News

Editorial: Stanford's housing obligations

With push for more housing, Stanford and Palo Alto struggle for the proper response

As Stanford University approaches the final few months of county review of its proposed new general use permit, which seeks approval of a whopping 2.3 million square feet of additional academic-related development between now and 2035, a new county analysis of housing needs is throwing a major and unexpected monkey wrench into the process.

The university was hoping that its proposal, which included the construction of 3,150 new housing units or beds for a combination of students, faculty and staff, would satisfy the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and housing advocates even though they would be insufficient to meet the housing needs related to the academic expansion and growth in students being requested.

But the county planning staff, much to Stanford's chagrin, wisely decided alternatives with more housing needed to be considered and directed that a revised environmental-impact report (EIR) examine options of creating up to 5,700 new units or beds on campus.

The resulting recently re-issued EIR has opened up a healthy debate over housing obligations and is sparking an unusual alliance between Stanford, which doesn't want to provide more housing than it originally proposed, and those Palo Alto residents who oppose the magnitude of the university's expansion plans. Meanwhile, housing advocates are generally delighted to see Stanford pushed to provide more housing, including for lower-paid workers who generally commute long distances.

Stanford's objections to providing additional housing have thus far been cast in vague terms that amount to resistance to the idea that it should be responsible for using its land to fully meet the housing needs caused by its academic expansion. While it has not yet officially responded to the revised EIR, the university's director of land use and planning told residents attending a county-sponsored informational meeting Tuesday night that providing more housing was "inconsistent with Stanford's balanced plans for its campus" and warned of the increased traffic problems it would create for Palo Alto.

She was referencing the traffic analysis in the EIR, which concluded that the more housing built on campus the greater the traffic congestion would be on streets in Palo Alto — more than if the housing were built out of the area and students and employees had to commute to the campus.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but a commuter to Stanford typically creates one trip in and one trip out each day, while a resident living on campus is potentially making multiple trips on local streets to buy groceries, make other purchases, meet friends, transport kids to activities, etc. And a spouse employed off-campus creates additional commute traffic. The EIR projects that the total number of commute trips would decline by about 700 per day with the larger number of housing units on campus, but an additional 2,100 trips would occur during commute hours by residents living on campus.

This estimate prompted the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning and others to warn against pushing Stanford to provide more housing.

The potential requirement for additional new housing has also heightened concern for the Palo Alto school district, which was already agitated about the prospect of needing to educate an estimated 275 additional students based on the original proposed 3,150 new housing units. With 5,700 new housing units, the school district would see an added 1,500 students, according to the EIR.

The annual cost of educating 275 new students from newly developed Stanford housing would be about $5.3 million, while the cost of absorbing 1,500 students could total almost $30 million a year. As school trustee Todd Collins pointed out at Tuesday's meeting, these costs would not be offset by new property-tax revenue because the new Stanford housing would be exempt from property taxes under current state law.

These questions over the benefits of more housing, the traffic impacts it would cause and the need for a funding source for educating kids living in tax-exempt housing will now become the subject of intense negotiations between the county and Stanford over the next six months. (Palo Alto has no official role to play since the university's core campus is in unincorporated county land and subject to county land-use control.)

We support the principle that Stanford (and any other developer) should provide the housing needed to offset the anticipated increase in new employees and students resulting from its desired expansion. The projected traffic impacts identified in the environmental report must legally be mitigated, most likely through expansion of the Marguerite bus system and other transportation innovations such as bike- and scooter-sharing programs. And the school financing issues need to be resolved, either through a negotiated financial agreement or a change in state law, so that other residents of the school district aren't bearing the cost of new students coming from tax-exempt Stanford housing.

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Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2018 at 8:56 am

Stanford's new housing should allow a certain number of PAUSD teachers since the housing itself will create the need for more teachers in our schools.


23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:26 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"The annual cost of educating 275 new students from newly developed Stanford housing would be about $5.3 million, while the cost of absorbing 1,500 students could total almost $30 million a year. As school trustee Todd Collins pointed out at Tuesday's meeting, these costs would not be offset by new property-tax revenue because the new Stanford housing would be exempt from property taxes under current state law."

The key phrase here us "exempt from property taxes." Let them pay for the schools and the teachers. Remember that the next time the pro-development proponents recycle their erroneous claims.

Stanford should pay ALL the school costs and not shift them to us, the tax-paying residents.

Re the impact on traffic, how are they going to compensate PA residents for the increased congestion and gridlock we'll be experiencing? Free continuing education classes, free concerts, getting the unsightly RVs off El Camino?


