News

Palo Alto throws its support behind Stanford's housing project

City Council asks county to approve 2,000 new beds at Escondido Village

As Palo Alto struggles to find ways to encourage new housing, Stanford University is quickly advancing a project that city officials believe could help alleviate the housing crunch: a development that would add 2,000 beds for graduate students at Escondido Village.

On Monday night, a City Council that is normally skeptical about dense developments offered words of praise and support for the Stanford project, which is set to be reviewed by the Santa Clara County Planning Commission on Thursday morning, March 24.

Once built, the new development would house 75 percent of Stanford's graduate students on campus (up from the current level of 55 percent) and potentially free up the nearly 2,000 of housing units being rented by students in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other surrounding communities.

Because the Escondido Village project is on the Stanford campus, which is on unincorporated Santa Clara County land, Palo Alto doesn't have any oversight over the project. The council's power to shape the project is limited to forwarding comments and concerns to the county for consideration.

After hearing from Stanford about the project, the council agreed that the new development is well thought out and worthy of the city's support. The fact that it would actually reduce traffic, rather than generate it, was a major selling point, as well as the fact that it would also free up housing at a time when supply is extremely constrained.

Shirley Everett, Stanford's senior associate vice provost for residential and dining enterprises, called the housing project "one of the most critically important initiatives undertaken on behalf of the university community" in her 25 years on campus.

"What we want to do in Stanford is provide on-campus housing to a great proportion to our graduate students and it's really essential and a really high priority for Stanford," she said.

In addition to adding the beds, the university also plans to add amenities such as a store, a pub and a fitness center to Escondido Village so that "students can enjoy the campus and not have to get into their cars."

Those who wish to leave the campus will have plenty of transportation options, including new Marguerite shuttles, a Zipcar fleet and biking amenities (the development will also include 1,300 parking spaces in an underground garage, a 700 increase over the current level).

"We're trying to build a vibrant community so not only graduate students but the campus community can come together as well," Everett said.

The council proved receptive to Stanford's proposal, which council members suggested could help the city deal with its drastic shortage of housing.

Vice Mayor Greg Scharff noted that the project will "open up other housing opportunities for people who aren't Stanford students."

Scharff also proposed that the city work with Stanford and Santa Clara County to ensure Palo Alto gets some credit for the new housing units under Regional Housing Needs Assessment, a process that requires each city in the Bay Area to plan for a certain number of units.

Jean McCown, Stanford's director of community relations, said the university would be open to having these discussions.

"I think this is a really good thing that Stanford is doing," Scharff said. "I think it will actually reduce traffic, bring people out of other housing, house them on the campus. We'll have minimal impacts on a range of things and a bunch of positive impacts in terms of traffic and congestion and all of that."

His colleagues agreed and unanimously approved a letter to the county supporting the proposal.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss said the project will "make a good deal of difference" in improving the housing situation both on campus and on the Peninsula.

Councilman Greg Schmid said that Stanford has made a "very effective case that building housing on campus will be helpful and have positive impact on traffic."

"I think it would be helpful to support Stanford in this and to also make the case that it's important for us," Schmid said.

Related content:

Stanford wins plaudits for Escondido Village housing proposal

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2016 at 5:30 pm

This is great news!

The only odd thing about the article is the idea that it would free up housing in Palo Alto, as opposed to Menlo Park or Redwood City. I lived in Palo Alto as a graduate student in the 2000s, but I hear from people I know that most students have moved north or south as rents have gone up by 50% in the last five years.

Although you often hear people say that Palo Alto has always been expensive, the last five years have really changed the character of the city a lot in terms of who can afford to live here. A lot of the stories from existing residents about saving and sacrificing to buy a house reflect a time when it was possible to live in Palo Alto just by saving and sacrificing. Nowadays, it seems more common for houses to be purchased with IPO money of some kind.

That's hard work and sacrifice, too, but I'd be happy to have some neighbors that didn't have to win the IPO lottery to live with us.


4 people like this
Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

Anyone have a link to schematics or concept drawings of this project?


8 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 23, 2016 at 6:08 pm

I agree it's a logical step in the right direction, but I'm with Eric Filseth in questioning the claim of reduced local traffic. Looks like the plan is a net addition of 700 cars. Nobody could answer how many of these grad students, if any, would be vacating space in Palo Alto vs the surrounding communities. And I'd expect these vacated spaces to be filled quickly and likely at higher rents. The aggregate upshot when things restabilize is higher local density, with the same population gradient extending to Stockton and Hollister.


11 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2016 at 6:16 pm

With 2000 people coming into Stanford housing, we; both Stanford and Palo Alto should strive for affordable grocery store between the Serra drive and California Avenue. I mean a reasonably priced store where local residents and Stanford students can benefit from.

