10-22 GUP Hearing

Stanford abruptly withdraws application to expand

Just days after reportedly agreeing to meet the county’s demand for 2,172 new units of faculty and staff housing, on November 1 Stanford abruptly withdrew its application for a General Use Permit for its planned 3.5 million square foot expansion. The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to take final action on the GUP and conditions of approval on November 5. 

Although approval was widely expected, Stanford opted to abandon the application, rather than face a vote on mitigation requirements. The university cited the reluctance of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to substitute a development agreement for the County Planning Commission’s recommended conditions of approval, as well as proposed traffic mitigation requirements that Stanford deemed infeasible, as key sticking points that led the university to put its plans on hold. 

Conflict over development agreement

A development agreement would have allowed greater flexibility for negotiation of community benefits that the county cannot require under the traditional land use approval process in exchange for leniency around required mitigation of the impacts of Stanford’s growth plan. Stanford has often argued that a privately negotiated, contractual development agreement is necessary to provide certainty that the rules governing their development plans won’t change over the life of the permit. However, the previous Stanford GUP that was approved in 2000 accomplished exactly that without a DA. In its 169 year history, the county has never entered into a development agreement. 

Ironically, it was Stanford’s aggressive pursuit of a privately negotiated DA contract that undermined the prospects for such a deal. This past spring, Stanford made a bilateral agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District that would have mitigated some school impacts contingent upon county approval of both the GUP and a development agreement. Although a separate agreement between Stanford and PAUSD was appropriate and encouraged, tying it to commitments from the county proved a step too far. By making school enrollment mitigations dependent on county acquiescence to Stanford’s other demands, the move was perceived both to violate the ground rules for DA negotiations and as a cynical political weapon using kids and schools to force county concessions in other critical impact areas. The county then indefinitely paused negotiations, returning instead to the traditional development review process. 

As reported by the Palo Alto Weekly, in response to Stanford’s Friday announcement, Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian said “The authorization of 3.5 million square feet over 15 to 20 years would’ve been a substantial benefit to the university. But given the requirement for full mitigation, they chose to walk away. I respect their decision, as an applicant, to walk away.” Although he was open to the notion of a development agreement “as an appropriate tool for some narrow and limited benefits” he was not willing to abdicate the county’s police powers and land-use authority.

What impacts and mitigations were at issue?

Community members and public officials from across the region have turned out in droves throughout the public review process seeking mitigation of impacts from Stanford’s expansion plan on housing, traffic and transit, municipal services, schools, parks and open space, air quality and more. Most recently, a public hearing in Palo Alto on October 22 brought an overflow crowd of more than 400 people and was preceded by two rallies calling for full mitigation – one organized by the Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE2035) to insist that Stanford offer more housing and transportation services for employees, and another organized by the Palo Alto Council of Parent Teacher Associations urging Stanford to stand by the spring draft agreement with PAUSD, with or without a development agreement. 

A coalition of elected representatives and staff members from San Mateo County, Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City and Woodside also weighed in prior to the hearing calling on Stanford to “pay its fair share” to address the impacts of proposed campus growth, citing the revenue loss already suffered by San Mateo County public agencies due to Stanford’s current $1.2 billion in tax exempt property holdings in the county.

The traditional review process produced a recommendation by the county’s staff and Planning Commission to approve the GUP, but subject to certain conditions designed to achieve full mitigation of negative impacts on housing, traffic and other environmental concerns, including such things as:

  • the addition of 2,172 new housing units for faculty and staff and a housing linkage provision that would require housing construction to move forward concurrent with academic development – that is, Stanford could not build subsequent phases of academic growth until the housing required in the previous phase was complete;
  • a new methodology for counting car trips that considers the entire “peak” commute period rather than a single hour; and
  • long term protection of the foothills from development.  

