Stanford wins plaudits for Escondido Village housing proposal

Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission lauds plan to build 2,000 beds for graduate students

While Palo Alto struggles to address its severe housing shortage, Stanford University is swiftly moving ahead with an ambitious plan to add housing for graduate students at Escondido Village.

The project, which the city's Planning and Transportation Commission discussed Wednesday night, calls for about four new buildings, ranging from six to 10 stories and containing 2,000 beds for Stanford's graduate students. If things go as planned, the new housing and surrounding amenities will be open for occupancy 2019.

Because Stanford is located on Santa Clara County land, rather than the city's, its development is guided by a 2000 agreement with the county. The agreement, known as the "general use permit," allows the university to build 3,018 housing units, of which all but 581 have already been constructed. If the county approves Stanford's proposal, the new development at Escondido Village would exceed the county's allocation by 1,450 units.

In discussion of the project Wednesday, the planning commission acknowledged that the city doesn't have the authority to either approve or deny the project and that its influence is limited to issuing comments for the county to consider. But after hearing the presentation from Stanford, the commissioners had mostly praise for the development and its potential impacts on both the student population and the city.

For one thing, because the housing would cater to a population that already spends its day on the campus, it would be a rare example of a housing project that actually improves traffic conditions. And by offering students housing options, it would also alleviate some of the pressure from Palo Alto's increasingly unaffordable housing stock.

Commissioner Kate Downing, who made both of these points, noted that Palo Alto used to be the kind of place where four graduate students could chip in and rent an Eichler home while they study at Stanford. But in today's market, with monthly rent for a three-bedroom home costing upward of $7,000, this option is all but impossible, Downing said.

"When you're a student and you don't have a job and are in debt up to your ears, this kind of housing is an absolute lifesaver," Downing said. "In addition, we'll be getting a lot of cars off the road because people will be waking up exactly where they need to be."

Shirley Everett, Stanford's associate vice provost for residential and dining enterprise, called the project one of the most "critically important" initiatives the university has undertaken in the past 25 years. While the university is currently able to house about 55 percent of its graduate-student population, the Escondido Village development would raise that rate to 75 percent. It would entail the demolition of 400 existing housing units and construction of about 2,400, for a net increase of 2,000. Stanford would also build a 1,300-space parking garage, for a net increase of 700 parking spots; add a grocery store, a pub and other amenities; and expand its fleet of Marguerite buses to discourage car ownership, Stanford officials said Wednesday.

"We believe this project is transformative as it will enhance the quality of our graduate students' educational experience as it brings them to close proximity to an abundance of resources on the Stanford campus," Everett said. "Many students work late evenings, advancing study and research, and we want them to avoid long commutes at night."

Catherine Palter, Stanford's associate vice president for land use and environmental planning, also said the project will result in a campuswide decrease in traffic. The exception to this rule would be at the intersection of El Camino Real and Serra Street, the closest gateway from the city to the Stanford campus. The project would add about 200 car trips to this area during the commute hours, though this would not change the intersection's level of service (currently deemed to be "C" on an A-to-F scale).

Stanford also doesn't expect parking to be a problem, with more students these days foregoing cars in favor of other options.

The trend away from vehicles is reflected in Stanford's parking permit sales, according to Brian Shaw, Stanford's director of parking and transportation services. Between 2004 and 2015, the ratio of permits to beds among all graduate students has fallen from 0.65 to 0.55. In Escondido Village, the same trend holds true, he noted. For graduate students at Escondido Village eligible to park in the parking facilities, the ratio of permit purchases to beds has fallen from 0.76 to 0.56 between 2004 and 2015, Shaw wrote in a memo. And the drive-alone rate for students has dropped from 59 percent in 2004 to 40 percent today, according to the memo.

Shaw told the commission Wednesday that Stanford plans to give Escondido Village students further incentives not to own cars. This includes more car-sharing Zipcars; a new car-rental business in the new garage; and new Marguerite shuttles, which will be free and available not just to Stanford students and faculty but to the greater community.

"The program is designed to facilitate people living in these new buildings and the entire Escondido Village area to not need to bring cars to campus at all," Shaw said.

Even so, the garage would increase parking supply by 700 spaces, thus accommodating a ratio of 0.61 permits per bed.