Not Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and Molly Stones; more like a small store.

respectfully


14 people like this
Posted by Mental Gymnastics
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2016 at 9:55 am

It is pretty simple math.

More people = more cars

By the way, most grad students in business or computer science work and need cars. Further, since there is limited stores on/near campus they also need to drive to go shopping etc.

By centralizing them on campus, we will concentrate traffic in that area. Good luck getting past California Ave and Page Mill to the south and Embarcadero and Sandhill to the north in rush our :-)

In addition, the housing they vacate in the community will be quickly filled so the traffic in the original areas won't get better either.

We really don't need to go to so much effort to fool ourselves. Just keep repeating "Gridlock is good", "Gridlock is good", "Gridlock is good"...


7 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

Mental Gymnastics - Actually, that math is wrong. Driving habits are actually very malleable. Look at the success that Stanford has had in reducing driving in its _existing_ workers over the last decade, when the County made them do it if they wanted to grow.

There's a whole option in the Comp Plan called "NetZero", which offers to allow more building if and only if the developers pay to offset the new cars from existing buildings. We know that driving habits can change - only a third of downtown tech workers drive today, which was absolutely not the case even five years ago. (Caltrain boardings bear this out.) But in order to make this work, you also need serious and verifiable controls on cars and penalties if companies miss them.

Mountain View has done this in North Bayshore. Stanford has done this. Menlo Park is doing this near Facebook. Palo Alto could do this, too.

But the fact that the majority of our City Council is ignoring the only option that actually targets reducing cars and other impacts in favor of getting rid of future jobs and housing instead is another sign that the residentialists on Council don't actually care about traffic. They just care about making sure that Palo Alto never changes again - even if that hurts everyone who isn't yet retired or who doesn't yet own their own home.


15 people like this
Posted by Mental Gymnastics
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2016 at 11:50 am

Mental Gymnastics is a registered user.

@Observer

I might stretch to see your viewpoint if the population was held constant. However, trading future theoretical benefits in exchange for real immediate adverse effects has obviously not worked in Palo Alto.

By your logic, El Camino at rush hour should be empty given the change in population over the last 40 years. I also doubt the residents near downtown believe there has been any kind of net reduction given the flood of cars parking in their neighborhoods.

A simpler explanation is that there are more boardings and more cars parking in neighborhoods because there are more workers. Forgive me but the community has seen way too many examples where the trades between developers and benefits were never delivered or did not pan out.

The achilles heel will always be "serious and verifiable controls on cars and penalties if companies miss them." Those types of rules are very difficult to craft legally and even more difficult to enforce. Is the government going to have every commuter wear an ankle bracelet and track their whereabouts?

Not likely, so I would summarize your math as follows:

Fanatical ideology + social engineering + wishful thinking = lower quality of life for Palo Alto

I will stick to reality. More people = more cars :-)


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2016 at 1:18 pm

@Observer
Please cite the survey or study that supports your statement 'only a third of downtown tech workers drive today'. How many...total number...tech workers are there who work downtown? So, 2/3rds of them commute by train or bus? If that's true it is commendable.

We need more data on the Stanford plan. 'musical' said it and Mayor Burt questioned it at the CC meeting. How many of those people vacating currently live in PA. It's important to know that.


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2016 at 1:18 pm

@Observer
Please cite the survey or study that supports your statement 'only a third of downtown tech workers drive today'. How many...total number...tech workers are there who work downtown? So, 2/3rds of them commute by train or bus? If that's true it is commendable.

We need more data on the Stanford plan. 'musical' said it and Mayor Burt questioned it at the CC meeting. How many of those people vacating currently live in PA. It's important to know that.


3 people like this
Posted by Stanford fan
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Actually, gale, palo alto does not have a day in this. Read the article. So you do not need any data. And until the units are built and are available, you will not know where people are moving from. But since traffic is a regional problem, this will have a positive effect. Not surprised that the CAVE people and the stanford second guessers are out in force.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Stanford fan
I know all that, but it would be helpful for our city's planning purposes because our housing, which we have control over, will be impacted, hopefully benefitted, but by how much?


6 people like this
Posted by Proundly Going Nowhere
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 24, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Family affordable housing is in dire need in Palo Alto now not later. Keeping this community socially, economically diverse and inclusive of those less fortunate than the Google billionaires and their cast off / electronic revolution heirs is Uno numero priority . As a city and as a citizenry we have to make this happen for the population already residing here - sooner rather than later. Families who work locally in low-wage jobs, support the local commerce and are raising children in this town must be factored into the destiny equation. Granny units and 2000 beds are suitable and adequate for students, single people and the elderly. However, family friendly, low-impact housing all within reach of walking, riding bikes and train/bus is desperately needed now - not in 20 years down the road. Has Buena Vista Mobile Home Park dilemma died in the news of late? Where are the people who perhaps were born and raised here - who also sacrifice their pride every day to clean toilets and nurse our children's boo-boos at the local day-care centers going to be able to transition - once the dust settles on that and grab?


