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Study highlights impacts of adding Stanford housing

New EIR looks at costs of requiring more housing as part of university's planned expansion

As Stanford University moves ahead with a proposal to build more than 2 million square feet of academic space by 2035, it continues to face calls from students, employees and local officials who believe the university should build more housing as part of the expansion.

But their preferred solution — requiring Stanford to greatly ramp up its housing on campus — would unleash its own problems, according to a new analysis performed by Santa Clara County's Department of Planning and Development, which is now processing Stanford's application. The analysis, released last week as part of a revised Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford's proposed expansion, indicates that development alternatives that include more housing would come with increased traffic congestion on local roads and freeways, additional air pollution and greater demand for existing recreational facilities. These impacts would also put the onus on surrounding cities, including Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View, to address the problems created by Stanford's growth, according to the Draft EIR.

For proponents of additional housing — including the student group Stanford Coalition for Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) and its allies in the SEIU, Local 2007 — the new analysis represents a mixed victory. On the one hand, they succeeded in delaying approval of the Stanford application so that their concerns can be further vetted. On the other hand, this additional study suggests that the type of housing they say is needed comes at a great cost, in terms of impacts on the area.

During community meetings last fall, members of SCoPE 2035 urged Stanford to provide more housing for university employees, many of whom commute from afar. Last month, SCoPE 2035 released a platform that calls for Stanford to provide 5,328 housing units for faculty, staff and workers to "better match the projected growth of its workforce over the lifespan of the 2018 GUP (General Use Permit)."

Palo Alto officials had also raised concerns about Stanford's proposed academic growth and the potential inadequacy of its housing plans (the City Council is scheduled to approve a comment letter on the new analysis on June 25). In commenting on the original Draft EIR, city officials argued in a letter that the region's housing crisis will be "exacerbated by any project that proposes to add more jobs and more housing demand than housing."

"We urge the county and university to reconsider parameters of the current proposal and either reduce housing demand or increase affordable housing proposed within and proximate to the campus," the city's letter states.

The county performed the additional analysis in response to an outpouring of concerns about housing in response to the initial Draft EIR, said Jeff Campbell, the project planner for the GUP application. The county released its initial Draft EIR for the Stanford application on Oct. 6, 2017. It extended the period for people to comment on the document, which concluded on Feb. 2.

Campbell — whose firm, M-Group, is the county's consultant for the project — said that initial DEIR elicited voluminous comments about "the dire need for more housing in the area," Campbell told the Weekly.

The fact that the Board of Supervisors had made the creation of housing one of its priorities also played into the county's decision to analyze the new alternatives, Campbell said. Board President Joe Simitian has recently proposed a partnership between the county and cities to build teacher housing. The county also signaled support in May for raising the "affordable housing impact fee" that developers of nonresidential projects have to pay from $35 to $68.50 — a move that could have a significant impact on Stanford (the county's Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee was scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance on June 21; the proposal would then go the Board of Supervisors for formal approval).

Given the concerns from the Board and from the community about housing, the county recirculated a new Draft EIR, with two additional alternatives, earlier this month. The comment period on the updated EIR kicked off June 12 and will stretch until July 26. The county also plans to hold two meetings on the recirculated portions of the EIR, one on June 27 in Menlo Park (6-8 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 701 Laurel St.) and another on July 10 in Palo Alto (6-8 p.m. at the Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium, 1313 Newell Road).

The biggest change in the new document is the addition of two alternatives, each of which includes far more housing than the 3,150 faculty/staff units or student beds that Stanford had proposed in its permit application. One, known as Housing Alternative A, would provide a total of 5,699 units or beds — enough to completely accommodate the increase in the campus population from the academic expansion.

The other, known as Housing Alternative B, would build 4,425 units or beds.

"In response to the public comments, the planning office decided that two alternatives are really needed to address the issue fully and to give the Planning Commission and the Board a wider array of options to consider," Campbell said.

The Draft EIR looked at 111 different impacts that the Stanford expansion is projected to incur, including noise, air quality, traffic, recreation and public services. In at least 86 cases, the problem would be greater with either of the two housing alternatives than they would be with the original project proposed by Stanford (in a few additional cases, the impact would be "same or greater," according to the EIR).

