Editorial: Stanford's ambitious GUP

Proposal rekindles old issues of housing, transportation and 'build-out'

It is not surprising that residents and government officials of the communities surrounding Stanford University are only now beginning to wake up to the importance of the university's pending request for a new general use permit (GUP) to regulate its growth and development through 2035.

Palo Alto and Menlo Park have each had other major land use issues occupying their time, including the final adoption of Palo Alto's own updated Comprehensive Plan — an 11-year endeavor — and Menlo Park's approval of Stanford projects on El Camino Real and its attempt to reverse its approval of a development on Sand Hill Road near Sharon Heights.

But with appropriate prodding by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who will play a key role in the county's review of the Stanford GUP application, the community is awakening to the need to carefully scrutinize Stanford's plans.

The general-use-permit process that Stanford uses is unique and is not subject to normal review and approval by either the Palo Alto or Menlo Park city councils. While some of Stanford's commercially developed lands, such as the Medical Center, the Research Park and the Shopping Center, are located in the city of Palo Alto and subject to Palo Alto zoning control and approvals by the City Council, its general use permit covers the core academic campus and the foothills, which are unincorporated lands regulated mostly by Santa Clara County even though the impacts are felt within nearby cities.

Stanford's current general use permit was adopted in 2000 and was the subject of much public debate. Intended to eliminate the need for project-by-project review of every Stanford development, the GUP application is a single-shot opportunity for the public to exert land-use and transportation controls over the region's largest land owner and one of its largest employers.

Coincidentally, Simitian, during his previous stint on the Board of Supervisors, played a key role in the review and approval of the original plan in 2000. He successfully pushed for many detailed new practices, such as requiring no increase in peak-hour car trips and mandates that university's housing and academic buildings be developed in stair-step fashion to ensure housing kept pace. He also was instrumental in getting the university to commit to preparing a model of fully "built-out" campus lands, a task only partially completed and which needs to be renewed in the new GUP.

Now, 17 years later, the university has come to accept the more rigorous county oversight and the benefits of the processes, predictability and flexibility it established. Approval was granted in 2000 for all the development Stanford was requesting at the time (2 million square feet of new academic and athletic buildings and 3,000 housing units), along with some key limitations, such as a 25-year moratorium on any development in the foothills west of Junipero Serra Boulevard.

Stanford's original prediction was that it would need to return for a new use permit (due to using up the authorized development allowance) after about 10 years, but the Great Recession slowed the pace of Stanford's building plans. It's now likely that Stanford will use up its allowed development from the 2000 GUP within the next two years.

The university's new request is for approval to build another 2.275 million square feet of new academic facilities and 3,150 housing units (550 faculty housing units with the balance being beds in student housing).

An enormous, three-volume draft environmental-impact report has been completed, and several local jurisdictions, including the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park and the Palo Alto Unified School District, have asked the county for a 60-day extension from the Dec. 4 deadline for submitting comments. Given the magnitude and complexity of this unique process, those requests are reasonable and Stanford is being short-sighted in opposing this extension. (Santa Clara County granted extending the public comment period on Thursday evening. Read the story here.)

As the process proceeds over the next year, there are a number of issues that are likely to become contentious and require careful negotiation, including more aggressive traffic-mitigation measures, the renewal of the university's commitment not to develop in the foothills after the current restriction expires in 2025, the issue of workforce housing for university employees and the development fees the university will be required to pay to help fund transportation and housing mitigation.

Stanford has, for the most part, faithfully lived up to the terms of the current use permit and has developed an outstanding and innovative Marguerite shuttle system, a balanced housing program and attractive and energy-efficient new campus buildings.

But these achievements have come in part because of rigorous public and governmental review and monitoring, and as it becomes more and more difficult to mitigate the impacts of further growth, such oversight will be even more important as the GUP is reviewed.


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14 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Marie is a registered user.

