This project is both a major challenge and potential opportunity for the future of Palo Alto and our region.
On Nov. 26, the City Council will be giving directions to Palo Alto's negotiating team -- an opportunity to understand the upsides and downsides of this immense, transformative project.
We must shape and size the project and create mitigations and community benefits such that in the end our town, our partnership with Stanford and our region make a positive big step into the future, not a step backwards.
In this process we need the best thinking from our community.
Stanford has one of the world's top medical centers, attracting top researchers, clinicians and patients from around the world. We can all be proud to support such a top-notch teaching hospital. The expansion includes a state-mandated seismic upgrade, much needed as our recent tremor reminded us.
What are the issues for Palo Alto and neighboring cities? We try to have the best of all worlds: a global center for the innovation economy, diverse and walkable neighborhoods with local services, a vibrant downtown and California Avenue district, all surrounded by open spaces of foothills and baylands.
Our perennial top issues are traffic and housing. They are related. Regionally, we have the highest job density in the nine-county Bay Area, outside of San Francisco. Together with Mountain View and the other north Silicon Valley employment areas, we have the greatest housing deficit in the entire Bay Area.
Put positively, we have the greatest jobs surplus compared to our housing availability. That, combined with our insistence on good schools, parks and open space, leads to our extremely high housing prices and the daily in-and-out tidal flow of commuters.
Stanford estimates its expansion would add 2,097 jobs to this picture. A proposed Stanford Shopping Center expansion and boutique hotel (under the same environmental analysis) would add another 1,000 jobs. The applicant predicts an additional 1,000 net new vehicle trips per peak hour, both morning and afternoon, for the medical center alone – assuming "business as usual." The expanded medical complex would be about 38 percent the size of the Stanford Research Park, with 12,000 employees at build-out (about half the number working in today's research park).
When the research park went in, no one told the community that Oregon Avenue would become Oregon Expressway, with hundreds of houses to be bought out and a citywide referendum bitterly dividing the city physically and politically.
One problem was that the then-"Stanford Industrial Park" was designed to be automobile-oriented, without sidewalks.
Assuming community support for some expansion of the medical center, we must not repeat the mistake of allowing another auto-dominated employment center in the middle of our Peninsula.
The positive role model is Stanford's academic campus, which under the county's general use permit has added millions of square feet of new buildings under a "no net new trips" agreement. With a GPS-enhanced shuttle system, parking charges and commute-alternative programs, Stanford has cut its "drive-alone" rate from 72 percent in 2002 to 55 percent in 2006.
The community needs to insist on "no net new trips" and "no net new emissions," and Stanford has shown it can be done. Can we in Palo Alto work with Stanford to make room for a larger medical center by becoming more efficient in our daily commutes? A citywide shuttle system, a people-mover to the train depot and a pedestrian- and transit-oriented design can take as many trips off the road as an expansion might add.
Last month, former Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientists -- including many Stanford scientists -- won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee announcement was blunt:
"Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man's control," it said.
My call to action this year as Palo Alto mayor has been to "build a green economy through innovation." As the global center of the innovation economy, we have no excuse to add greenhouse-gas emissions as California strives to reduce emissions drastically, by 50- to 80 percent, by 2050. Stanford is already a leader in green buildings and transportation-demand management. It can extend that to medical centers, which are historically extremely resource heavy.
Housing is a critical issue. The preliminary regional housing target for Palo Alto and Stanford was 3,505 housing units for the next seven years, including 846 "very low income" units. The target assumed 6,000 new jobs -- about half would come from the medical center and shopping center expansions.
One "very low income" unit is estimated to cost taxpayers half a million dollars due to high land costs. Simple math shows we cannot build 846 such units if we need to buy the land.
Stanford must step up to provide land and help build the housing for its lower-wage workforce, or at least provide adequate transportation and perhaps a housing subsidy for those who choose to (or must) reside outside our area.
Permanent open space is the third feature the community should be seeking. A permanent commitment to preserve open space in the foothills and along creeks is a critical community benefit, as the university is sure to face additional growth pressures in our knowledge economy and society
Working creatively together, Stanford and Palo Alto can achieve a green economy and a green expansion of the Medical Center and Shopping Center. We can and must balance the needs and desires of Stanford and Palo Alto to ensure excellent medical care and a walkable, livable, healthy community for seven more generations.