One area of concern identified in the EIR is transportation. Even without the added housing, the Stanford expansion is expected to have "significant and unavoidable" impacts on traffic volumes at area intersections and freeways. When considered with other "reasonably foreseeable future projects," the added traffic would be "contributing considerably to significant adverse impacts," the EIR states.

The county analysis concluded that Housing Alternative A would generate more traffic even after accounting for the students and faculty who would no longer have to commute to campus because of the new housing. During the morning and evening peak commute hours, the additional housing is expected to result in slightly more than 2,100 additional trips by residents. At the same time, it would only reduce the number of commuter trips by about 700, netting an addition of about 1,400 trips.

The analysis argues that on-campus residents tend to make more trips than commuters to campus and notes that residential rates include trips by both Stanford affiliates and other members of their households.

"A campus resident travels between the campus and other destinations for a variety of purposes, including shopping, dining out, religion, clubs and activities, recreation and exercise, entertainment, socializing, daycare, school and off-campus employment," the EIR states. "These types of trips can generate both outbound and inbound trips during the morning or evening periods."

The county had also previously analyzed a "reduced project alternative" that would result in 1.3 million square feet of new academic space and 1,800 new housing units or beds, as well as a "no project" alternative and a "historic preservation" alternative that would prohibit Stanford from demolishing or remodeling historic resources unless these alterations are consistent with the Secretary of Interior standards.

In evaluating the two new housing-focused alternatives, the EIR concluded that they would create more congestion than Stanford's proposed expansion plan. While Stanford's proposed expansion is already expected to create "significant and unavoidable" traffic impacts in the surrounding area, Housing Alternative A would add two more Palo Alto intersections to the list of those affected by the project: Bowdoin Street and Stanford Avenue (where the level of service would drop from "E" under Stanford's proposal to "F" in Housing Alternative A); and Middlefield and Charleston roads (where the level of service would be "F" under both scenarios, though with greater delays under Housing Alternative A during both the morning and the evening peak hours).

The EIR also suggests that traffic conditions would further deteriorate at several already congested segments. These include the northbound Interstate 280 ramp at Sand Hill Road; the intersection of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real; and the intersection of Alma Street and Charleston Road.

The other new alternative, Housing Alternative B, is also expected to bring more traffic to the area, albeit to a lesser extent than Alternative A. The EIR concludes that scenario B would also "increase traffic volumes at area intersections" and create "adverse impacts." And much like Housing Alternative A, it would further exacerbate dozens of impacts that Stanford's expansion is expected to bring, including higher school enrollment, more demand for police and fire services, increased construction noise, additional greenhouse-gas emissions and greater usage of neighborhood and regional parks.

Furthermore, the analysis concludes that both alternatives would "fail to achieve the primary project objective to develop the campus in a manner that reflects Stanford's historical growth rates and the growth assumptions in Stanford's approved Sustainable Development Study." The additional housing, according to the EIR, would "result in more intense development and construction activity than has occurred over the past several decades." Alternative A would add about 2.5 million square feet of additional development to the campus, beyond what Stanford has proposed in its permit application, while Alternative B would add about 1.2 million square feet.

In addition to evaluating the two new housing alternatives, the recirculated Environmental Impact Report also looked at the impacts that Stanford's development of off-campus housing would have on surrounding communities, specifically Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View. The document estimates that Stanford's expansion would result in demand for 2,425 off-campus housing units. The EIR notes that Palo Alto is currently home to about 19 percent of off-campus students, faculty and staff; Menlo Park and Mountain View have 9 percent and 10 percent, respectively. The potential effects of any off-campus housing development projects, the EIR notes, "would disproportionately affect these jurisdictions compared to other communities in the Bay Area that house Stanford affiliates."

The EIR's findings could make it more difficult for the Board of Supervisors to pursue the types of housing plans that SCoPE 2035 and other housing advocates had been calling for. Even so, Stanford officials have emphasized throughout the process that housing remains a top concern.

"Stanford put considerable effort into proposing a balanced and paced approach that provides new on-campus housing (3,150 student beds and faculty/staff units) in a way that preserves and enhances our academic mission and allows us to properly mitigate the identified environmental and transportation impacts," Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president in the office of Government and Community Relations, told the Weekly in an email.

By 2020, McCown said, the university's stock will total 17,900 student beds and housing units. The school has "and will continue to make very significant contributions to the supply of housing."