Under state law, the county cannot require mitigations for school enrollment impacts. However, in order to approve the GUP, the Board of Supervisors would have had to make a legal finding that it would not be “detrimental to public health, safety, and general welfare.” County analysis indicated that PAUSD currently loses $44.5 million in annual revenue due to Stanford’s tax exempt status. The GUP was expected to produce 1,086 new PAUSD students from new tax exempt Stanford properties. Averaging the cost of that enrollment growth across PAUSD’s total enrollment, by 2041 it would result in a $5,050 reduction in funding, for every PAUSD student, every year. County Board President, Supervisor Joe Simitian, indicated on October 22 that absent Stanford contributions to the school district, it could be difficult for the board to make the legal findings necessary to approve the GUP.  

Because of Stanford’s tax exempt status, absent supplemental Stanford contributions to the school district, by 2041 PAUSD would see a $5,050 reduction in funding for every PAUSD student, every year. 

Announcement and reactions

Stanford indicated in its announcement that it will launch “a new phase of engagement with our local communities” and consider the implications of regional challenges for Stanford’s longer-term campus development. The announcement also refers to a poll (commissioned by Stanford) showing that after receiving what the university described as “a neutral description of the [GUP application],” 72 percent of respondents supported Stanford’s expansion plan. 

In a separate letter to the Stanford community, the university again touted the necessity of a development agreement and blamed the Board of Supervisors’ two-member ad hoc negotiating committee for preventing the university from “responding to the many requests for benefits from our neighboring communities.” Stanford also reiterated that mitigating the car trips associated with greater housing requirements would be infeasible and unrealistic and objected to a county proposed study that would have monitored Stanford’s impacts on municipal services. Stanford’s letter says they “will be actively assessing available options for our highest-priority needs” and “will inform and involve the campus community and our neighbors as we determine the next steps.” 

Stanford undergraduate and graduate students behind the influential SCoPE2035 aren’t buying it. In a scathing Facebook post responding to Stanford’s announcement, the group says Stanford’s “reasons for withdrawing the permit are excuses disguising their true motive.” SCoPE2035 argues that the proposed conditions of approval would have provided “just as much certainty as a development agreement” and that “Stanford’s claims of being unable to meet traffic requirements while building new housing are false. The County loosened requirements to make them easier to meet and gave Stanford multiple options and flexibility to meet standards, including unlimited trip credits.” 

The group accused Stanford of treating community pleas for equitable outcomes as mere public relations challenges and posited that the university’s latest move is a “stalling tactic” designed not for further “engagement” with the community but to wait for student activists to graduate, county supervisors to be replaced, and the community to forget.

Members of the San Mateo County coalition expressed both relief and disappointment. It felt like a win that county residents would not soon have to face the problems predicted from Stanford’s expansion plan. But some were disappointed that Stanford opted to withdraw its application rather than confront the cumulative impacts of its long-term growth in partnership with affected communities.

What happens next?

With the application withdrawn, county deliberations on Stanford’s plan come to a full stop. Whether Stanford will submit a new, possibly revised, application for a long-term development permit, pursue piecemeal permits to implement its plans on a project by project basis, or simply pause its development ambitions until the politics are more favorable, remains to be seen. In any case, Stanford still has development entitlements remaining in its allocation from the GUP approved by the county in 2000.

Public hearing in Palo Alto could see action on Stanford GUP

October 20, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters

Tuesday night, the County Board of Supervisors may take their first votes on Stanford’s application for a General Use Permit to add 3.5 million square feet of new campus development by 2035. Schools and the local impacts from Stanford’s tax-exempt presence around the region may feature heavily in the discussion as the supervisors transition from the study session to public hearing phase of their review with the October 22 hearing in Palo Alto City Hall. 

Interested parties have aggressively staked out their positions leading up to the hearing phase. Cities up and down the peninsula have warned of extensive local impacts generating the need for millions of dollars in mitigating investments for affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. Just last Friday, a coalition of elected officials and staff from six San Mateo cities and the county itself came out swinging with an impassioned demand that Stanford pay its fair share to accommodate the impacts of its growth. Most local cities depend heavily on property taxes to cover their General Fund expenses. However, according to the coalition letter, Stanford’s tax exempt status already takes an estimated $1.2 billion in Stanford property holdings out of the tax revenue base in San Mateo County alone. 

“The roads, bridges and pathways Stanford employees use daily receive no funds for repairs or upgrades from Stanford. Likewise, nothing for parks, 9-1-1 dispatch and first responders. Nothing.”

