Protect your voice in negotiations with Stanford

Stanford asks for development agreement that would preempt new affordable housing requirements.

County to consider offer and negotiations process on October 16.

Over the past year, we’ve all studied up on Stanford’s expansion plans and the potential impacts of the 2.3 million square foot academic expansion proposed in Stanford’s 2018 General Use Permit application (2018 GUP) and weighed in on the adequacy of draft mitigations. In addition, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has looked closely at the affordable housing demand that Stanford’s expansion will create and passed new ordinances to raise housing impact fees and require more affordable housing.

Now Stanford is hoping to preempt a Final Environmental Impact Report (and associated, transparent conditions of approval for their 2018 GUP application) and go behind closed doors to negotiate an alternative that will supersede imposition of the County’s new affordable housing ordinances, prevent imposition of additional mitigation requirements, and freeze the County’s authority to regulate land use in the Stanford Community Plan Area until completion of the full expansion or for 30 years, whichever comes sooner.

Stanford seeks to negotiate a development agreement in exchange for “community benefits” in the form of proposed affordable housing commitments and investments, but county staff says Stanford’s affordable housing proposal doesn’t go as far as current law.

This Tuesday, October 16, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing to discuss whether Stanford’s proposed development agreement warrants further discussion and negotiation and if so, what the negotiation process should entail. Public comment is welcome in person and via email (referencing “agenda item #9”) to boardoperations@cob.sccgov.org.

Read on for more info about Stanford’s housing offer and county staff’s analysis and recommendation.

What is a development agreement?

A development agreement is a voluntary contract with a local jurisdiction (Santa Clara County) in which a property owner (Stanford) is granted new entitlements or exceptions to existing rules in exchange for providing community benefits that otherwise would be difficult for the jurisdiction to obtain. In contrast to the transparent 2018 GUP analysis and review process, negotiators typically bargain over the trade-offs in private. In Santa Clara County only a single public hearing is required. The public and affiliated government entities, like the City of Palo Alto and the PAUSD, do not have a seat at the table and might only be informed of the details after the parameters of a deal have been struck. 

Stanford’s offer of affordable housing investments as a “community benefit” falls well short of housing funds due under current law.

The primary community benefit cited in Stanford’s development agreement application is affordable housing commitments and investments. However, according to the county staff report,

“As currently offered, Stanford University’s housing proposal does not constitute community benefits in that the proposal does not offer affordable housing beyond a level that can be obtained through existing regulations [and county authority].”

Indeed, the staff analysis indicates that Stanford’s proposed development agreement would produce an affordable housing subsidy value of $89 million less than Stanford would be required to contribute under the county’s new impact fee and inclusionary housing ordinances. Stanford emphasizes the timely value of up-front housing funds in its development agreement application, but even adjusting for net present value, their proposal falls short of current law by $75 million.

By county staff’s estimate, applying current requirements to Stanford’s GUP would produce a total of 663 new and converted affordable units, while the total under Stanford’s proposed development agreement would range from 314 to 455 affordable units.

County analysis of affordable housing benefit

County staff recommends pre-conditions to negotiation, integration with the ongoing GUP review process, and additional public engagement.

Given the lack of community benefits in Stanford’s development agreement proposal, county staff recommends that the Board of Supervisors only enter development agreement negotiations if Stanford first agrees in writing to:

  • Increase its affordable housing proposal to exceed what current housing ordinances would require.
  • Express a willingness to include other benefits, such as school site dedication and/or ongoing funding and other benefits relating to transportation and traffic mitigation, sustainability, open space, etc.
  • Accept an extension of the 2018 GUP application timeline to allow for negotiations with a concurrent community engagement and communication process.
  • Reconsider its demand that mitigations be limited to those proposed in the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the 2018 GUP; and
  • Express a willingness to reduce the scope of applicable county rules to be held constant during the life of the development agreement.

Stanford seeks to condition its community benefits offer on limiting environmental mitigations to those already proposed in the Draft EIR. However, if the Board of Supervisors chooses to move forward with development agreement negotiations, staff recommends finalization of the Environmental Impact Report and staff preparation of conditions of approval for the 2018 GUP (targeted for late 2018) before the parties begin negotiations. Staff asserts that this will “provide a stable regulatory baseline for negotiations and ensure integration and consistency” with the 2018 GUP application review process. The Development Agreement would then be included in the Final EIR along with conditions of approval and monitoring and reporting requirements for Board of Supervisors’ consideration in 2019.  

