New students from housing growth will exceed PAUSD capacity
Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan student growth forecast
Under the City’s newly adopted Comprehensive Plan, projected housing growth is expected to produce new PAUSD student enrollment that well exceeds PAUSD elementary and middle school capacity (at both the low- and high-end range of projected housing growth, 3,545 and 4,420 new housing units respectively).
Those estimates are based on the following assumptions, described on p. 5-7 of the FEIR:
- Assumes that all net new housing will be multi-family units (apartments and condos), the housing type likely to generate the fewest new students. For example, at the elementary level, single-family attached units (town homes) would be expected to produce 35 percent more students per unit. Detached single family homes would produce 65 percent more.
- Assumes that PAUSD schools can operate at maximum contractual capacity. The PAUSD Superintendent indicated that this would result in elimination of space for “wellness services, project-based learning, music and arts activities, special education, maker spaces, and other purposes.” PAUSD Trustee Todd Collins suggested that realistic operational capacity is 90 to 95 percent of maximum capacity.
Stanford University’s General Use Permit (GUP) student growth forecast
In addition to the student growth anticipated by 2030 in the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the Draft EIR for Stanford’s GUP expansion forecasts 275 new students, using assumptions questioned by PAUSD and not counting new off-campus housing necessitated by growth in on-campus jobs. PAUSD Trustee Todd Collins estimates that PAUSD enrollment growth attributable to the Stanford GUP will be closer to 403 students.
Even using the City and Stanford’s conservative estimates of enrollment impact, PAUSD will have to accommodate up to 2,485 additional students by the year 2030. Added to 2016 enrollment (12,261), the new total would exceed maximum physical capacity by 969 students. It would exceed operational capacity, at 90 percent or 95 percent of physical capacity, by 2,347 or 1,658 students respectively.
Under State law, school impacts can’t be used to reject a development project or plan such as the Comprehensive Plan or the Stanford GUP. Any need for additional school facilities is presumed to be fully mitigated with the payment of school fees (set by the school district and applied to each development project) regardless of the number of students generated.
Therefore, no matter what the EIR analysis shows in terms of anticipated new student enrollment under the Comp Plan, it will lead to a finding of “less than significant impact” for California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) purposes. CEQA does not offer legal protection to a community from overcrowding of schools.
Nonetheless, the school impacts analysis in the Comp Plan FEIR should raise red flags for the City, the PAUSD, and the community as we plan to accommodate future growth.