– letter from coalition of San Mateo officials calling on Stanford to pay its fair share.

Similarly, the Palo Alto Unified School District has argued that the estimated 1,500 new k-12 students generated by Stanford’s expansion will irreparably damage the quality of education PAUSD can provide unless Stanford fully mitigates additional costs. According to PAUSD, “adding hundreds of students with little or no new additional property tax revenues would result in significant and permanent PAUSD budget shortfalls, class size increases and program reductions….”

The San Mateo coalition criticized Stanford’s refusal to acknowledge or discuss their concerns about the university’s expansion and said that Stanford told them it was only willing to negotiate with the coalition if they lobbied Santa Clara County to enter into a development agreement with the university. 

A development agreement would allow more flexible, and less public, negotiations around community benefits and the mitigations and conditions of approval that might otherwise be required under the traditional GUP and environmental review process. Under the traditional process in this case, Santa Clara County staff and Planning Commission have recommended, among other things, that approval of the GUP be conditioned upon a rough quadrupling of Stanford’s proposed new faculty and staff housing, to a total of at least 2,172 units.  

For its part, Stanford adamantly opposes the housing requirement and has dug in across the board to push Santa Clara County to enter a more flexible development agreement. Stanford insists that it will “only accept a general use permit that has feasible conditions that Stanford can implement and that is accompanied by a development agreement.”

Indeed, that pressure itself led to the breakdown of negotiations for a development agreement earlier this year when Stanford reached a separate bilateral agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District but conditioned it on the county’s approval of the GUP and a development agreement. (Whether Stanford will still provide the promised PAUSD-related investments without a development agreement is uncertain). Although Stanford was free to enter a separate agreement with PAUSD, tying it to county action was thought to violate the ground rules for the development agreement negotiations. Seeing the move as an attempt by Stanford to gain leverage over the county, Supervisors Simitian and Chavez immediately halted negotiations over a development agreement. As of their October 8 study session, most of the supervisors seemed to think a development agreement is unnecessary. 

Tuesday’s hearing will begin at 6:00 pm at Palo Alto City Hall. Two rallies are scheduled on the steps of City Hall to precede the hearing: 4:00 pm Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCOPE 2035); and 5:15 pm PAUSD community.

The final hearing of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for November 5 at 1:30 pm in San Jose (Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street).

Click here for more information from the county about the Stanford GUP.

Remember the Stanford GUP? It’s coming back.

September 7, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters

Stanford’s application for a General Use Permit for add 3.5 million square feet of new development will take center stage again this fall as the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors begins final deliberations. On June 27, 2019, the county Planning Commission rejected Stanford’s bid for a Development Agreement that would credit the university for housing that is existing or already in the pipeline. Instead they recommended conditioned approval of Stanford’s expansion based on Alternative A from the Environmental Impact Report, which would require Stanford to build a minimum of 2,172 new units of housing (not counting student beds) – far exceeding the 550 new units proposed in Stanford’s application. 70 percent of the units in each income category must be be constructed on campus. 

Regarding conditions related to traffic mitigation, the commission supported the recommendation that car trips be counted during the entire peak period of the commute (rather than a single hour), but did not support staff’s proposal to count reverse commute trips and average daily traffic as part of Stanford’s no-net-new-trips obligation, opting instead for further study to develop an alternative regulatory standard. 

A third major component of recommended conditions of approval for the GUP is long term protection of the Stanford foothills. On August 28, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District sought to shore up that recommendation of the county staff and Planning Commission. The district unanimously passed a resolution asking the county to limit development outside of the university’s current Academic Growth Boundary for 99 years unless a supermajority (4 out of 5 supervisors) approve breaching the AGB. Read the District resolution

Meanwhile, new research by a group of media organizations revealed that Stanford has been buying up single family homes in the area, now owning at least 37 in Palo Alto and 700 countywide. The media groups expect to publish and air their report in mid to late October. 