County staff also proposes additional public outreach, (to both the general public and staff and elected officials representing public agencies and cities near Stanford) to inform the negotiations and obtain input on terms and desired community benefits at three stages in the process:

  • within the first few weeks of starting negotiations.
  • at the point in negotiations at which proposed community benefits are identified.
  • at the conclusion of development agreement negotiations but prior to Planning  Commission public hearings on the 2018 GUP in 2019.

Process matters. Let the Board of Supervisors know what you think.

Are you surprised that Stanford’s development agreement application promises less affordable housing than the county’s newly passed impact fee and inclusionary ordinances would produce? Do you support negotiation of a development agreement with Stanford or prefer to rely only on the in-progress 2018 GUP process? Is it premature to begin negotiating a development agreement before the Final EIR is available to the public and/or reviewed by the county Planning Commission? Do you support staff’s recommendation to make entering negotiations contingent on certain expectations? Did they identify the right contingencies? What do you think about the proposed outreach process?

You can offer comments in person on Tuesday October 16 at 10:00 am or send an email with “agenda item #9” in the subject line to boardoperations@cob.sccgov.org.

The public hearing will be held on the first floor of the County Government Center located at 70 W. Hedding Street in San Jose and will begin no earlier than 10:00 am. (There is some free, marked 2-hour public parking on the side of the building parallel to San Pedro Street; there are parking meters in the general area; and there is a lot where parking can be purchased at 171 W. Hedding that is also open to the public.

 

Renter Protections 101

Most of us don’t know much about the complexity and diversity of renter protection rules. But as Palo Alto gives them a closer look and voters statewide consider Proposition 10 that would eliminate major restrictions on local rent control rules, it’s time to get a better sense of the basics and where Palo Alto law stands.

Renter protections vary extensively by local jurisdiction, but they essentially fall into three main buckets reflecting increasingly more intensive regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship. The summary of key strategies below is drawn primarily from the Palo Alto Municipal Code and a September 23, 2015 County of San Mateo Interdepartmental Correspondence on the “Continuum of Residential Tenant Protection Measures.” The full county memo appears as Attachment A accompanying the Palo Alto Colleague’s Memo on renter protections. Click here for excerpts outlining commonly advanced pros and cons of policies regarding just cause eviction, relocation assistance, and rent stabilization.

Notice requirements, minimum lease terms, and mediation

Notice of Lease Termination

In California, state law sets a minimum standard of 30 days prior written notice of lease termination. Tenants who have resided in the rental unit for at least a year must be given 60 days prior written notice. Local governments are permitted to exceed that standard. Palo Alto has not done so.

Notice of Rent Increase

State law preempts local regulations regarding notice of rent increases, setting a statewide standard of at least 30 days advance notice if a proposed rent increase is less than or equal to ten percent of the rent charged at any time during the preceding year. If the proposed increase exceeds that ten percent, the landlord must give 60 days prior written notice.

Minimum Lease Terms

Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 9.68 requires that a tenant be offered a lease term of at least 12 months during which the rental rate cannot be increased. If the tenant rejects the offer of a one-year term, a shorter lease may be negotiated, but once that tenant has occupied the unit for 12 months, the landlord must again offer a 12 month lease. A 12 month lease must be offered annually, (or at the conclusion of a longer lease) but at the end of each lease term, the rental rate may be increased.

Mediation of Rent Increases

Some jurisdictions offer or require a mediation process to address certain rent increases or other landlord-tenant disputes. Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 9.72 defines a mandatory dispute resolution process (conciliation and mediation) that can be triggered by a written request from either tenant or landlord regarding rental rate increases, deposits, repairs and maintenance, utilities, occupants, parking and storage facilities, privacy, quiet enjoyment, or use of common areas.

Retaliatory acts or omissions against any party to the dispute resolution process are prohibited and, if identified within six months of the party’s participation, may be referred to the city attorney for remedial action. Every rental agreement must include notice of the right to mediation and protection from retaliation, including contact information for the city facilitator.

Palo Alto’s dispute resolution ordinance applies to any residential rental property that contains two or more units (except two-unit properties in which one of the units is owner-occupied) and any residential rental property when the owner owns two or more residential rental units anywhere in the city.

Just cause and relocation assistance

Just Cause Evictions

Palo Alto does not currently have a just cause eviction ordinance. Just cause eviction ordinances define a specifically enumerated list of reasons that permit a landlord to evict a residential tenant. They also often require a landlord to identify the grounds and supporting facts for the eviction. Typical examples include:

  • failure to pay rent, damage to the property, creating a nuisance or interfering with other tenant’s safety or comfort, illegal activities, or unauthorized subtenants;
  • new occupancy by owner, family member or resident manager;
  • substantial renovations; or
  • removal of the property from the rental market.

