More than 200 residents of Palo Alto and surrounding communities attended a meeting on Stanford University's proposed expansion Tuesday, with many citing traffic, parking, housing and foothills protection as their top concerns about the project.
Hosted by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the meeting focused on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Stanford University's General Use Permit (GUP). If approved by the county, the permit would allow Stanford to build 2.275 million square feet of academic space, in addition to 3,150 housing units and 40,000 square feet of child care centers by 2035.
The attendance at the meeting reflected the community's growing awareness and interest in the GUP, according to Simitian.
"With land use projects, folks typically become increasingly aware the closer you get to a decision day," he said. "The last one of these that we conducted here in City Hall had maybe 150 people, but many months prior to that, the planning staff had a hearing here, in Palo Alto ... that I think literally drew half a dozen people."
Simitian and his team sponsored this week's meeting to give residents an additional chance to make comments on the DEIR.
"What we heard tonight was consistent with what I've been hearing throughout the process, which is concerns about traffic, housing, protection of the foothills and open space, schools and maximum build-out," he said. "I think what's helpful is that every individual comment brings a slightly different perspective, and the conversation becomes an increasingly refined one over time."
Julianne Frizzell, a Palo Alto resident of 22 years, voiced her concern over "massive growth, seemingly without end, on the Stanford campus."
"Palo Alto and the Menlo Park area already experience too many negative impacts of Stanford's growth," she said.
Wynne Furth, a 20-year resident of Palo Alto, said Stanford should go further with their assessment of the development by also considering the indirect impacts of their growth on the community.
"I believe the environmental impact report needs to provide alternative housing for everyone who will be supporting incremental developments, and address the existing externalizing of Stanford's housing shortages in the surrounding communities, which has had rippling, damaging effects," she said.
In response to residents' concerns that the university was not doing enough to address the full impact of the proposed expansion, Lesley Lowe, a senior environmental planner at Stanford, said the university was taking the DEIR and its assessments of impacts on the community "very seriously."
"We do not take it lightly, especially when we are committing to that standard (of mitigation) for the next 17 years," she said.
Lowe also pointed out that the university had mitigated impacts on the community in the past, stating that the university's single-occupancy vehicle rate has dropped from 72 percent in 2002 to 43 percent today.
"It's not about moving people closer for shorter trips in their cars, but moving people out of their cars," she said.
Jean McCown, the director of community relations at Stanford, also spoke in support of the university's continued development.
"Our success depends on the expansion of our academic space," she said. "We understand why people are concerned about the impact of growth, but Stanford has taken many steps to avoid the negative environmental impacts, and we are actually encouraged by the results of the DEIR."
As representatives from the university addressed residents' concerns about development, some staff members from Stanford University came forward to voice their concern about the lack of affordable housing proposed in the expansion.
Doroteo Garcia, an East Palo Alto resident who has worked on the Stanford University as a janitor for 20 years, said he commutes to work by bike every morning.
"I feel very proud to work at this institution," he said, referring to Stanford. "I feel proud that Stanford has created more jobs, but here is my question: where can these people live? Like a janitor? Like a cafeteria worker? We need affordable housing for these people."
The period for public commentary closes Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. Comments on the draft environmental report may be sent to David Rader, Santa Clara County senior planner, at [email protected] They can also be mailed to: County of Santa Clara Department of Planning and Development, Attn: David Rader, 70 West Hedding St., San Jose, 95110.
• Watch Palo Alto Weekly journalists discuss Stanford's proposed expansion on a "Behind the Headlines" webcast.