3 people like this
Posted by Grace
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:57 am

It is not true that faculty residents in Stanford are "exempt from the property tax". I know this first hand. A family of a close friend just moved in to a new development in Stanford. They pay property taxes at the same rate as me who lives at Palo Alto. Interestingly, the property value that is used to calculate their property tax is almost twice their purchasing price. This is because the county deems their purchasing price not reflecting the real value of the house.

Moderator's Note: The housing in question would be rental housing that under current state law is tax-exempt as long as it serves the academic mission of the university.


13 people like this
Posted by realitycheck
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2018 at 10:31 am

Stanford already has a housing shortage for its employees and students, so the fact that they will increase the shortage without having to more fully mitigate the problem is absurd, considering their vast financial resources. They are okay with adding to the housing density and traffic congestion off their property, even though they have an abundance of land. As for the more-trips-to-the-shopping-will-create-more-traffic argument, Stanford should also build a full grocery store and pharmacy on their land to service the needs of a larger population, which is more environmental friendly.


17 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2018 at 11:29 am

Annette is a registered user.

So Stanford was "hoping" its proposal would be approved even though it didn't meet the housing needs related to the expansion. That's got to floor even the most ardent Stanford supporter. That the County is pushing back is a good thing. Between what Stanford has planned and what Council Members Fine and Wolbach want to see happen here (reportedly 10,000 new housing units which grows our population by 15% if each unit is single occupancy, 30% if double occupancy) Palo Alto will be overwhelmed. This city cannot absorb all that growth and all its impacts. Schools, surface streets, 101, 280, public transportation, landfill, water, sewage - you name the infrastructure piece - will all need to grow proportionately. Can it be done? Is there money to pay for it?

When do we get credit for the heavy growth that we have already accomplished? And when do proponents of densification, such as Fine and Wolbach, get held to reality? Sure, we can build more. That's the easy part. The hard part is sustaining the growth and living with the impact of all that is built.

I think it is time for moderation and planning to grow only within our means.


14 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Some of the misunderstanding about Stanford's property taxes may be because Stanford is proposing to build rental units on campus and not homes to be sold. As rental units, they will not be subject to the usual property tax reassessment that occurs when homes are sold. In addition, the core campus comes under county jurisdiction and is covered by a property tax sweetheart deal Stanford negotiated many many decades ago which is significantly below that which other educational institutions pay.



1 person likes this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2018 at 12:24 pm

By core campus I do not mean the areas where faculty housing is located.


14 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Time for Stanford put new academic development into satellite campuses. I can see no good outcome for the surrounding communities if any of the current growth alternatives are approved. I strongly urge the County Supervisors to reject Stanford's expansion plan.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Adding to @margaret heath's point, it turns out that housing Stanford rents to its affiliates is not subject to property tax AT ALL - it is 100% exempt. This isn't single family houses; it is primarily apartments and town-houses. The housing being proposed in the GUP is intended to be high-density rental housing, like the Stanford West development or denser.

Really the best solution is for Stanford to pay "tuition" equal to the average cost for the students they send to PAUSD from this housing (including current rental housing). Otherwise they will never carry their fair share.


9 people like this
Posted by Gimme gimme gimme demands palo alto
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 13, 2018 at 7:44 pm

I wonder if palo alto is making the same demands from the other big companies near its borders-- Google and Facebook. At least Stanford has the shopping center which provides much tax revenue to the city. Of course, this has been going on for years, Stanford should pay for the fact that pslo alto cannot manage their finances or getting anything done in a reasonable amount of time. Stanford is a favorite rabert for failed council members who accomplished nothing during their tenure and now bash Stanford from the sidelines.


2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:34 pm

Thanks to Grace for the reminder that any for purchase housing that Stanford has is taxed. Thus, having Stanford pay property taxes on new rental properties that it builds also seems completely fair. However, if the 'Moderator" were to check on the County Assessor's site, he/she would find out that property taxes are already assessed on the rental housing at Stanford West, albeit thanks to Prop. 13 and the fact that residential property taxes don't generally cover the cost of educating PAUSD students living in those residences, at a rate that is far less than the actual cost to PAUSD of those students. Something that is true of much of the housing in Palo Alto. A simple calculation suffices to show the nature of the problem: At current rates, each PAUSD student requires $54,000 of property taxes (ca. $4M of assessment) to cover the $18,000/student that PAUSD spends. Note that this is based on the estimate that 1/3 of property taxes go to PAUSD).


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 13, 2018 at 9:56 pm

Is the amount of housing the only part of this project that is being negotiated? How about reducing the number of new employees hired from outside of the region. If they hired more local people that already have housing, then there would be less of a crunch on the existing housing stock. Or they could hire fewer people period.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2018 at 6:34 am

If you think Stanford should "pay" extra for the kids they send to PAUSD, then the arguement would work in reverse for other companies who don't send their kids to PAUSD.