Relocation Assistance

Many local governments require landlords to pay relocation assistance when an eviction is not the fault of the tenant (“no-fault evictions”). Such requirements typically include lump sum payments and/or relocation assistance services. Sometimes the payments are required for all no-fault evictions, other times they apply only based on certain types of eviction (such as to facilitate owner occupancy of the unit) or the status of the affected tenant (such as income or disability).

The emergency ordinance enacted in Palo Alto on August 27 requires a base relocation payment based on the size of the unit being vacated, ranging from $7,000 for a studio to $17,000 for 3 or more bedrooms. They will increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The base payments are set at approximately three times the current market rate for each type of unit, reflecting high start-up costs of a new tenancy, in addition to the cost of moving and potential lost wages. A single additional payment of $3,000 will be added where the unit is occupied by a low-income household or one or more tenants who is elderly, disabled, or a minor child.

To be eligible for relocation assistance under the emergency ordinance, a displaced residential household must have an annual household income that does not exceed one hundred (100) percent of the area median household income for Santa Clara County as adjusted for household size. Affordable housing developments are exempt and the emergency ordinance only applies to multi-family housing of 50 units or more. It is expected to impact approximately 25 parcels.

Rent stabilization

Rent stabilization ordinances take a wide variety of forms, but generally speaking they include some combination of limits on increased rents, limits on landlord conduct that has the effect of imposing a rent increase (such as reduction in services), or eviction controls. The implementation of a rent stabilization ordinance can be managed by a rent board or integrated into the jurisdiction’s staff responsibilities.

Rent Control

There are two forms of allowable local rent control in California. The least restrictive type (permanent decontrol) limits rent increases for units occupied at the time of adoption, but expires altogether as soon as those units become vacant. The other type (vacancy decontrol-recontrol) allows a landlord to set the initial rent, but limits increases as long as the same tenant occupies the unit. Once the unit is vacant, rents typically rise to the market rate which then becomes the new “base rent” on which the rent increase limits apply. All rent control ordinances “make some allowance for automatic periodic rent increase, and also for additional rent increases when required to ensure the landlord receives [a] fair rate of return.”

Eviction Controls

Because landlords can raise rents between tenancies, rent control alone can create an incentive for landlords to evict tenants for the very purpose of increasing rents. As a result, most rent stabilization ordinances include carefully crafted just cause eviction limits. For example, California’s Ellis Act gives landlords an almost absolute right to evict tenants for the purpose or exiting the rental business, but jurisdictions can still require relocation assistance in such cases and can potentially impose additional requirements should the landlord try to re-enter the rental market.

Evictions to allow owner occupancy are typically (though not always) considered just cause, but localities can impose requirements that the owner take occupancy within a certain period of time or that they maintain occupancy for minimum tenure. Finally, evictions for major renovations are often allowed, but some cities require the landlord to demonstrate that the evictions are actually necessary or require that the tenants be given a right to return following construction and even a comparable base rent, adjusting for amortized capital improvements.

Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act

California’s 1995 Costa Hawkins Act imposed strict limits on the reach of local rent stabilization efforts. Under the Act, all housing built after February 1, 1995 and all single family homes and condominiums are exempt from local rent stabilization laws. Also, localities are prohibited from regulating the initial rent offered to a new tenant following a vacancy. Statewide Proposition 10, on the ballot this November, would repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, opening the door to much greater impacts from local rent stabilization rules.

City and School District criticize impacts analysis and sufficiency of mitigations for Stanford’s growth plans.

School Board takes forceful stand on new Stanford growth analysis. City also submits substantial concerns, but with limited council input.

Santa Clara County will accept public comments until July 26.

In response to the recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford’s proposed academic expansion, commonly referred to as the GUP, the PAUSD hired a lawyer to assess the sufficiency of the analysis and held a special meeting during their summer break to weigh in on the district’s draft comment letter to Santa Clara County, the body responsible for approving Stanford’s General Use Permit. In contrast, after hearing a rough summary of projected impacts from two newly proposed housing alternatives in the recirculated DEIR, City Council offered general comments and delegated the city’s formal letter to staff with no further council review or public meeting prior to the close of the comment period. Despite their different approaches, both the school district and the city found the recirculated DEIR to be sorely inadequate, both in its analysis of likely impacts and the sufficiency of offered mitigations.

Also relevant to the GUP, in addition to a recent proposal to raise the county’s housing impact fees to $143 per square foot for Stanford’s academic growth, Santa Clara County is now considering an inclusionary housing ordinance that would require new rental or for-sale faculty and staff housing projects to designate 16 percent of units as below-market-rate housing. If located more than six miles from campus, the inclusionary rate would increase to 20 percent of total units. As currently drafted, the ordinance would not allow Stanford to pay in lieu fees instead of building the BMR units. The County Planning Commission will consider the draft ordinance on July 26.

