Stanford, city near deal on hospital expansion

Aggressive $126 million traffic-calming package helps accelerate negotiations

Stanford University's ambitious expansion of its hospital facilities will come with an equally ambitious traffic-management program that university officials hope will unclog some of Palo Alto's busiest intersections and smooth Stanford's path toward the city's approval.

Palo Alto and Stanford University have agreed on an aggressive $126 million package of traffic improvements, including expanded shuttle services, better pedestrian and bike paths, road upgrades and Caltrain Go Passes for more than 9,000 hospital workers. The traffic measures, which the City Council discussed Monday night, aim to alleviate the city's top concern about the medical-center expansion and accelerate Stanford's negotiations with the city over a "development agreement."

The $3 billion project includes the construction of a new Stanford Hospital and Clinics building, expansion of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and reconstruction of various Stanford University School of Medicine facilities. It would add about 1.3 million square feet of new development to Palo Alto and far exceed the city's zoning regulations.

The university has offered to include the traffic-reduction measures as part of a $173 million package of "community benefits" it proposed on Jan. 18. Stanford is willing to include the benefits in a development agreement with Palo Alto.

The measures include four new Marguerite shuttles to whisk commuters from transit stations to the hospital. Stanford would also provide Caltrain Go Passes to all hospital employees -- a measure that the university estimates will cost $90.1 million over the next 50 years. If Caltrain services cease because of budget problems, the funds would be directed to other traffic-reducing measures.

Stanford also proposed to provide a permanent transportation-demand management (TDM) coordinator and to spend $3.35 million to improve pedestrian and bicycle connections around the hospitals and to lease spaces at Ardenwood Park in the East Bay so that employees could use AC Transit to get to work. The university plans to spend $5.1 million on programs related to AC Transit.

Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the traffic improvements proposed by Stanford would mitigate traffic impacts at some of the city's busiest intersections -- including University Avenue and Middlefield Road, and El Camino Real and Palm Drive -- to "less-than-significant levels." The program aims to get 35.1 percent of commuters to eschew cars for other modes of transportation.

If Stanford is unable to meet the 35.1 percent alternative mode share by 2025, it would have to pay the city $4 million, under an agreement currently on the table.

Emslie said the goal remains extremely ambitious but noted that Stanford already has a world-class traffic-management program at its academic campus next to Palo Alto. It also helps that more than 22 percent of hospital employees already use alternative transportation.

"If we achieve the same commute diversion that is currently being experienced by the university on campus, we believe we can hit the very aggressive goal for 35.1 percent," Emslie told the council.

While Palo Alto and Stanford officials agree that the traffic measures would greatly benefit the city and reduce the project's impacts, officials from the two sides remain at odds over how these projects should be classified. While Stanford is characterizing the traffic measures as "community benefits," Palo Alto officials believe they constitute "mitigations" that Stanford is legally required to provide to comply with state environmental law.

Emslie said the city and Stanford have "agreed to disagree" on how to classify these traffic improvements but praised the proposed measures as ones that would "significantly improve the community by providing access to better transportation, providing incentives, removing single-occupancy vehicles from the streets and supporting public transportation."

Council members praised Stanford's proposed traffic improvements as exactly the type of programs the city should support for major development projects. Councilman Pat Burt called it a "well-designed program" and "the right thing to do." He said such a program is needed to both lessen Stanford's impacts and make sure the city continues to have economic growth.

Stanford had proposed the traffic programs as part of a larger list of community benefits, including $7 million for health care programs in the community and $12 million for climate change and sustainability projects.

Staff has estimated Stanford's package of benefits (not including the traffic measure) to total about $50.9 million.

Palo Alto and Stanford remain split on several issues, including a requirement that Stanford provide the city a "revenue guarantee" to make sure the hospitals don't overburden the city's General Fund. While city officials have called for such a guarantee, Stanford has proposed a single $1.1 million payment to account for possible impact on the General Fund.