The commission was mostly satisfied with the presentation, with Vice Chair Przemek Gardias noting that the influx in student population on campus will have the added benefit of boosting business for Palo Alto businesses near the campus. The project, he said, "will positively contribute to the wealth of those merchants, and that's a good thing."

Chair Adrian Fine agreed and lauded Stanford for doing a "very diligent job" on the new project.

"I think Palo Alto has a part to play by issuing comments and pushing Stanford for the best project that can happen," Fine said. "There's a lot of commercial and residential potential here. It will be exciting to see what happens."

Now, it will be up to the county's Planning Commission to decide whether to approve the housing plan. Though the county permit only allows 3,018 units, the document also includes a policy that allows Stanford to construct additional housing, provided the university performs additional environmental assessment for the new units.

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23 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2016 at 8:47 am

How will the net new 2000 units of housing affect our public school enrollment? Will this be housing for singles or for families? Nixon and Escondido elementary schools are already more than full.

14 people like this
Posted by Housing shortage
a resident of University South
on Feb 12, 2016 at 9:50 am

Kudos to Stanford for building much-needed housing. Although it's not in Palo Alto, this will help address our housing shortage and reduce traffic from student commuters. Previous articles mentioned that these beds are for single students, which means that this will not even have much impact on our schools. Housing for singles is in very short supply in this area in any case, as the zoning code strongly discourages all homes that are not single family homes.

Commissioner Downing makes sensible points as usual.

Let's get this through the County Planning Commission next.

10 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2016 at 10:20 am

I lived in one of the existing "high rise" buildings in Escondido Village in the 1970s as a grad student, and it was great. This is much needed. The one thing I don't understand is why the need for a new grocery store, when one is under construction nearby on El Camino. Surely the Escondido residents can walk or bike the few short blocks. Competition is great, but I fear the new El Camino store is going to have enough problems as it is without new competition.

17 people like this
Posted by Evergreen Park First
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 12, 2016 at 10:30 am

Evergreen Park needs resident parking permits well before this project goes in - we have all day and overnight parking in the residential section (not near Cal Ave) already. A lot of Stanford parking for free and then walking across the street. Council should have this development pay for the parking program similar to what happeneed in College Terrace

14 people like this
Posted by EV
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2016 at 11:18 am

My understanding is that Stanford will increase housing units for single students in part by reducing housing for students with families. This should actually decrease the impact on PAUSD.

18 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Marie is a registered user.

This article is missing a lot of information that would fully describe the impact of this project on the surrounding community. Once again, our planning commission is supporting developers instead of rigorously analyzing the true impact and making some effort to mitigating that impact.

The missing number here is how many new grad students is Stanford planning to accept and how many new employees will be needed to service the buildings, work in the grocery store and manage the car rentals, etc. The parking is barely adequate if it reflects relocating existing students. If they increase the overall population of grad students by 200, then .61x200 is still 120 new cars. If there are 100 new employees, what is the impact on parking?

Does Stanford have any idea how many grad students still own cars but park them off campus in nearby neighborhoods or on El Camino next to campus? That stretch of El Camino is always full of cars, including at night. I think this is a very good indication that Stanford is not providing enough parking.

And is there some requirement that the grad students can't be married (usually sharing a bed)? Referring to stats per bed is sophistry, avoiding the prediction of actual number people. Is Stanford asserting that the number of married students with children will go down? Is Stanford asserting that there will be no other increase in graduate students in general? Are all these new units truly studios and one bedroom, restricted to only one student each? I doubt it very much.

The one hint that all is not so rosy, is that the project is expected to add 200 car trips during commute hours. What is generating that? And what plan is in place to measure that number after the fact, and have other mitigations available if the number exceeds that number, as Menlo Park did with Facebook?

The facts are that Stanford is increasing the number of students living on campus by 1,400 plus assorted significant others and children and increasing the total number of grad students by an unknown number and the total number of employees by an unknown number. I would assume that married students and children would replace single students in housing now used by both.

The article is also silent on the number of new employees needed who will take care of the buildings, work in the grocery store and rent the cars. Where will they park? Oh right, they will all use zipcars. I don't think so.

I am not against this project. I think it is very much needed. However, I am very against the uncritical analysis of Stanford's proposal. There is nothing in this article that indicates that Stanford is fully mitigating the impacts of the new proposal. I would like to see some extra support for schools (perhaps in lieu of property tax fees for any increase in students from Stanford attending PAUSD?) and a larger parking garage.