The comment letters submitted by the PAUSD and the City of Palo Alto, attached and summarized below, along with the recent Palo Alto Matters article on the recirculated DEIR offer details and food for thought about Stanford’s proposed expansion. Don’t miss your chance to make sure your voice is heard too. The final EIR must address every comment submitted. Public comments will be accepted via email until July 26:

County of Santa Clara
Department of Planning and Development Attention: David Rader
County Government Center
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110
Email: David.Rader@pln.sccgov.org

Key conclusions outlined in the PAUSD letter include:

Newly identified significant and unavoidable impact to housing, Impact 5-17, “obfuscates the Project’s scale and impact.”  Impact 5-17, concludes that “construction and/or operation of off-site housing would result in off-site environmental impacts,” referring to an unspecified amount of affordable housing in unspecified locations that would “disproportionately” affect Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View, but makes no effort to quantify those effects.The district argues that Impact 5-17 “changes the nature, scope and scale of the project … without providing any detail as to what are the precise changes” and finds it “so fundamentally and basically inadequate and conclusory in nature” that the DEIR must be revised and recirculated in its entirety.”

Mitigation Measure 5.17.1 is so vague and unenforceable that it amounts to “improperly deferred mitigation.”  The Measure offers no enforcement mechanisms, merely stating that other local governments “can and should mitigate the impacts caused by the project’s off-campus housing.”

Analysis understates current and future enrollment impacts and threatens to impose a major funding burden on Palo Alto taxpayers. By using outdated student generation rates (SGR), the DEIR analysis “understates future enrollment demand by almost 50 percent.” The district estimates that Alternative A (all new housing need met on-campus) would generate 2,834 additional PAUSD students.

The cost of educating 2,834 new students at current per-student expenditures would “exceed $51 million per year.” Furthermore, as a basic aid district, PAUSD operations are funded directly by property taxes, not state funding. “Much of Stanford’s development is on land that is exempt from paying property tax, yet the … project documentation is silent [on] how PAUSD and the people of PA can be expected to educate the incoming students created by Stanford’s development.

Fails to fully mitigate impacts related to school operations. Even though development fees are automatically deemed sufficient (under state law) to mitigate need for new school facilities, “the EIR must still examine environmental impacts that affect school operations but are not directly related to the need for new school facilities.” Those secondary impacts include exacerbating traffic (changing traffic patterns), noise, GHG emissions, air quality, and safety concerns.

For every 400-500 new elementary students generated by Stanford, PAUSD would have to build an additional neighborhood school, with each requiring a 3-4 acre site. The RDEIR “ignores the secondary potential environmental impacts associated with this new development that would be needed as a direct result of Stanford’s development.”

Key conclusions outlined in the City letter include:

Newly identified significant and unavoidable impact to housing lacks specificity and wrongly suggests that the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan accounted for the Stanford project’s growth. The city contends that such a conclusion is “unfounded and there is no evidence in the administrative record to support [the] assertion.” Furthermore, [c]iting the City’s Comprehensive Plan and suggesting it anticipated this additional population growth is not only wrong, failure to disclose impacts renders the document inadequate” under CEQA.

Like the school district, the city finds mitigation measure 5.17.1 sorely deficient. Stating that local agencies “can and should” mitigate the environmental impacts from off-campus housing is “not a satisfactory mitigation under CEQA and irresponsibly shifts the [mitigation] burden from the University to Palo Alto and surrounding communities.” The letter asks the county to require “greater analysis of how induced population growth will impact Palo Alto” as well as specific mitigation measures, citing three potential examples.

Findings regarding Vehicle Miles Traveled impacts are flawed. The DEIR finds that  VMT will increase and air quality will worsen under Alternative A (housing needs met on-campus) as compared to the base project (only 550 units/beds provided on-campus). However, no analysis was undertaken regarding the VMT and air quality impacts of off-campus housing necessitated by the base project, despite the mitigation requirement that local communities absorb Stanford’s unmet housing need. In the absence of proper analysis of the VMT and air quality impacts from off-campus housing demand caused by the base project, “[a]ny comparison between the Project and the Alternatives is meaningless and misrepresents the environmental impacts to decision-makers.”

The No Net New Commute Trips mitigation does not adequately address direct and indirect traffic-related impacts. The city reiterates its concerns regarding the methodology and feasibility of NNNCT and cites the significant strain Stanford’s growth has placed on the City’s transportation network and resident satisfaction. “By not identifying the true traffic-related impacts of the Project, the burden of responsibility shifts from the University to Palo Alto and surrounding communities. Not only is this not equitable, it is inconsistent with CEQA.” Three additional mitigation measures are suggested, including funding for transportation infrastructure, coordination and enhanced connections between the Marguerite and City Shuttles, and fair share payments in line with the city’s transportation impact fee requirements.