The County has scheduled study sessions and final public hearings on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, September 24: Study Session #1 at 1:30 pm
    Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose
  • Tuesday, October 8, 2019: Study Session #2 at 1:30 pm
    Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose
  • Tuesday, October 22, 2019: Public Hearing #1 at 6:00 pm
    City of Palo Alto Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto
  • Tuesday, November 5, 2019: Public Hearing #2 at 1:30 pm
    Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose

To get back up to speed on how we got here, check out our past coverage of the Stanford GUP and explore the county’s website dedicated to the project.

Amid drama, county staff takes firm positions on housing needs and open space protections related to Stanford’s expansion

June 18, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters

Despite recent drama and uncertainty over whether Stanford and Santa Clara County will return to negotiations for a development agreement to govern the university’s expansion project, the County Planning Commission continues to move forward through the traditional review process for Stanford’s General Use Permit application. On May 23, county staff released detailed conditions of approval proposing requirements Stanford would have to meet to proceed with its project, along with associated amendments to the Stanford University Community Plan that provides a policy framework to guide Stanford’s growth.

The most notable element of the proposed conditions of approval is a requirement that Stanford build a minimum of 2,172 units of housing (not counting student beds), including 933 affordable units – far exceeding the 550 units proposed in Stanford’s application. 70 percent of the units in each income category must be constructed on campus. At a May 30 County Planning Commission hearing held in Palo Alto, housing dominated discussion and over 250 people turned out, most of whom urged support for the recommended conditions of approval. Stanford, for its part, opposes the proposed housing requirements and is seeking amendments to get credit for housing already in the pipeline and to eliminate the on-campus requirement by allowing 70% of market rate units to be constructed within 6 miles of campus “or along transit corridors.”

Key among the staff-proposed Stanford Community Plan amendments, is a requirement that Stanford refrain from development outside of the academic growth boundary (AGB) for 99 years. Established as part of Stanford’s 2000 GUP, the AGB essentially preserves Stanford land west of Junipero Serra Boulevard as open space, with development outside the boundary only permissible with support from four out the county’s five supervisors. The original AGB requirement is set to expire in 2025. A 2018 study commissioned by the county concluded that Stanford could triple its density, accommodating up to 44 million square feet of campus development, without breaching the AGB and still maintain a floor area ratio at the low end of the range at comparable universities.

Stanford and others continue to urge return to a development agreement process that allows negotiation of community benefits that cannot be mandated through the traditional, environmental review process. Chief among such benefits could be school mitigations that are strictly limited by the state under the traditional process. Ironically, a separate agreement announced in April between Stanford and the Palo Alto Unified School District is precisely what triggered suspension of negotiations because the school mitigations were conditioned on approval of a development agreement, seemingly contrary to established ground rules between the county and the university.

That apparent Stanford/PAUSD deal spurred new drama last month when the Palo Alto Weekly reported on emails, obtained through a Public Records Act request, that suggested Stanford and PAUSD had “worked together to circumvent county ground rules” and raised questions about the transparency of their discussions. Contemporaneously with that reporting, Stanford called a halt to further action on the tentative agreement with PAUSD and asked the county to delay public hearings on the GUP and return to development agreement negotiations. On May 14, the school board voted to suspend consideration of the tentative Stanford agreement. With the agreement suspended, recused board members Ken Dauber and Todd Collins both returned to the dais to comment on the agreement. Dauber sharply criticized County Supervisor Joe Simitian for having “killed” the agreement due to his objections to its constraints on the broader county negotiations.

Whether the parties will return to development agreement negotiations and the fate of the Stanford/PAUSD school mitigation agreement remain uncertain. However Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos indicated at the May 30 Planning Commission meeting that “there are communications occurring between the county and the university about the conditions under which negotiations may resume.” Meanwhile, the County Planning Commission will continue its work along the traditional path, possibly making a recommendation at the final public hearing scheduled for June 27 at 1:30 pm in the Issac Newton Senter Auditorium at the County Government Center at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

Stanford just drove a wedge between the county and PAUSD. Will the rift undermine shared community interests in the face of massive university growth?

May 5, 2019 – Palo Alto Matters

Stanford’s proposed 2.3 million square foot academic expansion will have far reaching local impacts on housing, traffic, schools, open space and more. The city, school district and our county representative, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian, have been mutually supportive throughout the process of assessing the impacts of the university’s General Use Permit application, known as the GUP, and identifying mitigations and community benefits that could offset them. All three agencies recently participated together in a rally calling for full mitigation of Stanford’s PAUSD enrollment impacts.

