Town Square

Plodding through the "Palo Alto Process"

Original post made by Diana Diamond on Jun 22, 2007

The proposed expansion of the Stanford Medical Center is beginning to get discussed in Palo Alto – and I do mean "beginning to." There already have been a couple of community forums, there will be a Planning Commission discussion of the expansion proposal next Wednesday, the council will give preliminary input at a July meeting (it already had some initial comments), and then this fall there will be a series of meetings sponsored by the city to go over various elements of the proposal – land use, traffic impact, configuration and height of the buildings, parking, a no new net trips transportation policy, developing housing near the Intermodal Transit Center (the train and bus station), et cetera.

All this discussion is part of the Palo Alto Process that we have been so famous for— and infamous.

"We have to do this," Planning Director Steve Emslie said. "The community wants to discuss the project and the council wants that discussion to happen."

Do we?

Of course there has to be public discussion of one of the biggest projects to come before the city. But do we need endless discussion? Do we have to have community meetings during the fall to analyze all the components of the project? Will we ever agree?

I went to one of the forums June 21, and already there are two sides to many of the issues. Some questioned the two 130-foot patient towers that are being proposed, saying they are too high. One man said he didn't want to look out from his Crescent Park home and see the towers in the distance. Another insisted we maintain our low height Palo Alto environment. But several said the towers were preferable to expanding out, better for patients and their privacy, and would allow more open space near the complex.

Some residents said their main concern was good patient care in the community. One woman poignantly talked about her 10-year old who has an illness that requires rush trips by ambulance to the hospital, only to be turned away from the Emergency Room because it was filled up. Her son also had a critical surgery postponed because of a shortage of operating rooms and another surgery was delayed because there was no post-surgery bed for her child.

Others said they were concerned about additional traffic particularly in Downtown North and the number of new employees that would result because of the Med Center expansion.

Accompanying the Med Center proposal is a desire by Stanford to expand the shopping center and to build a new hotel. Some residents thought the hotel should be near El Camino, others thought it should be in the back, near Nordstrum's. Some wondered why the two projects had to be done and the same time.

We can debate all the details of the proposal for months, and we simply won't all agree. We each have different and valid concerns and interests,

The Palo Alto Process has resulted in eight years of discussion about Rickey's Hyatt Hotel, a similar amount of time for Alma Shopping Plaza, a once-endless debate about the expansion of Sand Hill Road, an eight-year process for an eruv (a fishing line) to be strung around town, et cetera.

Stanford has a Jan. 1, 2013 deadline to complete the state-mandated seismic upkeep of the hospital, which has necessitated its plan to completely redo the hospital and expand Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Do we want to keep this Palo Alto Process going on and on in town? Or can we just agree to get something done for a change.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2007 at 4:40 pm

You forgot Edgewood

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 22, 2007 at 5:33 pm

AS I have commented on other threads in this forum, Stanford needs to find out quickly whether the hospital and med center rebuild will be subjected to the infamous Palo alto process a la Alma Plaza, Hyatt etc--if so Satnford needs to seriously consider moving the hospital/med center to a different city.
Clearly many members of the city and unfortunately the city council see this as just another development that needs to be discussed until the cows come home.
We already have had a taste of what may be coming from the initial city council meeting--without naming individual council members, we heard from one council member who has a myopic view of all development--i.e. too much traffic. A second council member thinks this is a golden opportunity to extort (my description of his desire) concessions from stanford. We had two council members who were very supportive, unfortunately they will be term-limited out of office this year.
i think that the "litmus test" for election to the city council this year should be the candidates attitude toward the Stanford hospital development. there are other threads which are full of people singing the praises of the Stanford hospitals, so i will not say anything else about it.
in conclusion i do not know whether to laugh or cry over this comment from Ms Diamond's post:
"One man said he didn't want to look out from his Crescent Park home and see the towers in the distance. "

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2007 at 12:38 am

"Not So Fast", The guy who doesn't want to see the towers is representative of those who don't want to see our moat of exclusiveness dry up. Palo Alto's accidental success has really gone to the heads of a few around here, including a few policy makers.

One of the world's best hospitals needs to make something happen NOW, the latter word one that is just coming to the consciousness of those around here who think that everything can wait until tomorrow. Cluetime.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2007 at 12:27 pm

Is there any way Palo Alto can issue panhandling permits? By the time any were issued the applicants would be long gone to greener fields.

