Stanford expansion raises traffic, housing concerns

Palo Alto residents and university students call for more action to mitigate impacts, house Stanford staff

As Stanford University prepares for its next stage of campus growth, Palo Alto residents and the university's students and employees are calling for the university to make sure that the traffic impacts of its expansion don't overwhelm local streets and that its own staff doesn't get left behind.

The topics of traffic and housing -- which continue to dominate policy discussions in the cities around Stanford -- were also the dominant themes during Wednesday's community hearing on Stanford's application for a new General Use Permit. In applying the the new permit, Stanford is seeking to build 2.3 million square feet in new academic facilities and 1.2 million square feet of student housing.

The application also calls for up to 40,000 square feet of child care centers and "trip-reducing facilities" aimed at reducing automobile trips to and from campus.

The Wednesday meeting brought about 100 residents, students and Stanford employees to the Mitchell Park Library in Palo Alto to learn about the expansion effort and express their concerns. The crowd also included members of SEIU Local 2007, who called on the university to provide more housing for its own staff as part of its expansion effort. The permit applications proposes 550 units for faculty and staff and 2,600 new student beds (or, in the case of graduate students, apartments).

In making the case for the new permit, Stanford officials pointed to emerging academic fields, which are requiring new facilities. These include stem cell research, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

"Knowledge is continually and rapidly expanding and entirely new fields of research are proliferating," Jean McCown, Stanford's assistant vice president and director of community relations, told the assembled crowd.

McCown also noted that Stanford's dramatic increase in applications -- without an accompanying increase in enrollment figures -- has resulted in "one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation." Under the new plan, Stanford would increase enrollment by about 100 students per year over the course of the General Use Permit.

In addressing the impacts of this growth, Stanford hopes to follow the blueprint that was established in the 2000 General User Permit, which allowed the university to construct 2 million square feet of academic space and 3,018 student units or beds (the county permitted Stanford to add another 1,450 beds last year as part of its authorization of the Escondido Village project). The permit gave Stanford discretion over the types and locations of the new facilities, provided the university meets dozens of conditions aimed at mitigating impact. The most significant of these is the "no net new car trips" policy, which requires Stanford to ensure that the number of cars going to and from campus during commute hours don't increase.

The policy promoted the creation of Stanford's ambitious "transportation-demand management" program, which includes transit subsidies, bike improvements, rideshare services and other tools aimed at shifting people from cars to other modes. The drive-alone rate of Stanford commuters subsequently dropped from 72 percent in 2004 to 50 percent today, Catherine Palter, Stanford's associate vice president for land use and environmental planning, told the assembled crowd.

The policy would remain largely intact in the new GUP, though there would be some changes in the methodology in measuring trips. The new policy would also allow Stanford to pay for trip-reduction measures in surrounding communities if it fails to meet its "no net new commute trips" policy through TDM measure on its campus.

While local residents generally supported Stanford's drive to keep the number of car trips steady, a few called for the university to go even further and actually reduce traffic. Hamilton Hitchings, who lives in the Duveneck/St. Francis area urged university officials to reduce trips by 10 percent over the timeframe of the new General Use Permit.

"What I'd like to see is a modest trip reduction to and from campus," Hitchings said. "(A) significant portion of Palo Alto traffic is due to folks going to and from Stanford."

Others worried about the expansion's parking impact. Jim McFall, who lives in the Southgate neighborhood and whose house is across El Camino Real from the university, said that he recently had a car parked all day in front of his house with a "Stanford Health Services" parking permit on its rear view mirror. He asked Stanford officials what they plan to do about "rogue parkers and drivers who park in adjacent neighborhoods and areas, creating commuter traffic and parking issues."

Kirsten Flynn, who lives in the Ventura neighborhood, also reported seeing people from Stanford parking in her neighborhood.

"There are more trips perhaps than you perceive," Flynn said.

She also encouraged Stanford to adopt a policy of "net zero" carbon emissions in new structures.

While traffic issues dominated residents' concerns, Stanford students and employees largely focused on housing. A contingent of students who recently formed a group SCOPE 2035 attended the meeting and urged the university to do more to promote affordable housing and provide units for its own staff.

John Zhao, a member of the group, asked Stanford to do more to mitigate its impacts in both Santa Clara County and, more broadly, in the Bay Area, where many of its employees live.

"We believe that as an educational institution with significant resources, and a significant impact to the Bay Area at large, Stanford has both the responsibility and ability to give back to the community it is part of," Zhao said.

The students' remarks drew cheers from several union employees, who attended the meeting and made their case for having more staff housing on campus. Jose Escanuela, president of SEIU Local 2007, said his members are concerned about this allocation and asked Stanford officials how the university determined the number of units allocated for staff.