Last month, the county was poised to issue a list of demands in the form of conditions of approval and community benefits that would form the basis for negotiation of a development agreement to govern the Stanford project. Meanwhile, the school district met with Stanford to discuss school impacts and emerged with a ready-to-sign agreement whereby Stanford would partially offset the per-student cost of new Stanford kids from tax-exempt housing, build a $15 million “innovative space” to be shared with the school district, and provide $500,000 for school transportation improvements. In exchange, the district would drop its demands for a new elementary school site on Stanford land, give up its right to sue and agree not to oppose any development proposed in the GUP.

Unfortunately, the proposed agreement also came with a big catch: the benefits would only materialize if the county signed on to a development agreement to approve Stanford’s expansion. Citing violation of established ground rules that forbid third party negotiations pertaining to the development agreement, Simitian and county staff immediately suspended planned discussions with Stanford and put development agreement negotiations on indefinite hold.

While Simitian has long welcomed negotiations between Stanford and PAUSD, he has made clear that they must proceed independently of the development agreement. News of the proposed PAUSD agreement elicited an unusually strong reaction from him as he criticized Stanford for using kids and schools as a cynical political weapon to force county concessions regarding housing, traffic, open space and other critical impact areas – issues that are of shared concern to constituents of the school district, the city, and the county alike. 

The School Board gave the deal an initial enthusiastic reception, but it has not yet been agendized for approval. Supervisor Simitian says that development agreement negotiations will not resume unless Stanford modifies its deal with PAUSD to remove any conditions relating to county approval of the GUP. 

For now, Stanford’s GUP will continue to be processed on the traditional review track. The county will release Conditions of Approval in response to the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report on May 23 and the County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Palo Alto City Hall on May 30 at 6:00pm. The Conditions of Approval will be available on the County Planning Commission’s website as part of the packet for it’s May 30 meeting.

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

July 25, 2018 – Palo Alto Matters

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?

July 8, 2018 – Palo Alto Matters

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:


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.


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.


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.

Palo Alto school board may ask Stanford for another school site

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levistsky / January 29, 2018

The Palo Alto school district has responded to Stanford’s plan to expand by 2.3 million square feet with nine demands, including a third elementary school on campus, more on-campus housing and a commitment by the university to not seek tax exemptions for new homes it builds.

In a draft of a letter to Santa Clara County planners that the school board will finalize at a board meeting tomorrow (Jan. 30) night, the district calls for the university to increase its student generation rate, or the average number of K-12 students expected to live in each home the university builds.

The university has set a student generation rate of 0.5, while the school district says 0.98 is more appropriate.

Residents sound off on Stanford’s expansion

Questions linger over university’s ability to address growth impacts

Palo Alto Weekly – by Sarah Klearman / January 24, 2018

More than 200 residents of Palo Alto and surrounding communities attended a meeting on Stanford University’s proposed expansion Tuesday, with many citing traffic, parking, housing and foothills protection as their top concerns about the project.

Hosted by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the meeting focused on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Stanford University’s General Use Permit (GUP). If approved by the county, the permit would allow Stanford to build 2.275 million square feet of academic space, in addition to 3,150 housing units and 40,000 square feet of child care centers by 2035.

How big should Stanford get? Palo Alto asks for permanent limit.

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / January 23, 2018

Palo Altans will have another opportunity at City Hall tonight (Jan. 23) to sound off on Stanford’s application to expand its academic facilities by nearly 2.3 million square feet.

Last night, Palo Alto City Council signed off on its final 35-page comment letter on Stanford’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, in which the city officially responds to the university’s request. That letter will be sent to the county, which has the authority to grant or deny Stanford’s application.

Council made a few notable changes to the letter last night, including a call to set a permanent limit on how much Stanford will ever be allowed to build, referred to as a maximum buildout.
The suggestion narrowly passed, with councilmen Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka, Cory Wolbach and Adrian Fine opposing.