She also noted that the university is constantly exploring opportunities to build and support construction of new housing, both on campus and in the surrounding region. Stanford is in the midst of building 2,020 new graduate-student beds at Escondido Village, exceeding the amount that the existing General Use Plan calls for. It has secured approval to build 215 apartments in Menlo Park and is now preparing an affordable-housing proposal on Stanford land targeting the school's low-income workers. McCown said Stanford plans to discuss this proposal with county officials in a few weeks.

"We believe Stanford and the County share common goals to benefit our communities, and that, together, we can craft successful solutions," McCown said in an email.

The recirculated portions of the Draft EIR are available at sccgov.org. Comments should be addressed to David Rader at david.rader@pln.sccgov.org or at Santa Clara County Planning Office, County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., 7th Floor, East Wing, San Jose, CA 95110.

By the numbers:

Stanford's proposal

2.275 million square feet: Net new academic space

3,150 units/beds: Net new housing

550 units/beds: New housing for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and medical residents

Reduced Project Alternative

1.3 million square feet: Net new academic space

1,800 units/beds: Net new housing

300 units/beds: New housing for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and medical residents

Additional Housing Alternative A

2.275 million square feet: Net new academic space

5,699 units/beds: Net new housing

2,892 units/beds: New housing for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and medical residents

Additional Housing Alternative B

2.275 million square feet: Net new academic space:

4,425 units/beds: Net new housing:

1,825 units/beds: New housing for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and medical residents

Source: County of Santa Clara

Related content:

Webcast: Stanford's planned expansion

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Comments

22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2018 at 9:18 am

More housing closer to jobs will decrease pollution and traffic, especially rental units that are targeted at students and faculty. That is common sense. Build bike paths and shuttle bus routes that connect the housing to the jobs and classrooms and charge a hefty parking fee for private vehicles on campus. If students and faculty have to live miles away, many will choose private cars over public transit.


60 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2018 at 10:10 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

"More housing closer to jobs will decrease pollution and traffic, especially rental units that are targeted at students and faculty."

Unfortunately, the whole point of the story is that this belief is incorrect.

As the story notes: "The county analysis concluded that Housing Alternative A [a total of 5,699 units or beds — enough to completely accommodate the increase in the campus population from the academic expansion] would generate more traffic even after accounting for the students and faculty who would no longer have to commute to campus because of the new housing...A campus resident travels between the campus and other destinations for a variety of purposes, including shopping, dining out, religion, clubs and activities, recreation and exercise, entertainment, socializing, daycare, school and off-campus employment," the EIR states. These types of trips can generate both outbound and inbound trips during the morning or evening periods."

If you want to completely rearrange where people live and work without increasing the total number of people, then you can reduce traffic. If you want to invest the tens of billions of dollars needed to build a viable public transit system, then you can reduce traffic. But simply adding people without taking those other steps will make traffic worse, no matter where those people are added.

This is why it's so important to change the economic incentives so that commercial expansion bears a proportionate share of the costs for housing and transit expansion.


45 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2018 at 11:01 am

The initial objection by the community was that the Stanford GUP is too big for the limited infrastucture of the surrounding communities. So Stanford took this information and came back with an even bigger proposal, more housing doesn't really address all the other needs. Look Stanford we don't have the roads, the grocery store, schools, all the other stuff that goes into a life to support your big plans. Simply reduce the scale. ENOUGH!


39 people like this
Posted by Profiles in Cowardice
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2018 at 11:08 am

"Resident" your assertion is exactly contrary to the findings of this study. The housing will lead to an "addition of about 1,400 trips". At first that may appear illogical to you, but the study supports its findings by delineating the reasons why there will be these 1,400 additional trips, "A campus resident travels between the campus and other destinations for a variety of purposes, including shopping, dining out, religion, clubs and activities, recreation and exercise, entertainment, socializing, daycare, school and off-campus employment." This is why YIMBY's simplistic belief more housing decreases traffic congestion is erroneous. People do not just live at home, and walk to-and-from work. People live lives, visit friends, drive to the store, gym, church, parks, movie theaters, etc. We need more housing, yes, but let's not kid ourselves by saying housing will solve our traffic problems - it won't.


5 people like this
Posted by Stanford
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 22, 2018 at 3:56 pm

"Look Stanford we don't have the roads, the grocery store, schools, all the other stuff that goes into a life to support your big plans."