"Our livelihoods are largely dependent on the outcome of this General Use Permit," Escanuela said.


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3 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 10:20 am

Does this mean that by the end of the term of the new use permit Stanford will increase by 1,000 its freshman class?

19 people like this
Posted by Josie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2017 at 10:48 am

It is long overdue time we hold Stanford, all the Palo Alto planners and council members accountable for their GROSS acceptance of added large scale developments which effect all transportation and auto traffic along the entire El Camino corridor from Mtnview-RWC and the surrounding neighborhoods.

CItizens and planners are either asleep at the wheel, too self focused to care, being bought out and lobbied to by developers or likely all of the above!

CAlculate the number of high density buildings, office, retail, apartment and hotel developments currently newly completed, under construction, on the route of planning approval or being proposed. NONE Of these have included comprehensive traffic impacts or mediation measures in the bigger picture as a total of the sums of the developments.
The entire El Camino Corridor is now a complete bottle neck during the ever encroaching commute hours......traffic is increasing in ALL our neighborhood exponentially with each new phase of development.
BUlding and population is increasing along the corridor exponentially with out any improvements or like expansion aimed at accommodating the increased population of cars.
It sickens us that a bright forward thinking community is SO ignorant about traffic, or community involvemt to elect, and voice their concerns to their planners, elected officials and attend community meetings to protest the continued expansion without environmental mediation and attention t the multi cell mmunity impact of ALL the TOWNS ALONG THE EL CAMINO CORRIDOR ! LIved in LA are for 20 years...........this IS the same IGNORANCE being repeated !

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Adams
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 10:57 am

Stanford really needs to build more high rise parking structures that are located along major roads and major areas, such as near the book store.

11 people like this
Posted by PA resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2017 at 11:12 am

Stanford has been building major parking will find them underground, under the Knight Business School, under Wilbur field, under the cancer center, and now under Roble field.

Stanford is also building lots more housing. It looks to me like the amount of new housing exceeds the number of new employees and number of new students. When the major building of graduate school apartments gets finished (it just started) nearly 1500 commuters will be taken off the roads.

Looks to me like a good neighbor.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 11:31 am

It would be nice if Stanford in partnership with Palo Alto could build parking at the 280 and 101 offramps and run efficient designated shuttles to the campus and other business areas. Neither entity could produce enough traffic to do this for themselves, but a joint effort especially with Stanford's experience of running the Marguerite successfully could help all of us with traffic and parking dilemmas.

18 people like this
Posted by How many people?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2017 at 11:43 am

How many people? is a registered user.

I have not seen the projected increase in Stanford staff/students/families reported anywhere. It was not made available last night--even though multiple people specifically asked for it. Stanford danced around those numbers, saying they didn't really know them. I don't believe this. They at least have a rough estimate. They'd need those numbers to determine the square footage estimates they gave us.

How many people are we talking about, Stanford? Be transparent.

19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Over the years we've gotten many paid surveys asking about the best way to convince voters that Stanford growth will have no impact on traffic and Palo Alto. They don't seem to care about the reality that their dramatic growth WILL in fact impact the city, just the perception.

Enough already. Our streets and neighborhoods are gridlocked and over-parked.

Also, how are we ensuring that City Council members who have direct ties to Stanford real estate and development recuse themselves from this vote? I'm specifically concerned about Adrian Fine whose mother works for the Real Estate and Development office.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Online name,

Why not get Palo Alto to clean up its act before attacking Stanford which is doing a lot to provide new opportunities while mitigating the impacts?

7 people like this
Posted by jean
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:15 pm

As I remember the permits for Stanford go through the county. they were supposed to construct a trail along the creek on the north side of their open space when they were permitted for their last expansion.. I do not think they ever did it. Get them to do it NOW

3 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:17 pm

As reported previously by the Weekly, the plan will allow Stanford to increase its undergraduate class size from about 1750 to 2200+ between now and 2035. Total undergraduate enrollment could grow to close to 9000. Much of the additional are for grad students a staff, who have trouble finding affordable housing off campus. Almost all current undergraduates are housed on campus.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Building parking at freeway off ramps for workers commuting to Palo Alto makes no sense. Need to get cars off the freeways.

7 people like this
Posted by Alternative Fact
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:44 pm


That, is an Alternative Fact.

3 people like this
Posted by Alternative Fact
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:45 pm

I am talking about Chris' second post.

