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.

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