Palo Alto and Stanford University officials remain sharply divided over mitigating housing and traffic impacts of Stanford's two proposed expansion projects — a conflict that is unlikely to abate at least until early spring.
On Monday night, several members of the City Council argued in a study session that Stanford owes it to the city to provide housing for the roughly 3,200 workers the new expansions are expected to attract.
Stanford, meanwhile, continued to ask the council to keep an open mind until the city releases its Draft Environmental Impact Report in early spring.
Monday's study session on the housing impacts of proposed expansions of the Stanford Medical Center and the Stanford Shopping Center did little to bridge the gap between the two sides.
While some council members said they need more data to reach an informed decision, Councilman Jack Morton and Vice Mayor Peter Drekmeier called for Stanford to provide housing and share the city's burden.
"This is a monumental project and I think somehow we have to come up with a way that is fair to everybody," Morton said. "That Stanford bear none of the impacts for this (hospital) expansion is a place where we don't want to look."
Drekmeier acknowledged Stanford's argument that hospitals are generally exempt from providing housing for development projects.
But with building space at a premium and the council uncertain about Stanford University's other expansion plans, requesting the applicant to provide housing would not be unreasonable, he said. He proposed creating housing for the two projects on either side of Hoover Pavilion, and early Palo Alto Hospital at Quarry Road and El Camino Real that merged with Stanford Hospital to become part of the Stanford Medical Center.
"It's going to come down to a matter of fairness," Dremeier said. "What's a fair balance? Where Palo Alto is asked to pick up some of the burden and some of the benefit, they owe it to us to pick up some of the burden."
So far, the council has relied on housing-impact data from a recent report by the consulting firm Keyser Marston Associates, Inc. The report says the two projects would require 1,856 new housing units in the region to meet needs of increased staffing.
But Stanford officials asked the council to reserve final judgment until the draft EIR is completed, which will more fully outline the housing and traffic impacts of the two projects.
Andy Coe, Stanford Hospital's chief government relations officer, said Stanford is willing to "engage in constructive discussions" with the council and city staff about housing, but suggested any decisions made at this time would be premature.
"We think there is an appropriate time and place for it — when we are fully informed by the EIR analysis and during the development agreement," Coe said.
Some council members suggested a "village" concept, where housing would be located close to the hospital and the shopping center to reduce traffic.
But Jean McCown, Stanford's director of community relations, said the traffic impacts of the expansion projects will likely be smaller than expected. She pointed to the hospital's many traffic-reduction programs, which include ride-sharing benefits and public-transportation subsidies.
"It has been suggested as a policy matter that even if there is sufficient supply in the region to meet the need, employee housing should be located close to the hospital to reduce traffic impact," McCown said. "The hospital project is not likely to result in the same employee-related traffic impact as more typical developments."
The council also heard from environmentalist Walt Hays and Chamber of Commerce board Chairman Tommy Fehrenbach, both of whom praised the hospital project and urged the council not to be too stringent with Stanford.
"I urge you to move this project forward, to reasonably assess the mitigation and to properly value the enormous benefit provided by our hospitals," Fehrenbach said — speaking solely in his capacity as a city resident.
But Morton remained visibly unimpressed. He accused Stanford of playing dirty in the past and said he expects a major fight over the housing issue.
"I really have a hard time tonight understanding where we are going with this," Morton said. "It takes a major fight in this community for the community to get a fair deal."