Other Concerns: The city also takes issue with the sufficiency of the DEIR’s housing alternatives analysis regarding aesthetics, project objectives and public services and offers support to PAUSD, calling for “the impacts to PAUSD, new school sites and funding for increased enrollment [to be] more clearly disclosed to the public in an updated environmental document.”

If any of those concerns strike a chord with you, or if you have alternative issues to raise, be sure to get your own comments in by Thursday July 26.

Should Stanford meet housing demand it creates?

New analyses show current housing fees insufficient and confirm heightened congestion impacts particular to housing development.

Public comments related to Stanford’s proposed academic expansion raised big concerns about obscured impacts in Stanford’s analysis and unmet new housing demand. Under the leadership of Board President Joe Simitian, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors stepped up to the plate to clarify costs and implications.

The original Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford’s pending General Use Permit application, (commonly referred to as the Stanford GUP), relied on surrounding communities to provide 2,245 new housing units to support the university’s growth. But vagueness about how much would go where led to limited, generalized analysis of potential impacts. To offer the public a fuller picture, the county commissioned a nexus study to quantify the cost to the county (i.e., taxpayers) of meeting below-market-rate housing needs created by Stanford’s planned expansion. Also at the county’s initiative, Stanford analyzed two alternative housing scenarios in which Stanford would build on-campus housing for more of the faculty, staff and students its expansion would generate. Updated findings are published in a Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report.

Together, the new data and analysis highlight a fundamental conundrum. Unless there is a major adjustment to housing impact fees, allowing Stanford to shift its housing burdens to off-campus communities would also shift significant costs to taxpayers (and may risk that the housing won’t get built). But requiring the university to house the new demand it creates will cause additional, substantial, and concentrated impacts in Palo Alto. In addition to teeing up those key trade offs to inform the county’s decisions about the project, the new housing analysis also reveals that even in a truly transit-rich environment, residential development, by its nature, makes it harder to get cars off the road. Read on to learn more about impact fees and key takeaways from the updated DEIR analysis.

If you want to tell the Board of Supervisors your thoughts on housing impact fees, you can email Joe Simitian (our District 5 supervisor) here and find contact info for other supervisors here. The public has until July 26, 2018 to submit comments on the recirculated DEIR to Santa Clara County.

The county will host a public meeting to hear and receive comments on the recirculated DEIR in Palo Alto on July 10, 2018 from 6:00- 8:00 pm (Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road).

Housing impact fees fall far short of full mitigation for newly created below-market-rate housing needs.

 

2018 Santa Clara County nexus study on housing impact fees. According to county staff report, “The Administration is recommending the maximum supportable fees per square foot for Academic Space and Faculty and Staff Housing.”

Santa Clara County and many municipalities, including Palo Alto, impose housing impact fees on new development to help offset the cost of public subsidies to meet related affordable housing needs. The new county nexus study indicates that the cost to support below-market-rate housing demand created by Stanford’s planned growth comes to $143.10 per square foot of new academic space. A similar nexus study commissioned by Palo Alto in 2016 found that a housing impact fee charged to commercial developers (office/R&D) could be justified at up to $264 per square foot. Stanford currently pays the county a housing impact fee of $35 per square foot. The 2018 Stanford GUP proposed reducing that payment to $20 per square foot.

On May 8, the County Board of Supervisors discussed raising impact fees to better reflect nexus study findings. County staff recommended charging the maximum supportable fee of $143.10 per square foot for Stanford’s academic development:

“Fee levels below the maximum will exacerbate the existing jobs-housing imbalance and wage disparity – the root causes of the housing affordability crisis.”

Stanford strongly objected, claiming that such a change would “cripple” the university’s ability to fulfill its mission. Board President Simitian countered that even the highest fee would amount to only 0.2 percent of the university’s annual budget, or a mere 2 to 3 days worth of growth in its endowment. Simitian contrasted that impact with 30 percent to 50 percent increases in rent, within a mere couple of years, faced by area residents. The Board of Supervisors expressed support for raising the floor of an impact fee to $68.50 per square foot (roughly double the current charge), with a ceiling of $143.10. It has been reported that Stanford has since offered to increase its housing contribution to about $24.60 per square foot, which they claim aligns with the housing fees paid for office development “in most Bay Area cities.” 

The nexus study indicated that a fee of $75 per square foot would be sufficient to provide affordable housing in the county for new Stanford workers with household incomes up to 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). In 2017, the AMI for a family of four was $113,300 per year in Santa Clara County. The board will take a final vote after review by two other county committees.