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Proundly Going Nowhere
Spot on and very touching. The emphasis is on housing the singles, marrieds sans children and, yes, grannies. Believe me, I don't have a solution for it. And it looks like the direction is heading the way you describe it, citing those really rich folks who will be able to buy here who have families. Sad!


9 people like this
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2016 at 12:05 pm

@Profoundly Going Nowhere
Stanford has been experiencing a consistent decline in the grad student families in Escondido Village for a few decades. This is a national trend as young adults marry later and start families later. This "in-fill" project is providing housing for the many single and married w/o children to release off-campus housing for the general population. If you truly look around, there are many small rentals in the immediate area which are being occupied by families already. A working class couple with 1-2 kids, in a "Jr." one-bdrm apt. or an oversized studio, isn't hard to find. You can also find many overpriced, undersized apts. rented by well-paid techies--who work outrageous hours and are rarely home. If you disapprove of the current situation, wait...it'll get worse before it ever gets better.


10 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 26, 2016 at 6:53 pm

There are thousands of low paid workers who serve our community. Nannies, maids, house cleaners. There is zero efforts to make housing in Palo Alto affordable to them, when they are the ones who need affordable housing. Instead, we are subsidizing highly skilled techies who make 6 figure salaries and often have stock options, and city employees with 6 figure salaries and very generous pension plans. This is exactly why I'm so opposed to the subsidized housing schemes. All they they amount to is socialism for the well offs and relatively well offs, while those who truly need subsidized housing will never get help. I'd love to see those making 25-30 thousand dollars a year get help, except it will never happen.


Like this comment
Posted by Rosie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2016 at 1:13 am

@Observer,
Speaking as a nonmillionaire who bought a house here within the last 10 years, things are not worse, in fact there are far more options than ever and interest rates are historically low. Jumbo rates can even be lower than conforming. It did take us a few dcades to move up, not in Palo Alto, and when we bought, it was part of a regional search. The thing that is different is the elemenys willing to carry water for developers this tome.


Like this comment
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2016 at 6:25 am

Palo Alto must be the only place in the world where additional population density creates less traffic. Somehow universal laws reverse themselves as they reach the Palo Alto city limits. We must live in an upside-down world here. We are also the only place in the world where people with six figure salaries get subsidized housing.


7 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Nixon School
on Mar 27, 2016 at 7:27 am

How about providing housing for your staff - not just faculty and students? Stanford staff - the employees that help keep the University running on a daily basis - are treated like second class citizens. No housing allowances for staff whatsoever. No new housing designated for staff. Charging staff mind boggling rents at Stanford owned rentals. Come on, treat all employees with respect they deserve rather than creating a two-tiered system at the University. The alternative for many staff is to move to far away locations and commute for hours to work while contributing to an already highly traffic congested area. Stanford University is failing to address the housing affordability issue and is in fact contributing to the problem.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2016 at 10:59 am

@mauricio

When things seem that counterintuitive, at some point you may want to consider that your base assumptions are wrong. I don't think anyone is arguing this project, taken in a vacuum, will create "less traffic", rather, it will mean less traffic than if the same people were housed across the region and not on campus; they will continue to study at Stanford regardless if this project is or isn't built, so even if not a single one of then chooses an alternative form of commuting (I guess by driving out then back into campus?) its still a wash.


2 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

I was looking at the broader picture vis-vis-vis both Stanford and Palo Alto. The willingness to subsidize housing for superbly educated people with 6 figure salaries, highly marketable jobs and/or the potential for very high earnings, while ignoring and neglecting those who serve both Stanford and Palo Alto residents:Stanford's lower salaries staff, Palo nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, etc who serve the residents of Palo Alto. The most ridiculous excuse to this blatant socialism for the elite is that it will reduce traffic, a miracle that has never happened anywhere in the world with increasing population, but will undoubtedly happen here.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Mar 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Will these housing projects be fully self-parked, or will their residents be expected to store their cars on Palo Alto residential streets and use Marguerite to get to them?


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2016 at 1:32 pm

@mauricio, so basically just a tangential aside that has quite literally nothing to do with the article, except that it has "housing" in the title...


Like this comment
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2016 at 4:03 pm

Yeah, because what happens with housing and overdevelopment at Stanford has absolutely no effect on Palo Alto, just like the Stanford Industrial Park has absolutely nothing to do with Palo Alto.


5 people like this
Posted by Sardines
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Well, maurucio, your comments are irrelevant. The thread discusses housing at stanfoord, in am area that palo alto has no say over. So your comments, once again complainING about palo alto, are totally out of place on this thread. You might as well also complain about housing and building in Menlo Park and mountain view. But at least you did not mention PAF, Steve levy and your bogus sardine can analogy.


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

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