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.