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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.