Posted by Kirk, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm

"Is there any way Palo Alto can issue panhandling permits? By the time any were issued the applicants would be long gone to greener fields"


After I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that the panhandlers, overnight campers, dog owners (off leash), non-permit builders, employers of illegals, etc. are the real movers and shakers in Palo Alto. They get their jobs done, and could care less about the law, because they know it won't be enforced. The fields are already green here, Walter, so why should they move on?

Could Stanford just build its hospital and ignore the Palo Alto process? I'm sure there would be many threats of lawsuits, etc., but once the bulldozers got going, there would be a groundswell of support by the majority of the people, becasue it is a good cause. Imagine all the protective protesters preventing the local sherriffs from shutting down the project. Palo Alto could hardly claim that Stanford is breaking the law, since it doesn't enforce its own laws.

It might be the lowest cost alternative.

Build it...they will come!

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2007 at 7:29 pm

Were I a Stanford trustee I would consider de-annexing and incorporating as a new city, then building a wall of separation from Palo Alto. If anyone meets the description of rented mule it is Stanford.

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2007 at 8:31 pm

I was the "man" who raised the issue of the 150 foot tower and the impact that it would have on the Palo Alto skyline. I did not say that I was opposed to it. I said that it was a serious issue that had to be examined. The Stanford expansion project is massive, and unprecedented. It will unquestionably bring many benefits to the city and the entire region. Nonetheless, this is one instance where the "Palo Alto process" should be applied, big time -- even if in other cases it might have been excessive. In this case, it should be applied in a rigorous way. One key point is that Palo Alto will bear the brunt of the various costs of this project: traffic, density, housing demand, increased demand on city services, intrusion into the skyline. On the other hand, the entire region (indeed the entire world) will enjoy the benefits of the project. So the only way that we as a city can fairly be compensated for the extra cost that will be uniquely imposed on us it to negotiate with Stanford a deal that accords to us specific concessions to offset the impacts. The cost of these concessions will be passed on to the entire region in the form of fees and prices charged to the users of the facilities, or their insurers, or philanthropists, or the state. Thus the costs and benefits will be balanced out in a way that is fair to all.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Southgate
on Jun 25, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Norman Beamer: Brilliant. Thank you for your voice of reason.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 25, 2007 at 9:27 pm


When I drink a glass of milk I don't need to smell the dairy farm. When I use Google, I don't need to suffer the traffic (Mt. View does). When I use Microsoft, I don't suffer from the expansion of homes and traffic in Palo Alto. When I fly on an airplane, I don't have to deal with a huge plant that makes the planes.

Why should the rest of the world, or even the local region, be forced to pay Palo Alto becasue Stanford has a world class hospital? Palo Alto benefits MUCH more from Stanford than Stanford does from Palo Alto.

Get over it.

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 26, 2007 at 8:20 am

Your first paragraph makes my point. The communities that have zoning power over the dairy, Google (Mt. View), Microsoft, etc. all excercise their regulatory powers in (presumably) a reasonable way to make sure the negative impacts of those enterprises are compensated for -- the cost of which is then passed on to the wider population of users and supporters. If those communities don't do that, they certainly had the right to -- perhaps the political power of the entity being regulated was a roadblock.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2007 at 9:56 am

If we carry the "no impact" argument to its extreme, we would put a moat around the city. On one hand, the council says it wants to attract tourists – though it seems the only tourist attraction we have is Stanford. The city also wants to attract businesses, but when any substantial building is proposed, panic ensues. Seems like the only buildings going up are for high-density housing.

Meanwhile, Google is expanding in Mountain View, and a hotel and conference center will be built nearby. Mountain View expects about $3.8 million this fiscal year from leasing land under the "Googleplex."
Web Link

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 26, 2007 at 1:06 pm

I don't agree with your value system. What will undoubtedly be a topnotch medical facility is a much greater value that your viro fears.

The best that could happen is that all the City Council members cite conflict of interest, bow out and let Stanford design and build their hospital without interference.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2007 at 1:59 pm

Norman states: "this is one instance where the "Palo Alto process" should be applied, big time"--yes and as the process drags into it's second decade Stanford Hospital will have been closed due to code violations.
But that is okay as long we make sure that Palo Alto does not "suffer" any impacts form the project--also since we are invoking the "Palo Alto process" we need to make sure that everyone has had their say and that everyone is satisfied with the outcome.
only then will the city council be able to vote on the matter.

Posted by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jun 26, 2007 at 2:37 pm

diana diamond is a registered user.