12 people like this
Posted by Relative
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 1:11 pm

I wouldn't be so opposed to Stanford plans if the City hadn't prostituted itself to every development interest and now we have such gridlock and ongoing destruction of our town and quality of life. I personally would have thought some foresight should have been required since Stanford has been there so long alongside Palo Alto. Is Palantir taking over downtown tobe near Stanford or to spy on them?

8 people like this
Posted by anne bergman
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm

as a graduate of berkeley, i find the continued growth of stanford to be a sad commentary on public education. at stanford, not a blade of grass is out of place. at berkeley, the sidewalks and buildings look like they are in great disrepair. it is wonderful that stanford has a spectacular endowment, but is there no end point to its growth? i know this is part of a larger conversation, and i take pride in all that stanford is and does, but there are so many universities and colleges struggling to maintain their quality with decreased funding, that - here is a radical thought- stanford should share its wealth.

3 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2017 at 2:30 pm

@ Anne: So, Stanford should give money to the UC system because the state can't manage it's finances? Or, just because they have money and the UC system does not. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to their need" Hmm, spoken like a true Berkeley graduate.

16 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 2:42 pm

jh is a registered user.

Stanford's permission to expand is given with the caveat no new commute traffic, and vehicles are counted at each road onto campus. Stanford makes employee parking very expensive to deter employees from driving. All this does is encourage employees to drive into Palo Aalto,, park their cars in nearby neighborhoods, and save hundreds of dollars a year. The frequent shuttle bus that goes around campus makes this very easy for those who don't want to walk all the way. Andlets Stanford off the hook.

Posted by More Baloney
a resident of Midtown

on Jan 26, 2017 at 2:54 pm

More Baloney is a registered user.

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22 people like this
Posted by Nutz
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Nutz is a registered user.

Stanford's on-campus housing is not inexpensive, just less expensive. I would expect the new housing to be more expensive than the older units.

Even so, there are always students who, for some reason, do not like to live on campus. They get together with like-minded students and rent a house in Palo Alto. Then we have the issue of 4-7 cars parked on a residential street.

Even if all the students lived on campus, you can't expect them to stay there 24/7! Why would they want to? Of course, that means. They will be out on Palo Alto streets, adding to traffic at some point during the day or evening.

Stanford can't keep acting like they own Palo Alto!

8 people like this
Posted by TTurner
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm

TTurner is a registered user.

We should rename Palo Alto to Stanford.

18 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 7:22 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

How many times do the global elites that run Stanford need to tell you that when the population density increases, traffic and pollution goes down. They are only sorry they could not add another 10,000 thereby relieving our burdens even more.

Once we achieve the theoretical maximum of "Peak gridlock", we will be much more controllable because everyone will be forced to ride bicycles, use Uber or attempt to catch the occasional mass transit vehicle when it is not broken down or off schedule.

In a couple of years when the helipads are complete, they won't even need tinted glass windows to prevent the bourgeoisie masses from sneering at them as they zip by. Forcing others out of cars is the elite's carbon off-set. They will ride happily overhead on the newly re-routed air traffic lanes on their way between Davos, Ted Talks and DNC campaign fund raisers.

13 people like this
Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2017 at 8:55 pm

The entire Bay area, Palo Alto and the state of California are all facing a huge overpopulation crisis. We do not have a housing crisis. We have too many people trying to live in one place. It is time to tell Stanford no more growth! It is time for all cities to tell developers and businesses to go elsewhere (Detroit has lots of empty space). The air in California is some of the most polluted in the nation, we have more endangered animals than any other state, despite recent rains we have more people than we have water for, we are paving over and destroying most of the remaining habitat that people have not already claimed and every new square foot of building that goes up makes it all worse. We live in massive gridlock in cities with declining city services and schools and ever increasing housing prices due to over-population. Poor choices by developer run governments have resulted in cities, counties and state government rubber stamping development projects that will make a few people rich and most residents of their respective areas poorer and doomed to a diminished quality of life. Stanford should not be viewed as an educational institution but as the development corporation it has become in the last few decades and told flat out - No More Development.

3 people like this
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:51 pm

What's not being mentioned in any of the various discussions of Stanford's new GUP is that this is not the whole expansion story. Several years ago, Stanford purchased properties in Redwood City, where its expansion to a "North Campus" has been progressing. Much of Stanford's non-academic administrative operations are planned to relocate to that new site by the end of this decade. That's staff and traffic reduction for the main campus. Since Redwood City is in a different county, that project--while material--is not pertinent to Palo Alto/Sta. Clara Co. discussions. Already Stanford has some of its Hospital operations buildings visible from Hwy 101. Redwood City has been gracious, eagerly receptive to the changes that this North Campus represents.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 6, 2017 at 4:26 am

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