[Note:  In March 2017, City Council voted 5-4 (DuBois, Filseth, Holman, Kou dissenting) to set Palo Alto’s housing impact fees for office/R&D development at $35 per square foot, a significant reduction from the $60 per square foot fee approved by the previous council in December 2016.]

Stanford says more on-campus housing will significantly increase car trips and local congestion, despite transit-rich environment.

 

Stanford’s free shuttles create comprehensive transit system.

Policy makers at every level of government make great hay over the promise of car-light housing in “transit-rich” areas to reduce car use and ownership, thereby reducing traffic and parking congestion impacts. The new Stanford analysis, however, confirms what many Bay Area residents have long contended is a weakness in that approach: it turns out the complicated transportation demands created by residential development – for trips to school, child care, shopping, medical care, religious services, socializing, recreation, entertainment, etc. – make it less likely people will get out of their cars.

The recirculated DEIR studies two new alternative scenarios: Additional Housing Alternative A, in which all newly created housing demand is met through on-campus construction (adds 2,483 additional multi-family housing units and 66 student beds to the original project); and Additional Housing Alternative B, in which approximately half of the housing demand (1,209 multi-family units and 66 student beds added to the original project) is met on-campus. Even with Stanford’s rich transportation resources, on-campus residential development under both alternatives will lead to more car trips and greater congestion. Stanford also notes that although vehicle miles traveled are reduced when people live near where they work, many new Stanford households (as in all cities), would include folks who commute to work elsewhere, offsetting some of those reductions.

“[O]ne might think having more housing on campus will reduce car trips. But campus residents will need to drive on local roads to do things like take kids to school, buy groceries and commute to off-campus jobs. Analyses show that residents generate more local car trips than commuters to campus.”

– Catherine Palter, Stanford’s associate vice president for land use and environmental planning. 

In order to meet its highly touted No Net New Commute Trips standard (set under the previous, 2000 GUP), Stanford has created a sophisticated Transportation Demand Management program, imposed permit parking requirements across campus, and embraced multi-modal infrastructure to encourage bicycle and pedestrian transportation. Perhaps most importantly, it has effectively deployed an extensive free shuttle system, the Marguerite, that zig zags the entire campus and connects riders to Stanford, Town and Country, and San Antonio Road Shopping Centers, Stanford’s Medical Center and Research Park, downtown Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Transit Center on University Avenue. 

“[T]he No Net New Commute Trips standard may not be achieved because travel demand management (TDM) measures are not as effective in reducing residential trips, compared to commute trips.”

– Recirculated DEIR, p. 2-54

Yet according to the recirculated DEIR, even in that enviable and uncommonly transit-rich environment, and with the addition of new parking and “40,000 square feet of trip reduction amenities such as onsite childcare and mobility hubs,” enough additional residents will still drive that new congestion impacts will be significant and unavoidable.

If Stanford were to build the housing itself, but with all or some of it off-campus (outside Stanford’s transit rich environment), the needed housing units “would disproportionately affect [Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View] compared to other communities in the Bay Area that house Stanford affiliates.” Though not noted in the original GUP analysis, that also of course would be true without new Stanford housing, but in that case the impacted communities would also have to find a way to get the housing built (or face more long distance commuters).

Even if Stanford builds its own housing, Palo Alto will experience heavy new impacts.

Greater building heights and density along local roads; increased traffic and school growth; and new demands and costs for safety services, water, and parks.

 

Distribution of on-campus development under 2018 GUP with Additional Housing Alternative “A”

Perhaps most revealing, the new housing alternatives give the public its first concrete description of what 1,200 to 2,400 units of local housing could look like, as well as the on-the-ground impacts of such a sizable increase in population (12,573 new residents by 2035 under Alternative A). Stanford proposes that the new housing would be concentrated in East Campus (near Stanford Avenue), along El Camino Real, in the Quarry Road area, and on West Campus (between Sand Hill Road and Campus Drive). Although designated on-campus open spaces are preserved in the new housing alternatives, Stanford suggests that the increased on-campus development density  may increase pressure to develop outside the Academic Growth Boundary after 2035.

Key impacts of new housing alternatives:

Development

The housing itself would add 2.3 million square feet of additional development under Alternative A. Alternative B would add 1.14 million square feet of additional construction and associated environmental impacts. The proposed multi-family housing projects could include densities of 40 to 80 dwelling units per acre, building heights from 50 feet up to 100 to 135 feet, and setbacks of less than 20 feet along local roads. Stanford asserts that the development standards in the El Camino Corridor Plan and the Stanford Community Plan would need to be amended.