However, with the numbers being tossed around for additional students, without building another elementary school or middle school, the number students who live on campus, but who are overflowed to a school miles away will be high, which will cause many more cross town car trips, as well as cross town car trips for grocery shopping, etc.

Stanford made a strategic mistake when they decided to redo the hospital on campus. They should have relocated to another location instead. For example UC Davis has their medical teaching in Sacramento, 20 miles away.

They should look at moving the entire business school and law school to another location, as those schools don't have an undergrad component.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2018 at 11:57 am

@common sense, I agree, only companies that provide tax-exempt rental housing to their employees should pay "extra" (their fair share) for students. Let's make a list of them: Stanford.

@Stephen, the problem with applying that general approach to Stanford is that they are the single largest landlord in PAUSD, with hundreds of students already coming from their rental properties at Stanford West, Escondido Village, and Olmsted Terrace. Today, those properties house ~3% of all students, and the problem is painful but manageable. If it grows to 6%, 10% or even 13%, as the EIR contemplates, that will create a dramatically bigger problem. If the largest landlord (by a huge margin) only pays 1% of their "fair share," the rest bear a much bigger burden - or more likely, the quality simply goes down. Why would we tolerate this?


4 people like this
Posted by Gimme gimme gimme demands palo alto
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 14, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Resident- except that Stanford is not a company and they pay tax on Stanford west. But don't let facts get in your way


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2018 at 4:58 pm

@common sense, yes, the university is a corporate entity, EIN 94-1156365. You can call it a university, company, organization, conglomerate, whatever you wish. Here's their tax return: Web Link

Stanford pays about $1M on Stanford West, of which about 45% goes to the schools. $450,000 for 350-400 students from rental housing - that's about $1.2K per student out of $20K average cost, or about 6%. If the district's largest source of students pays only 6% of its costs, that's a problem; if that source then doubles or triples in size, it's a catastrophe.


4 people like this
Posted by Shocking suggestion
a resident of Triple El
on Jul 14, 2018 at 8:25 pm

A multi-billion dollar educational institution should educate its own inhabitants?
Shocking, I say, shocking!


2 people like this
Posted by wayne douglass
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2018 at 9:24 pm

@shocking suggestion: Given the chaos at PAUSD, that's the most sensible comment yet!


5 people like this
Posted by GM
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 15, 2018 at 10:45 pm

"This may seem counter-intuitive, but a commuter to Stanford typically creates one trip in and one trip out each day, while a resident living on campus is potentially making multiple trips on local streets to buy groceries, make other purchases, meet friends, transport kids to activities, etc. And a spouse employed off-campus creates additional commute traffic. "

This shows quite a lack of understanding of how things are in research -- most people doing research are single, have no kids, and spend their days entirely in the lab. It is a huge hit on their productivity to force them to commute from San Jose or from across the Bay (lots of experiments require being in the lab at odd hours, so they don't get done if you have to work around a schedule, plus if you are physically removed from talking with other people, as it inevitably happens with long commutes, exchange of ideas really suffers), and if you do so, you are definitely increasing traffic overall. If they could live within campus, you would only see the majority of them once in a while when they do shopping (BTW, the lack of grocery shops near campus is another total insanity about the whole situation) and that will be on bikes or on foot.


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 15, 2018 at 11:47 pm

^ "... most people doing research are single, have no kids, and spend their days entirely in the lab." While true for students, that quickly changes with adulthood and full-time research or faculty positions.


9 people like this
Posted by jane J
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 16, 2018 at 3:11 pm

jane J is a registered user.

It takes a lot of people to keep an institution like Stanford running smoothly. Not all of them will be young dedicated researchers who don't drive much. All these new buildings will need to be staffed and maintained, which adds up to a huge number of new employees.

A great many employees will have partners who work elsewhere and families with children which will generate many daily trips off campus. Play dates, weekly music lessons, gym lessons, after school tutoring, birthday parties, volunteering at schools, doctors appointments, weekly therapy (its a very stressful life for kids in Palo Alto schools), and all the other trips that having a household with children generates. Many people have hectic schedules, and biking much of the time is simply not practical. Especially transporting shopping, laundry, school projects, etc. etc.


7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 17, 2018 at 12:01 pm

Annette is a registered user.

GM wrote "It is a huge hit on their productivity to force them to commute from San Jose or from across the Bay . . ."

GM perfectly described the crux of the problem. If Stanford wants to minimize inconvenience and maximize productivity it should provide sufficient housing to support its expansion plans.

