

(guest posting by Chris Montague-Breakwell)

The Institute Golf Course, built illegally without permits from the city of Morgan Hill, has destroyed endangered species’ habitat and threatens to pollute local groundwater with fertilizer and pesticide run-off. And still, the city has not taken the golf course’s owners to task for their violations.

The Institute Golf Course has yet to fulfill the city of Morgan Hill’s mitigation conditions. The city’s Mitigation and Monitoring Reporting Program (MMRP) compliance review specified a groundwater investigation to be completed by mid-March of 2005. (Mitigation 9, Conditions #12A, B, C) The Institute Golf Course project engineer claimed they were waiting for the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) to complete the Llagas basin water study before submitting their groundwater report. However, as the Llagas basin model is very broad in scope and will not be completed for some time, Morgan Hill again required the Institute Golf Course to submit a groundwater report. No penalty will be assessed to the golf course if “good faith” and “substantial activity towards completing the investigation by February 2006,” despite missing the city’s original deadline of March 2005 by almost one year.

After so much delay on pressing environmental impact questions, why the city is treating the Institute with kid gloves is a mystery. The disagreement over the water district study should have been resolved long ago. The Institute Golf Course did not show “good faith” when they enlarged the golf course without permits from the city, nor have they been quick to respond to the city’s environmental mitigation conditions to make up or repair land damaged by their development.

Further, peak water us for the golf course will happen during the hot summer months. How can the groundwater investigation, due February 2006, be accurately conducted in rainy winter months when irrigating the golf course will not put pressure on water resources?


(For more information on The Institute Golf Course, click here.)

Thursday, December 1, 2005

What's "conservative"?

I had an interesting exchange yesterday over who was being "conservative" in approaching a problem. The City of San Jose is trying to figure out much it will require from Coyote Valley developers in terms of providing health-care facilities for the uninsured people who will be living in the proposed city. They said they estimated that 15-20% of the population would be uninsured and underinsured, that they were concerned about requiring more facilities than would be actually used, and that they were planning for 10,000 people who would not have sufficient insurance.

I took notice of those figures and said they didn't add up - I thought 10,000 represented less than 15-20% of the expected Coyote Valley population. We worked out that it was just under 15% of the estimated population of 70,000 people (a smaller estimate than I've heard before, by the way). That's when the fun began.

"Well, we're being conservative."

"No you're not! You're being the opposite of conservative."

We went back and forth for a bit before a third person figured we BOTH were being conservative. They were being conservative with the commitment expected from developers. I was suggesting that conservative meant being conservative in mitigating the effect on public health that the developers created in establishing a city with thousands of uninsured people.

I guess it all depends on your perspective.


P.S. And what does this have to do with protecting open space? If thousands of acres of farmland are to be destroyed (as is proposed in Coyote Valley), then the people doing the destruction should be responsible for all the impacts they created. Letting them out of any of their financial obligations will just encourage even more sprawl.