There must be housing for all new workers. As long as there are Stanford employees living in RV's on the street, they have failed. They must take responsibility for temporary contract workers as well. I know of no new housing for the 3000 new employees that will be generated by the new hospital. Unlike most of Palo Alto, Stanford does have land for more housing.

Also, the proposed housing in west campus, is far from any school. Unless they donate land for a school within walking and biking distance of the new housing, there will be many new car trips during school commute hours. Could Stanford extend its shuttles to include rides to school for students from the Stanford campus?

12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 1, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Stanford has plenty of room for RV parking and current employee parking.

Instead of further gridlocking our already clogged roads and neighborhoods, let them absorb their own before asking as tom to deal with the their parking and traffic.

1 person likes this
Posted by Forest
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm

I'd like to see this GUP include that Stanford take a more modern approach to how they deal with their inherited legacy of environmental hazards, such as heavily lead painted buildings. Sweeping these things under a rug is so 1980s (letting acres of paintchips absorb into the pre-school lawn and then down the drain to the bay -- see 2013 Daily article).

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2017 at 4:36 pm

There are a large number of issues to be dealt with, but, the primary issue that affects me personally is -traffic-. Stanford needs to seriously consider developing its own light rail infrastructure to move people in and out and around campus, and actually reduce the traffic pressure outside campus borders. According to my car, average trip speed around here is less than 15 mph, and, that is avoiding rush hour congestion as much as possible.

2 people like this
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 4, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Below is a copy of an e-mail that I sent to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission and the Menlo Park City Council regarding Stanford's need to build a road from I 210 between Alpine Road and Page Mill Road to connect to the Stanford Campus.

My wife Robin and I live on Sharon Oaks Drive with the back of my house on Sand Hill Road. From 1989 to 2003 there was a slow growth in the traffic but it was manageable. In 2003 the Stanford Management Company entered into a contract with the city of Menlo Park to widen the San Fransiquito Creek bridge on Sand Hill Road and upgrade the intersection of Santa Cruz Avenue and Sand Hill Road to allow for additional traffic flow.

Since that time the traffic has doubled with a corresponding increase in the traffic noise. In 2003 I spoke before the Menlo Park City Council and said that if Stanford was considering rapid development then it should build its own road connecting the Campus to the Freeway and that this road should be placed between Alpine Road and Page Mill Road. This condition should be added to the 2018 Stanford GUP. The Stanford Management Company has unfairly burdened Menlo Park and this burden is extremely disproportional to the tax benefit Menlo Park receives since the it has engaged in clever schemes to avoid paying property taxes leaving Menlo Park residents to make up the shortfall.

My proposed road would be a 4 lane divided road connecting I 280 (between Alpine Road and Page Mill Road) with Governor’s Avenue adjacent to the Elliott Program Center. The proposed Road would be built between the Stanford Golf Driving Range and Lake Lagunita. From I 280 the road would be placed south of the Reservoir and south of the Carnegie Foundation and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. It would then go either over or under Junipero Serra without connecting to it. The purpose of the road is not to offer short cuts to Menlo Park or Page Mill Road but to provide a dedicated road into the campus.

However, there are also some minor road disconnect issues that need addressing. Governor’s Avenue currently has a disconnect between Santa Teresa Street and Santa Teresa Lane. This disconnect would be have to be eliminated to allow for continuous traffic flow. Governor’s Avenue then dog ear’s to the left into Searsville Road. Searsville Road also has a disconnect between Los Arboles Avenue and Campus Drive. This disconnect would be eliminated as well to allow traffic to proceed to Campus Drive. Once you arrive at Campus Drive you can make a right turn and then make a left turn on to Welsh Road and drive into the main Medical Complex.

For people wanting to go to the Stanford Shopping Center instead they can make a right turn on to Campus Drive and then make a left turn to Stock Farm Road and then make a right turn on Sand Hill Road.

Sincerely yours,
Henry E. Lawrence

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