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.

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