But several council members said they were happy about the latest progress on the negotiations, which City Manager James Keene described as the "last couple of miles" in a marathon. Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh said council members "finally see an end in sight." Mayor Sid Espinosa agreed.

"I'm very hopeful tonight," Espinosa said near the conclusion of the meeting. "I can see we're very close to an agreement and closure."

The council plans to vote on a development agreement with Stanford in April.

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Like this comment
Posted by 50 years of Caltrain passes
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 1, 2011 at 9:12 am

I still can't believe the city is letting Stanford get away with this $126 million hoax. The vast majority of "traffic improvements" package is 50 years worth of Caltrain passes for employees.

Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2011 at 9:28 am

50 years of Caltrain passes--
"Staff has estimated Stanford's package of benefits (not including the traffic measure) to total about $50.9 million."
You don't think that 50.9 million dollars is enough extortion by the city? How much does the city extort from other businesses in town?

"It also helps that the hospitals already enjoy an alternative mode share of more than 22 percent."
What is the alternative mode share for other businesses in Palo Alto? What are the numbers for Facebook? Frys? Chipoltle? Borders? If traffic is such an issue for the city, then why aren't all the businesses in town made to agree to at least a 35.1 percent alternative mode share like Stanford?
And before some of you start saying that there are so many employees at Stanford, remember that even one additional car trip into Palo Alto is too many (or so the bandied about myth goes) so every business should be held to the same standards as Stanford.

BTW, it is refreshing to see some common sense on the council with regard to Stanford after the 8 years of Kishimoto, Drekmeier and Morton's biased views.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmmmm
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:13 am

What will the alternative transportation plan be if Caltrain service is reduced? Those Go passes won't work if there aren't enough trains.

I think the revenue guarantee is a good idea. I don't believe Stanford pays taxes (non-profit, though seriously well-endowed teaching hospital, I think?) like other businesses in town that were mentioned above. We need some help paying for the facilities that Stanford will need built around town to accomodate greater traffic load from their expansion. That is a fair and reasonable request.

Other businesses DO have to go through the EIR process (California State law--CEQA)when they build here, and development agreements for larger projects are not unusual. It is incorrect to say that Stanford is being treated differently. Given the scale of the project, I think the city has been more than fair.

Like this comment
Posted by Stef
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

We need a free car parking lot at 280 and Sand Hill with a free shuttle (Marguerite) going from 280 to the hospital and clinic. Sand Hill and Alpine are crowded now. I am sure that the expansion will increase traffic from 280 on them.

Like this comment
Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

"Other businesses DO have to go through the EIR process (California State law--CEQA)when they build here, and development agreements for larger projects are not unusual. It is incorrect to say that Stanford is being treated differently."

That is true, but I do not believe that other businesses in town are required to guarantee that a certain percentage of people use public transportation. In fact, if you look at Stanford University (and not just the hospital/med center) you will find that the percentage that use alternative transportation is much greater than 25+%.
If all businesses in town were required to follow Stanford's lead in this matter, then we would not have this (mythical) traffic problem. Stanford goes above and beyond in the way of green technology and uses of alternative transportation, yet they get no credit for it from the city--just constant bashing, demands for higher numbers and more money into the city coffers.

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Stef is correct about the Sand Hill Road to 280 route. It gets jammed each weeknight, and drivers go past the speed limit to get up to 280. Are many of them from the Medical Center? Some months back the Police strictly enforced the traffic laws on Sand Hill to 280 at the evening rush hour, pulling so many cars over off of Sand Hill onto Sharon Park Drive that it looked like a parked parade.

Like this comment
Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm

> the Sand Hill Road to 280 route. It gets jammed each weeknight,
> and drivers go past the speed limit to get up to 280

Stanford has plenty of land that could be used to build an "Stanford only" access road to relieve the pressure on Sand Hill-to-280. Since it would be on Stanford land, it would not have to go through all of the "hoops" necessary to build a new road that a city/county would have to go thru. And, properly sited, it could be expanded in the future.

Moving several thousand car trips a day off of Sand Hill onto the Stanford lands would be a win-win for everyone.

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