Uploaded: Thursday, October 26, 2000, noon
University counterattacks on land-use plan
President exhorts 'alumni and friends'
to lobby county supervisors to kill 99-year open space proposal
by Don Kazak
A proposed 99-year open space plan for Stanford University's foothills
is "unacceptable" to Stanford and would mean that "our new housing
and new academic facilities will be on indefinite hold," Stanford
President John Hennessy has declared.
In a letter and e-mail addressed to "Stanford alumni and friends,"
Hennessy exhorted them to contact the Santa Clara County Board of
Supervisors and attend a public hearing Monday in San Jose. The
board is scheduled to vote on the plan on Tuesday.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian Tuesday night--at a
packed town hall meeting in Palo Alto--proposed that 1,000 acres
of foothills land be kept open for 99 years in exchange for the
2 million square feet of core-campus academic development and 3,000
housing units Stanford has proposed.
"Both the (Stanford) Trustees and I view these new conditions as
unacceptable," Hennessy said in his letter to alumni and friends.
"The new proposal mandates a 99-year dedication of one-quarter
of our Santa Clara County lands. Unless this condition is removed,
I believe we will not be able to accept the new General Use Permit.
Our new housing and new academic facilities will be on indefinite
The impasse could also threaten the earlier Stanford offer of the
former Mayfield School site at El Camino Real and Page Mill Road
as the location for the Jewish Community Center's community-services
center, and an even earlier offer of $10 million to the Palo Alto
Unified School District to help build or reopen a third middle school.
Hennessy in his Oct. 25 letter/e-mail urged people to contact supervisors
and ask them to approve the Stanford plan with a 25-year open-space
provision, as accepted earlier by the county Planning Commission.
That plan would provide for nearly 2,400 acres of Stanford land
west of Junipero Serra Boulevard to be preserved.
In a separate statement, also issued Wednesday, Hennessy declared
that he was "disappointed that, with less than a week left in a
two-year process, unprecedented new conditions have been interjected,"
referring to Simitian's Tuesday night presentation.
For several weeks, however, Simitian had been meeting with Hennessy
and Board of Trustees Chairman Isaac Stein on Friday mornings in
an attempt to hammer out agreement on outstanding issues, including
open space provisions.
Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations,
said Thursday that the 99-year open space requirement is the sole
problem at this point: "It's the last bite that is causing the problems,"
he said. "We have very serious policy and legal objections."
In spite of those problems, Horton said Stanford is "still hopeful
that there will be a satisfactory conclusion" at the Tuesday supervisors'
While the entire Board of Supervisors will deliberate over Stanford's
10-year use permit, the other four supervisors have been taking
Simitian's lead because Stanford is in his supervisorial district
and he has helped guide the 18-month county-review process.
That process has included more than 40 public hearings and meetings,
often with hundreds of people--such as at Tuesday night's packed
Town Hall meeting in the Palo Alto City Council chambers.
Simitian had a rapt audience when he outlined his main points.
Stanford graduate students, faculty and officials were in the audience,
along with half of the Palo Alto City Council, Midpeninsula Regional
Open Space District officials, members of environmental groups,
and Stanford critics and supporters.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting praised Simitian for his
leadership in the planning process, while others thought he went
"I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for anything in the world,"
Palo Alto City Councilwoman Nancy Lytle said. "And I wouldn't want
anyone else to be in your shoes."
Lytle credited Simitian for "balanced, fair, thoughtful" leadership.
Another speaker Tuesday night, Dorothea Almond of Palo Alto, called
Simitian's open space proposal "like a taking without compensation."
"No other major landowner has done anything comparable to what
Stanford has done" to preserve its land, said Goodwin Steinberg
of Palo Alto. He credited Simitian for trying to come up with a
solution on Stanford's plans but also warned, "I hope you use the
same skill to keep this from blowing up."
But it did blow up Wednesday.
Stanford is contending the open space plan suggested by Simitian
is illegal. But that is contrary to separate legal opinions from
the county counsel, outside counsel retained by the county, outside
counsel retained by the Committee for Green Foothills, and from
Palo Alto City Attorney Ariel Calonne. In addition, Simitian himself
is a land use attorney and certified city planner.
Without a new use permit, Stanford can't move forward with the
2 million square feet of new academic buildings it plans for the
next decade, plus 3,000 units of faculty, staff and badly needed
graduate student housing.
As one graduate student, Mary Lee Kimber, said about being housed
on campus, "If I don't have housing, my graduate career ends" because
she can't afford to rent in the community.
In one of his most telling comments Tuesday night, Simitian noted
that "because Stanford is unincorporated doesn't mean it is ungoverned."