Norman -

The proposed two patient towers will be 130 feet tall, I was told, not 150 feet. By comparison, Hoover Tower is 285 feet tall, Palo Alto City Hall is 127 feet, Palo Alto Square is 132 feet and 101 Alma is 140 feet high. You said you were worried about "the impact impact that it (the towers) would have on the Palo Alto skyline," but the towers will be one of several tall buildings in or near Palo Alto. Think also of 525 University and the office building on the west side of El Camino near Page Mill Road.


Posted by Lets be fair, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2007 at 2:55 pm

That's right Mr Wray, Palo Alto should bow out and let Stanford developers do what they want. Also, let them house and transport the people they bring in. And keep them off our roads and out of our schools and libraries. That would be fair.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2007 at 3:02 pm

Let's be Fair--Stanford does house many of the people that live/work Stanford (i.e. Escondido village, Stanford West etc) they also transport many of the people as well (Marguerite shuttle for example--which by the way is open to anyone--maybe we should keep non-Stanford people off it!!!!).

You say "keep them off our roads and out of our schools and libraries." Maybe we should make Palo Alto like Foothill Park--only PA residents allowed.

Do be fair we should then make that rule apply to any and all businesses in Palo Alto that employ non-PA residents.

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 26, 2007 at 4:50 pm

As evidenced above, the "process that only Plo Alto can generate" has begun to take hold.

Norman is correct in that there will be large impacts, but why is it that the negotiation has already begun to take on an adversarial tone?

Why is it that Palo Alto was not let into the early planning stages of this project, before it was presented to our city's policy makers?

The answers to the questions above - from the perspective of Stanford's planners - is "why shuold we further encumber ourselves by letting in a neighboring municipal group that is known for causing inordinate development and other delays? We need to get the hospital built NOW, so let's cut short pre-planning by NOT including Palo Alto officialdom; we're going to have to deal with their delay and obfuscation on the back end, anyway"

What we're seeing here is the beginning of yet another long, frawn-out process that will cause the loss of more good faith and good will between Palo Alto and Stanford.

It's very normal to see "town-gown" relationships grow strained from time-to-time. Stanford is certainly not blameless in causing some of the problems that have existed between itself and PA over the years.

What's sad, even tragic, is that one PA policy-maker after another has pandered to special interest groups over the years when it comes to Stanford. Our City Management has also been weak when it comes to dealing with Stanford; there is simply no business develoipment "there. there". We have "Parent Day" and Game Day" promotions that are nice as far as they go, but what else? A further note: most of the latter initiatives are initiated by Stanford.

We are now in a place where the possibility for a smooth, transparent process of negotiation is becoming far more remote. Both sides are lining up for a fight.

Complicating that is the upcoming Palo Alto City Council election, where 4 more new Council members will be elected into an ever-rotating menagerie of decision makers that becomes increasingly more difficult to coordinate around necessary policy-making, and more importantly, future vision.

Where is this city going? That question goes unanswered, by almost everyone who weilds power in Palo Alto politics.

Even when a present or incoming policy maker makes a promise, how can that one person even come close to guaranteeing that that promise will be fuilfilled, oro even be considered by the other 8 Council members.

Key senior personnel are about to retire from City Hall. Along with those retirements will go a LOT of institutional memory. What are we going to do about that, in relation to Stanford, and other key municipal needs?

Will Palo Alto's future with Stanford - and in other arenas - be defined by the continuing whine of knee-jerk politicing, or will we find ways to generate leadership that "brings us up a notch"? We'll see.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2007 at 5:12 am

Anyone so hyper that the sight of a tall building upsets them should surely stay home and not look out the windows. Perhaps even buy Sim City and build their own castle in the clouds.

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2007 at 2:07 pm

One of the things that continues to confound, as presented in the arguments of those who want to focus on the _cost_ of Stanford's proposed health center projects, is the utter _lack_completely and accurately listing the _benefits_ of Stanford's proposed building.

So, right out of the gate, here are a few things that may already _more than offset_ the local costs that have been identifoed by _some_ Palo Alto policy makers and others, who give little more than lip service to Stanford's benefits:

1) How much is having nearly the best medical care on earth within 10 minutes drive?