Traffic

As for traffic, 55 percent of residential car trips are expected to stay local to Palo Alto and both housing alternatives will increase peak-hour traffic volumes on Palo Alto streets, with a notable (but not deemed technically significant) volume increase in the Crescent Park area. Alternative A will also create new significant impacts at the intersections of Stanford Avenue and Bowdoin Street and Charleston and Middlefield Roads. Under both alternatives, impacts at the intersection of Alma Street and Charleston Road will be significant and unavoidable.

Schools

Alternative A is estimated to add 1,446 new school-aged children to the Palo Alto Unified School District, beyond those counted in the original analysis, while Alternative B would add 861 more new PAUSD students. However, Stanford-owned rental housing is eligible for property tax exemptions and therefore rarely contributes to local property tax revenues that make up the vast majority of local school funding. By contrast, many other universities such as Harvard, Brown, and MIT do pay property taxes for their non-student rental housing. Dartmouth pays property tax for all on- and off-campus housing, including dormitories.

According to PAUSD Trustee Todd Collins, the current enrollment of about 350 students from tax-exempt Stanford housing represents approximately $4.5 million in annual unfunded costs for Palo Alto schools. An influx of new students from tax-exempt housing could have a severe economic impact on the school district.

Public Services

Other population related impacts include substantially greater demands on city-provided Fire and Emergency service to the campus, police dispatch, parking enforcement, and bicycle and pedestrian safety services, including crossing guards. Both alternatives will substantially increase consumption of both potable water and groundwater, including additional use and treatment of groundwater for emergency use to supplement the potable water supply. The water detention basin in the West Campus will have to be relocated, affecting city flood control facilities. Use of city parks, particularly in the College Terrace neighborhood will notably increase, impacting the quality of the facilities and increasing maintenance costs beyond the impacts identified in the original DEIR.

Let the county know what you think of the new alternatives and their impacts, either at the July 10 public meeting (6:00-8:00 pm, Palo Alto Art Center), or by submitting your comments by July 26 to:

County of Santa Clara
Department of Planning and Development Attention: David Rader
County Government Center
70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110
Email: David.Rader@pln.sccgov.org

City staff are seeking a courtesy extension in order to allow the council an opportunity to review the city’s comments before submittal to the county. If granted, the council likely will discuss them at its special meeting on July 30. The PAUSD Board of Trustees is likely to meet on July 17 or 19 to discuss the GUP.

SB-827 height overlay map

“Transit rich” housing. Sounds good, right? Is this what you expected?

State Senator Scott Weiner (D-11th District), the author of last year’s “By-right Housing” law, (SB-35), has a pair of new “go-big” proposals. Designed to incentivize construction of dense, multi-family housing near transit, SB-827 would “up zone” all parcels, statewide, within 1/2 mile of a major transit stop or within 1/4 mile of a high quality transit corridor. Residential development projects in those “transit rich” areas would receive a “transit-rich housing bonus” exempting them from local rules regarding density, parking, floor area limits and design standards. Height limits would be set between 45 feet and 85 feet, depending on location. SB-827 does not specify any affordability requirements or minimum residential component.

Following on the heels of new State penalties for failure to meet regional housing allocations (RHNA), Senator Weiner’s second proposal, SB-828, would effectively double the RHNA requirements for all local jurisdictions, requiring that they “plan and accommodate for 200 percent of the local housing allocation for every income category in its housing element.”

So what would SB-827 mean for Palo Alto? More than a third of the city’s built environment would be eligible for conversion to dense “housing developments” up to as much as 85 feet high: approximately 6,000 parcels (out of 18,050 total parcels in the city), including 3,694 parcels currently zoned for single family homes and 1,416 zoned for multi-family residential (which currently have height limits of 30 to 40 feet). As written, SB-827 appears to apply across all zoning categories.

Click the image below for a story map with multiple tabs analyzing the impacts of SB-827 on Palo Alto (created by AnimaDesigncourtesy of the Embarcadero Institute, 501(c)3).

The zoomable map shows the new maximum building heights in the areas impacted by the Weiner proposal. Yellow = maximum height of 45 feet, Orange = maximum height of 55 feet, and Red = maximum height of 85 feet. If the project is eligible for another state “density bonus,” heights could go up to 105 feet. On site parking, area wide, will be left entirely to the discretion of the developer.

What do 55 foot and 85 foot buildings look like?

It is widely agreed that passage of SB-827 would substantially curtail the decision-making powers of local government, but community advocates are lining up both for and against the bill. Many avid housing proponents see less local control as a good thing, but it does raise some thorny questions.