That is your problem, not ours. If you think you need them, build them


7 people like this
Posted by Forest, Engineer '15
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 22, 2018 at 4:46 pm

"A campus resident travels between the campus and other destinations for a variety of purposes..."

Wow, what a huge flaw in implicit assumptions. The separation between campus and off campus housing is maybe a half mile. What difference does it really make?

The study assumes all off campus housing is in Livermore...

Someone must think this is a big joke. Real funny. Let's see the real study now.


20 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Palo Alto has one of the highest jobs-to-housing imbalances in the country. Nearby towns aren't a lot better. There simply aren't 6K housing units available within 1/2 mile of the Stanford campus for the people who will be added as a result of the expansion.

Why won't more housing be built? The main reason is that it's so much more profitable to build commercial space than high-density housing space. So long as developers have a choice, they'll prefer commercial space, and that makes the jobs/housing imbalance worse. This is exactly what's been happening in Palo Alto and nearby areas for at least the last decade.

Even if more housing could be built locally, would it solve the problem? Maybe not. Land and construction costs are so high here that rents for newly-constructed housing also have to be extraordinarily high. They're not affordable for most people now, and I have no idea whether they would be affordable for all the people added as a result of the Stanford expansion.

Most vehicle trips are within a short distance of home. The point made by the DEIR is that adding housing locally will increase traffic congestion locally, even if it minimizes the overall number of vehicle miles traveled. (Note that it won't *reduce* overall vehicle miles traveled, because we're talking about *adding* new people, not holding the number of people constant and relocating some of them.)


17 people like this
Posted by Forest, Engineer '15
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 22, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Hi Allen Akin, thank you for explaining. You are correct.

My point is to the current student body, admin, and service workers that live in that half mile now -- they number in the thousands. They will be brought on to campus.

The above already are in local traffic. Counting them as either new oncampus or as somewhere off in lala land over the East Bay hills, it is just not real.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Curious that just yesterday the Mercury-News published an article about a new study funded by the Hewlett Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative that says just the opposite of this article.

Web Link
"The rejection of new housing developments in the county has led to more, not less, congestion as workers move farther away to find affordable housing. One new home was built in San Mateo County for every 19 jobs created between 2010 and 2015."


10 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Suppose 10K Stanford employees live within 1/2 mile of campus. Also suppose Stanford elects Alternative A, and builds on-campus housing for 6K people as part of the expansion. 6K people move from off-campus to on-campus, leaving 4K off-campus. But the expansion also involves hiring 6K people. They can't live on-campus because all those new spots are already taken. So they find places to live that are off-campus.

Before, you had 10K people off-campus. After, you still have 10K people off-campus, but you also have 6K people on-campus. Those 6K people on-campus still have to drive for some purposes. So the total traffic congestion increases.

You can make it more complicated by looking at the different driving patterns close to work and close to home, and I assume that was done for the DEIR. But the basics are still very simple: Adding people adds traffic.


5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2018 at 10:06 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@resident: Yes, I read that article when it was published. It suffers from the common fallacy of assuming infinite growth and then considering only the supply side of supply-and-demand. I haven't read the study on which it was based, but I bet the study is more thoughtful.


15 people like this
Posted by Forest, Engineer '15
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 22, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Hi Allen Akin. Again, you are correct.

It is more the lalla land assumption made implicit. There will remain 10,000 near campus regardless and some of these new 6,000 will be near campus even if housing is not provided on campus. They don't magically go to some lalla land like the county analysis assumed.

That anlaysis is not helpful if it begins with invalid assumptions. Garbage in means garbage out.


5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Forest: I took a quick look at the DEIR, and I can't find any statement about faculty/staff living in Livermore (or even in the East Bay). Can you point me to the section that you had in mind?


7 people like this
Posted by Forest, Engineer '15
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 22, 2018 at 11:52 pm

@Allen. That is the problem. The DEIR does not seem to have anything in mind other than the "invisible hand" of the market. Which is the sort of thinking that caused 2008 and created this mess in the first place


3 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Stanford is the constant target of a PA community that NEVER EVER objects to the effects of constant/huge development projects undertaken by SV software/hardware companies.

I guess they don't mind making a trade-off between their own inflated real estate values and the traffic impacts of these companies.


2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2018 at 8:28 am

I am curious to see the data on all office development in Palo Alto. Is such data publicly available? For example, could one create a tally for different developers, e.. Chop Keenan, of the new office space they have created through their projects? It may be small compared to Stanford's proposal, or it may be comparable - without seeing the data,it is hard to be sure. However, I am pretty sure that none of PA private office developments included housing or free shuttle services.


