Stanford University can move ahead with its plan to add 2,000 beds for graduate students to Escondido Village after the project secured on Thursday the unanimous endorsement of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission.
The commission voted to approve Stanford's request to modify its 2000 agreement with the county, which allowed the university to add 3,018 housing units to its campus, which is on unincorporated Santa Clara County land. The new proposal at Escondido Village would exceed the allotment by 1,450 beds.
Once completed, the project would enable Stanford to provide on-campus housing to 75 percent of its graduate-student population, up from the current level of 55 percent, according to Shirley Everett, the university's senior associate vice provost for residential and dining enterprises. In presenting the project to the Palo Alto City Council on Monday, Everett called the proposed development "one of the most critically important initiatives undertaken on behalf of the university community" in her 25 years on campus.
The Palo Alto council lauded the project, which members noted will help alleviate the local housing crunch by freeing up some of the units currently being rented by Stanford graduate students. And because fewer students would have to drive to campus once the housing is built, the project is one of few major developments that is actually expected to reduce traffic.
Stanford officials also plan to add a fitness center, a pub, a transportation hub and other amenities to Escondido Village as part of the new development, which would be located in the area of Serra Street and Campus Drive.
County staff, which reviewed the application, recommended approval, noting that it would have "no significant impacts" beyond this identified in the 2000 environmental analysis. A report from county staff also noted that the proposal is "desirable to accommodate changing academic program needs and to make the best use of the housing sits on campus." And adding housing on campus, the report noted, "alleviates housing shortage on campus and reduces commutes of students into the campus at peak hours."
Before the Thursday meeting, Stanford proposal also picked up endorsements for the project from a number of civic and business organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Leadership Group, wrote in a letter that the proposed development "provides much needed density in an area that is tremendously short on housing and particularly expensive even by regional standards."
Stanford's graduate students also urged the county commission to support the project. Gabriel Rodriguez, a sixth-year doctorate student, submitted a letter on behalf of the Associated Students of Stanford University' Graduate Student Council, an elected body of the student government that represents every graduate school on campus. Rodriguez wrote that the group expresses "strong support" for the new project'
"As graduate student representatives, we consistently hear from concerned graduate students who cannot be housed at Stanford due to lack of on-campus housing," Rodriguez wrote. "These students are forced to deal with extraordinary rental prices and competition in the surrounding rental community, as well as increased commuting time and cost. This can put a great deal of financial and mental stress on these students, which can negatively impact their academics."
The commission's unanimous vote means the university has now cleared its main bureaucratic hurdle. Stanford will still be required to submit the design to the County Planning Office and obtain Architecture and Site Approval before it could commence construction, according to the staff report.