The same thing can be said in support of housing for people in any and every line of work. This vexing, growing, problem is self-inflicted. Rather than minding the housing side of the equation, Palo Alto and Stanford have been fueling the jobs side of the equation. Now Stanford and development advocates in the City want to have their cake and eat it too. When has that ever worked for the public good?

Thanks to untenable, unsustainable office growth our community is stuck with an "Ugly Stepsisters" problem: a size 12 foot simply will not fit in a size 7 shoe, no matter how hard one pushes and squeezes and pretends.

If this was a fairy tale we could all look forward to a happy ending. Alas, it is not, so we are going to have to figure out the best, most sustainable approach. And that's where the citizen's initiative to amend the new Comp Plan so that the allowed growth rate is not double what it has been since 1989 comes in.

The Palo Alto Council majority, led by Greg Scharff in this instance, is opposing this initiative. Every single reader who is concerned about this City and the impacts of disproportionate office/r&d growth should write CC, urging them to simply accept the proposed changes. Nothing regressive will happen, we will still have plenty of business here.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The Palo Alto Council majority, led by Greg Scharff in this instance, is opposing this initiative. Every single reader who is concerned about this City and the impacts of disproportionate office/r&d growth should write CC, urging them to simply accept the proposed changes. Nothing regressive will happen, we will still have plenty of business here."

Also tell them to stop wasting OUR tax dollars on their laughable push polls against the citizen initiative to reduce office growth which they should have simply certified and put on the ballot.


3 people like this
Posted by GM
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 17, 2018 at 12:09 pm

"A great many employees will have partners who work elsewhere and families with children which will generate many daily trips off campus. Play dates, weekly music lessons, gym lessons, after school tutoring, birthday parties, volunteering at schools, doctors appointments, weekly therapy (its a very stressful life for kids in Palo Alto schools), and all the other trips that having a household with children generates. Many people have hectic schedules, and biking much of the time is simply not practical. Especially transporting shopping, laundry, school projects, etc. etc. "

I am originally from Europe, from a place that successfully houses 5 times as many people as Palo Alto has within half the area, and none of the things you listed require driving there.

Basically you are using its own dysfunctionality to provide an excuse for why Palo Alto (and the whole region around it) should continue to be a urbanistic disaster of monumental proportions...


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 17, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Add to my comment above: Stanford also opposes the initiative. Of course; the proposed office/r&d cap would apply city wide and that includes the research park. An obvious conclusion to draw is that Kniss, Scharff, Tanaka, Fine, and Wolbach are committed to making matters worse. Stanford, too. In what way does that solve a single problem?

As for the references to Europe, I agree that there are numerous examples of densification that work better there than here. The cities are designed differently AND, importantly, the available public transportation is ridiculously better. No pun intended, but I fear for us that that train left the station decades ago.


10 people like this
Posted by Not counter-intuitive. It's nonsense.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:13 pm

Not counter-intuitive. It's nonsense. is a registered user.

Not counter-intuitive. It's nonsense. Stanford out-of-town employees (like other local workers) enroll their kids in local day care and private schools. That's why we have so many of these facilities. They eat lunch at local restaurants. They also shop locally on their breaks. They visit local doctors and dentists and auto shops, etc. during their work days. They drive for many of these trips and more.

There are counter-intuitive aspects of transportation planning, but it is ridiculous to say that out-of-town Stanford employees make only two car trips per day--and Stanford knows that.

Stanford should add more housing included in their 2.3 million sf, not in addition to it, support public schools and help pay for the grade separation that Caltrain will need to provide the capacity that Stanford's EIR says they need with this expansion.

They can afford to do more as community members instead of sitting on their $24 Billion hoard like a dragon--crying poverty. I generally value Stanford, but they have been behaving badly in this process.


Like this comment
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2018 at 12:28 pm

It's a myth that Stanford employees spend much time and effort supporting local businesses. Parking is not that available on campus. No workday parking is free; permits are expensive and they're virtually only a permit to hunt for parking. All permit parking is first-come-first-served. To vacate a parking place during the day, is to kiss it good-bye. For the past few decades, as Stanford has been constricting parking, locating it farther and farther to the campus hinterlands, it's also been adding more and more food location throughout the core campus. Most folks, who are on-campus during the day, can meet their dietary needs without leaving campus, without losing a parking place. It's been many years since local city businesses have seen much traffic from Stanford. In this decade, Stanford has been offering its own Stanford-based health/medical coverage services for staff. Not only has Stanford made it more inconvenient for incoming traffic...outgoing daytime traffic isn't encouraged either. When someone lives on-campus, cars aren't a very functional mode of mobility. In 2017, 57% of off-campus resident Stanford employees used alternative transportation to get to work. If Stanford is a problem, a salient question goes begging..."Compared to what?"


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