Will it disrupt carefully crafted area plans, such as SOFA I/II and the soon to kick off North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan or the local balance and distribution of schools, parks and other community facilities? How will it impact the local economy when all commercial uses within the transit-rich area have to compete with more highly entitled housing developments (akin to government incentives for office growth in recent years)? Will they have to move farther from transit? Will it promote displacement of low and moderate income residents from older, more affordable housing stock? What happens if transit routes change? Will it deter the creation of new transit routes? What will be the likely service demands and fiscal impacts on the City?

The City of Palo Alto announced its opposition to the bill in a letter signed by Mayor Kniss on February 13. The League of California Cities also opposes SB-827. On the other side of the debate, in an unusual departure from Mayor Kniss, Councilmember Adrian Fine plans to actively support the bill. The California YIMBY Tech Network recently gathered signatures from 130 tech leaders on a letter of support.

Whether SB-827 will move out of committee and forward to passage is still an open question. Let your local representatives know what you think about the bill: City Council, County Supervisor Joe Simitian, State Assemblymember Marc Berman, and State Senator Jerry Hill.

Assemblymember Berman will hold a community open house on February 22 from 4:00-6:00 pm at his District Office in Los Altos, and will join Menlo Park Mayor, Peter Ohtaki for a community coffee on February 26, 8:00-9:30 am in Menlo Park.

City Council adopts 2018 goals

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / February 3, 2018

City looks to choose grade-separation alternative, add 300 housing units this year

Palo Alto needs to approve 300 housing units, select a new alignment for the rail corridor and make inroads in fighting traffic and addressing budget challenges before the end of the year, the City Council agreed during its priority-setting retreat Saturday.


By a 7-0 vote, with councilmen Tom DuBois and Greg Tanaka absent, the council chose four official priorities for 2018: transportation, housing, finance and grade separation. The council also specified that the “finance” priority should include as a special focus the creation of an “infrastructure funding plan” that considers the recent escalation of construction costs.

Palo Alto: Southgate parking permit trial already under fire

Mercury News – by Kevin Kelly / February 1, 2018

Southgate residents want office employees off their streets, while city looks to add permits to El Camino

Some Southgate neighborhood residents are upset that Palo Alto officials are already talking about changing an experiment designed to make it easier for them to find street parking in front of their homes.

But the council unanimously decided to revisit the trial in June. If Caltrans, which owns and operates El Camino Real, meanwhile agrees to allow permitted parking on the west side, the council indicated it will issue the additional 15 permits to businesses with the intention that they park on El Camino.

On Monday, the council is to consider modifying a parking permit program in the adjacent Evergreen Park/Mayfield neighborhoods. Staff is suggesting that the trial phase there be made permanent.

Changes eyed for Southgate’s parking program

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 30, 2018

To assist area employees, City Council looks to add portion of El Camino Real to Residential Preferential Parking district

For residents, Southgate’s new Residential Preferential Parking program is a huge success and should be continued as is. For nearby businesses, the picture is starkly different.

The tussle between residents and businesses created a dilemma for the council. On the one hand, council members sympathized with the workers and deemed their concerns reasonable. On the other, the city didn’t start fully enforcing the one-year pilot program until December. Most residents at Monday’s meeting argued that changing it so early in the process is counterproductive.

The council balked at making any immediate changes. Instead, council members opted to wait another six months before reassessing the program. But in a nod to the employees, the council also supported expanding the Residential Preferential Permit district to the west side of El Camino Real, with the idea of making those parking spots available for area employees.

Palo Alto to challenge Edgewood Plaza ruling

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / January 30, 2018

City Council votes in a closed session to appeal ruling that favored Sand Hill Property Company

Palo Alto plans to appeal a December court ruling that invalidated the city’s fines against Sand Hill Property Company for failing to maintain an operational grocery store at the redeveloped Edgewood Plaza.

By a 7-2 vote, with Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, the council directed staff Monday night to appeal a Dec. 15 ruling by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan, which effectively invalidated about $318,250 in fines that the city issued to Sand Hill last year.

In issuing its citations, the city had concluded that Sand Hill had violated the conditions of its “planned community” zone by not having an operational grocer at the plaza at 2080 Channing Ave.

Plan for dedicated El Camino bus lanes fizzles out

Mountain View Voice – by Mark Noack / January 29, 2018

Unpopular BRT project called off after $10.5M in preliminary work

After years of spinning its wheels, the controversial proposal to build dedicated bus lanes along El Camino Real appears to be dead in the water.

Originally proposed more than a decade ago, the $223 million project known as Bus Rapid Transit has languished in recent years amid pushback from residents and many elected leaders. Valley Transportation Authority officials say they are now pulling the plug on the idea after gaining insufficient support from cities along the El Camino corridor, even for a scaled-down version to test out the idea.