It also isn't clear that for single graduate students the price would be less than renting a house even today. I saw an ad for a 3 bedroom house for rent for $5000 per month. Is the student housing really going to cost less than $1,600 per unit?

9 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 12, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Be Positive is a registered user.

@Marie - They aren't planning on adding grad students, they will just be able to house more of them on campus. Per Stanford, the new building will house primarily single student or couple without children. Stanford grad housing is divided up in that basis, single, couples without children, and families with children. The current cost for housing is
here: Web Link

18 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2016 at 3:05 pm

1. From grad students, I have heard that Stanford charges slightly higher than market rates for on-campus graduate student housing. While the housing is convenient and new, it's unlikely to provide or free up "affordable" housing. And it will surely add children to our schools.... who, if they are young and don't attend the already packed Nixon or Escondido, will have to be driven across El Camino to get to another any case, someone will be driving a child somewhere, adding to the traffic.

2. Does housing provided by Stanford count towards decreasing Palo Alto's more than 3-to-1 jobs-to-housing ratio? Or, because it's controlled by agreement with the County, is this not applicable? Would building these units satisfy the housing mandate? It's a lot of units.

3. And, yes, Evergreen Park and Southgate both need to stop their neighborhoods from being used as parking lots. City-wide, as more commuters drive to work here, more neighborhoods are affected. Regardless of what Stanford builds, this problem is present and worsening.

4. To those who think that single occupancy vehicle trips can be reduced with transit programs and any of the growth scenarios envisioned for the upcoming comprehensive plan 2030, please look to the traffic consultant's conclusion: SIGNIFICANT AND UNAVOIDABLE increase in traffic for ALL FOUR COMP PLAN SCENARIOS.

Web Link

14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Be Positive said:

"They (Stanford) aren't planning on adding grad students"

Can you provide any proof of this contention? Would Stanford be willing to sign a contract which guaranteed no new grad students? Otherwise Stanford could change its "plans" at any time, right?

People need to realize, there are two Stanfords. One is the academic institution we all know, and the other is Stanford Land Management. Stanford Land Management is just another sleazy real-estate developer full of people eager to liquidate the quality of life in Palo Alto, for fun and profit, while building a career for themselves in real-estate development.

When is Stanford (the academic institution) going to realize that Stanford Land Management is undermining the "Stanford" brand, with all of their poorly planned, tacky real-estate projects?

12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 12, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"They (Stanford) aren't planning on adding grad students"

It's the course of least exertion. Stanford does not to plan for more grad students, but it does not turn away additional grad students either. Heads, they win; tails, we lose.

11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Thank you Cheryl Lilienstein for the link about unavoidable impacts. Do you have the link for the entire report?

Thanks BePositive for your link on the cost of housing. It looks like the cost of Stanford oncampus housing is slightly under current PA rents, if you don't count the additional charge for parking, assuming you need it.

The proposed housing is very needed. However, I also think there needs to be more effort made by the city of Palo Alto to require or encourage (whatever is legal) Stanford to mitigate the impact of this housing, and increasing numbers of Stanford graduate students in general on PA schools, streets and road, and other governmental services provided by the City of Palo Alto to Stanford. Maybe they are. This was not reflected in this article.

It is not a matter of whether Stanford is planning for more graduate students. Rather, the question is what they are forecasting. I don't believe the EIR requires Stanford to provide that information, but I really think the PAUSD needs it. For example, Stanford just completed a new Neuroscience Building and added several new programs - all of which is good. I think it highly unlikely, this new program will not result in an increased number of graduate and post-graduate students to participate in the new programs.

The forecasts for students by PAUSD seem very inadequate as I don't think they include the full impact of the latest proposed Stanford housing project and the one on California Ave., increasing numbers of graduate students and post-docs or the potential impact of the ABAG housing allotment. Are we certain that moving single and coupled students to this project will not open up other space for students with children?

4 people like this
Posted by It Never Ends
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

It Never Ends is a registered user.

Please don't mislead us.

Most grad students in business or computer science have/want/seek jobs and internships while in school. Many have 3-8 years of work experience so are older and used to living independently. It is great that the university is doing what it can to mitigate the impact but I find it hard to believe that they won't have cars given that profile.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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