Uploaded: Wednesday, November 22, 2000, 10 a.m.
Compromise likely on open space
by Don Kazak
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors appears to be headed for a compromise plan to protect Stanford's foothills. The board, which is scheduled to meet Monday to approve a new general use permit for the university, met Nov. 20 in closed session to talk about the Stanford application.
"I think there will be a compromise Monday," Supervisor Don Gage, the chairman of the board, said after the closed session. "But I can't say what it will be."
Gage said he was personally opposed to a proposal by Supervisor Joe Simitian to set aside 1,000 acres of Stanford foothills as open space for 99 years in return for a new use permit for campus development.
"I felt that 99 years was too long and it's a legal risk," Gage added. "We could be sued."
Stanford President John Hennessy has said repeatedly that the university believes Simitian's proposal is unconstitutional. In a letter to the editor published in the Nov. 15 Weekly, Hennessy said Stanford officials "honestly hope we can achieve a resolution without pursuing (a lawsuit). Nonetheless, if the county adopted a requirement that we believed to be unconstitutional, then litigation may be the only remedy left for us to pursue."
Simitian, who is out of town on a post-election vacation, participated in the Monday closed session by telephone.
Supervisor Pete McHugh released a statement Monday saying, "Basically, both sides are using a full-court press and the board will be taking up the issue on Monday Nov. 27."
Supervisors Blanca Alvarado and Jim Beall couldn't be reached for comment.
The county planning staff and Planning Commission have recommended a 25-year protection plan for the foothills, something Hennessy said Stanford could accept as long as possible exceptions are made for housing needs.
"Our position has been made very clear," said Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations. "We are hopeful that there will be a satisfactory conclusion."
The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously Oct. 23 to state its preference for permanent open space for the Stanford hills. Mayor Liz Kniss, who on Nov. 7 was elected to replace Simitian on the county board, said this week that an "inviolate" 25-year protection is very important.
Kniss said she was "more than the standard 'cautiously optimistic'" about the county and Stanford reaching an agreement on the foothills issue.
"I am sure Joe (Simitian) will want to have closure on this," Kniss added. Simitian was elected to the state Assembly Nov. 7 and his last day as a county supervisor will be Dec. 1.
Environmentalists, who prefer permanent open space protection for the Stanford hills, already think Simitian's proposal is a compromise, and are less than happy about less stringent restrictions being adopted.
"We won't be surprised when that happens on Monday," said Peter Drekmeier of the Stanford Open Space Alliance. "Stanford has intimidated them with the threat of a lawsuit."
Drekmeier noted that Simitian came up with the suggested 1,000-acre, 99-year proposal after listening to public testimony in more than 40 meetings over the last 18 months. "It would be a terrible precedent if his leadership is disregarded at this point," Drekmeier said.
Simitian has also made it clear that he was willing to listen to other proposals to protect the Stanford hills, and that nothing would be final, in his mind, until the board votes Nov. 27.
The county planning staff is preparing a report listing different options on protecting the Stanford hills, said Sarah Jones, a county planner. The staff is also preparing a list of outstanding planning issues between Stanford and the county.
Hennessy, in his Oct. 30 statement to the county board, referred to other differences that exist but said they could likely be worked out between the two staffs.
Stanford's general use permit application calls for 2 million square feet of new academic buildings and 3,000 new housing units over the next decade. There are now 12 million square feet of academic and support buildings on the Stanford campus.