2) How many physician, health administrator, and medical education conferences will the hospital's presence bring to Palo Alto? How many hotel room rentals, and long-term housing rentals, does that compute to; how many local restaurant meals; how many new, highly educated residents; how much of an inflation factor to our homes; how many supermarket, bookstore, Stanford Mall and other shopping visits; how much free word-of-mouth advertising about the wonders of the hospital, Palo Alto and the region, spread to potential visitors from all over the world; how many intangible intellectual and R&D add-ons to our community; how many medical service, medical device, and other medically-related business startups emanating from the university - soley due to the world class R&D efforts; how much national prestige, and all tthe benefit hat carries; how many altruistic non-profit startups; how many more foundation grants that will feed into the local economy; how much cutting edge research that _saves_ Palo Alans lives, not to mention the lives of potentially millions more; how many educational opportunities for our high school and other K-12 students, who will have opportunities to tour the facility and be inspired; how about the multiplier effects of Stanford's presence in the region, and how that feeds back to PA; how about the careful planning that has _already_ gone into this facility (with no charge to Palo Alto); how about the increase in badly-needed social diversity (from the perspective of socioeconomic status) that will accrue in Palo Alto, as Stanford's staffing needs increase?

There's a lot more; why aren't we hearing about this from those who are tralking about the _costs_ of the Stanford project. I'd wager the benefits above, _not including their local and regional multipliers_ FAR outweigh any of the so-far puny impacts (by comparison) that some Palo ALtans (and some of their representatives) are beginning to shout about.

Will we ever hear anything about these benefits from our Mayor, and a few others who are beginning to pander to those who shout the loudest about the _cost_ to Palo Alto of this facility? We'll see.

Will we see locals and some policy-makers taking credit for already-assumed environmental efficiencies and cost replacement planned by Stanford? We'll see.

Will the costs that Stanford have to bear from inordinate delay caused form our infamous inability to move _quickly_ on important measures be computed by Stanford, and made public? I hope so.

I'm looking for more from our policy-makers and administrators than grandstanding and pandering to noisy locals who are interested I'm looking for maturity in negotiations, and _absolute honesty_ when it comes to comuting the cost picture relative to this facility. The latter assumes that _benefits_ coming from Stanford must be computed and factored in as fiscal equivilants.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2007 at 4:42 pm

A naive question - why does Stanford need Palo Alto's permission to build a hospital?

Posted by Palo Alto dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2007 at 6:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 27, 2007 at 6:43 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2007 at 7:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Palo Alto dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2007 at 8:54 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2007 at 9:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Otto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2007 at 9:39 pm

Returning for a moment to my longer post, above, where I point out that those who are paranoid about the "cost" of Stanford's development rarely opt to include in their calculation the _benefits_ of Stanford's development - we should remind ourselves of the fiasco brought about by Menlo Park over Stanford's Sand Hill project.

Please note that that project, like every other project that has been opposed by the anti-development crowd has turned out to be a SUCCESSFUL addition to our community, and region.

So, who has been correct all these years? The NUMBY's, or those (the clear majority) who want to see Palo Alto thrive? The answer to this question is all around us - all the anti-development folks have to do is look through their crocodile tears and see the happiness.

Posted by Ann, a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Does anyone remember when the hospital was first built? I Bet Jay T. does. It turned out to be great for all of us. The P.A.council made it work for residents. And, hope that happens now. I have certainly have used the Stanford hospial a number of times, and have always been grateful it was there. And the people it brings to Palo Alto have been a great addition.

Posted by George, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 3, 2007 at 2:27 pm

I very much agree with Otto's comments above. Palo Alto plus Stanford = great team. Palo Alto without Stanford = San Jose.

I love the fact that there is now fearful discussion about the possibility of some impact on the skyline and on commuting patterns, when Palo Alto has recently allowed all these new housing projects with clear adverse impact on our schools and traffic. Or is this that old north/south thing? (i.e. increased traffic is OK, just not north of Oregon Expressway)

For an interesting example of what happens when a major medical center is repeatedly obstructed by their neighbors, look no further than UCSF. After decades of battles with neighbors in the Parnassus and Laurel Heights neighborhoods, now that UCSF has to replace their hospital by 2013, they are building out at Mission Bay. That location is great is you are coming by car from San Rafael or Burlingame, but is extraordinarily inconvenient if you live in SF. The folks in SF therefore, will be losing a community resource. True, there are good community hospitals around there, but nothing on the scale of UCSF. Could it happen here? Unlikely, but I see it as a cautionary tale.

Posted by Annie, a resident of University South
on Jul 4, 2007 at 8:01 pm

I like the idea of Stanford Hospital expanding and bringing itself up to code -- having a world-class hospital in my backyard is a b benefit. If we are so concerned about the impact on our neighborhoods, how about we provide approval to Stanford in exchange for monies earmarked for grade school education?