15 people like this
Posted by Forest, Engineer '15
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 25, 2018 at 8:38 am

@Stephen

Those are tax paying organizations you are referring to.

This is the big elephant. Stanford does not pay taxes. However, they use public services.

For someplace like UC Berekely this makes sense, they provide a public benefit as a public University.

Stanford is a private university. While we all agree Stanford is cool, they do not have an equal claim to public benefit as UC Berekely.

To add my opinion. A difference in public benefit is highlighted by Stanford's insistence on repeatedly inviting ultra conservative right wing speakers that have been accused of crossing the line into hate speech. This is despite large protests by students. Where is the public benefit in hosting high collar hate speech?


19 people like this
Posted by Webster Street
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:56 am

The other morning, I drove my granddaughter to one of the many summer sports camps on the campus, turning left from ECR onto Galvez. I sat behind 5 f-i-v-e double, 16-wheel dump trucks, also in the left lane heading toward Stanford construction. Is this what I have to look forward to for the long-term? (These are in addition to multiple dump trucks driving daily through PA, from the Mountain View area north toward MP. )
Sign me - Stanford retiree and alumna PS - Do like other universities do, and build a satellite campus elsewhere. In the Valley, the north, the coast, etc. And, don't jump immediately to the "second class status" argument.


15 people like this
Posted by Stanford, just a developer
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 25, 2018 at 11:48 am

Stanford USED to be cool. Now it is just another multi-BILLION dollar developer.
Greed, overwhelming expansion, non-profit so not much taxes, foreign investors, the works. They own land all over town, and elsewhere.

A developer's attorney Vice President leads the way, metastasizing expansion.


14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 25, 2018 at 2:23 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Stanford has been for many years a real estate development corporation that happens to own a world class university.


16 people like this
Posted by JH
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:13 pm

JH is a registered user.

@ neighbor, resident of another community

"Stanford is the constant target of a PA community that NEVER EVER objects to the effects of constant/huge development projects undertaken by SV software/hardware companies. "

There are many residents in the PA community who do object to the "constant/huge commercial projects" that city council majority and city staff do not encourage. Unfortunately, during recent council elections some candidates have (mis)represented themselves as representing the interests of residents and neighborhoods while once elected never see an oversized under parked zone busting development they didn't like. Which is why a recent citizen's petition in a few weeks gathered 3,000 signatures entirely on a volunteer basis to place an initiative on the fall ballot to keep commercial development at the same pace it has been. There are many who would vote for a moratorium on all large commercial developments until the jobs housing imbalance of 3/1 is more balanced instead of digging the hole ever deeper.


8 people like this
Posted by JH
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 3:15 pm

JH is a registered user.

correction to second paragraph:

" constant/huge development projects undertaken by SV software/hardware companies" that city council majority and city staff encourage"


12 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2018 at 4:34 pm

Since Stanford is one of the big reasons that Silicon Valley developed here, I think a Stanford satellite campus could be a boon to a less-congested area. Where Stanford goes, some industry/local growth will follow. And while the satellite campus might not be as "cool", it could be far more affordable for faculty and workers.

While the Stanford campus, itself, has room for construction, the road grid around it has been built out for a while. There is no easy fix for the congestion on Sand Hill, University, Embarcadero/Galvez or Oregon.


Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Writers should try to be more factual....
1. Many folks don't seem to acknowledge that Stanford is moving a huge number of administrative depatments and personal (2600 I believe) to their new satellite campus in Redwood City. This will ease the staff traffic in PA.

2. The construction near Serra Street is for mid-rise student/family housing.....replacing much of the low-rise and aging Escondido Village and housing many more students right on campus (students cannot afford Palo Alto).

BTW......Stanford is still COOL, in fact hyper cool.


3 people like this
Posted by Midtown Greer
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Midtown Greer is a registered user.

Hi Neighbor,

Some students can afford Palo Alto. Each year a new batch of 2nd year MBA grad students rent the house next to mine.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Take a look at the city council discussion of this last night. One part of council thinks this is great, and that these traffic and city-services impacts on Palo Alto are a justifiable cost in order to achieve the kind of density and height increases this would produce. Another part of council did not think it was so great.

Vote according to your preference in November.


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