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Ad hoc school committee to advise on Stanford expansion

Board forms advisory group after debate over scope, membership

The Palo Alto school board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to form an ad hoc committee, made up of board President Ken Dauber and Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza, to advise the superintendent on issues related to Stanford University's proposed campus expansion.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell cast the dissenting vote after voicing concerns that having Dauber, whose wife works at Stanford, serve on the committee gives the "appearance" of a conflict of interest. She also made a failed motion to have the ad hoc committee meet directly with Stanford staff with the goal of working more collaboratively with the university on its General Use Permit (GUP) application.

Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president of government and community relations, also told the board Tuesday that depending on the committee's scope, they should "keep an eye on the legal question of conflicts of interest."

The board's vote came after much debate over the committee's role and its membership. As an ad hoc committee, the group will serve in an advisory role and is not a decision-making body; any substantive discussion or decisions would be held with the full board. An ad hoc committee is not subject to the state's Brown Act, so it is not required to notice or hold public meetings. It is not a standing, ongoing committee, and will dissolve when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors takes a final vote on Stanford's plan, which is expected to happen by early 2019.

Dauber said the proposal for such a committee was made to allow for more timely, structured communication between Superintendent Don Austin and the board on the general use permit.

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He rejected the suggestion that he has a conflict of interest in serving on the committee. Dauber had recused himself from previous GUP discussions until this summer, when board member Todd Collins, whose wife also works at Stanford, sought advice from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which said it was appropriate for them to participate.

The ad hoc committee is one that "doesn't have a decision-making role, that isn't meeting with the university and that is explicitly required to return to the board if there's any substantive decision," Dauber said. "Given the feedback that the FPPC has provided and the distance between this committee and any actual decision, I don't see a conflict issue."

The committee's formation is set against the larger backdrop of disagreement over the potential impact of Stanford's growth on the school district. As proposed by Stanford, the general use permit calls for building about 2.275 million square feet of new academic space and 3,150 housing units (apartments and student beds) on campus between now and 2035.

But in response to public concerns about insufficient housing, Santa Clara County planners recently added a study of two alternatives that propose more housing units: a total of 5,699 in what's known as Housing Alternative A or 4,425 in Housing Alternative B.

While Stanford estimates the General Use Permit would generate about 275 new students for the school district, the district believes that is a conservative estimate. The county estimated that the alternative with the most housing could bring as many 1,500 students to the district. Some are now speaking out about the financial implications of potentially enrolling hundreds of new students but receiving no additional property tax revenue, as Stanford rental housing is tax-exempt.

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Of the board members, Collins has taken the strongest stance against Stanford. He has been making the case in public and private meetings for why Stanford should contribute its "fair share" proportional to how many new students its expansion will generate for the district.

Collins said Tuesday that Stanford has made "misleading" statements about its contributions to the district, including that Stanford's commercial properties generated about $23.8 million for the district last fiscal year. Collins said that according to his own analysis of county tax records, Stanford pays $1.5 million in commercial and residential property taxes to the district, with the remaining amount paid by tenants who ground lease property from Stanford, such as at Stanford Shopping Center or Stanford Research Park.

"As the largest and wealthiest landlord in our district, they've got to do their part," Collins said. "I hope that Ms. McCown and her colleagues will carry the message back to Stanford decision-makers and that Stanford will stop denying the problem and instead start working on how we can address it."

Dauber said he hopes the ad hoc committee will help both institutions "move past philosophical questions about who's responsible for property taxes ... and just realize that if we add students without revenue then we're going to have a lower quality education in Palo Alto for our students and that's not an acceptable outcome."

The board also voted unanimously to authorize DiBrienza to speak with district attorneys about issues related to the General Use Permit. Board bylaw had limited that communication to the board president.

-------

How would the candidates vote?

As part of the Palo Alto Weekly's election coverage, we will be asking the candidates who are running for Palo Alto Board of Education how they would vote -- and why -- on significant issues that the board takes action on before November.

This week, the Weekly asked the five non-incumbent candidates how they would vote on the formation and membership of the ad hoc committee related to the Stanford General Use Permit application.

Stacey Ashlund

I would have voted to form the ad hoc committee.

Regarding the membership, I would have voted to amend the motion to include Melissa Baten Caswell and Jennifer DiBrienza. Both Ken Dauber and Todd Collins have spouses employed by Stanford. It is highly likely that they will not negotiate in the best interests of the district, as doing so could negatively impact their spouse's employment or advancement at Stanford. I agree with Baten Caswell that it is likely that the public will perceive this as a conflict. Given that Terry Godfrey is ending her term, and that this ad hoc will extend beyond the end of year, that leaves Baten Caswell and DiBrienza.

Chris Boyd

I would vote "yes" on the proposal to form an ad hoc committee.

The membership of that committee should be preeminently qualified and report directly to the board. Access to Stanford educational resources is required to achieve excellence in education at PAUSD and to achieve vital district goals such as equity in education for all students. ... Embedding deeply in the Stanford GUP process improves our forecast, our fiscal plan and our impact to Stanford's future direction. PAUSD must be able to influence the governmental oversight of Stanford policy.

Kathy Jordan

I would have voted to form the ad hoc committee.

I would have pressed for Todd Collins to be appointed to it if he was willing. He has shown himself to be the most engaged and the most knowledgeable on the issue, in my opinion, and also the most likely to press to protect the district's interests in this matter. I would only have approved Dauber and DiBrienza to serve on it if Collins refused to serve.

Shounak Dharap

If I were on the board, I would have voted to form an ad hoc committee to work with Austin and legal counsel to establish a dialogue with Stanford regarding the GUP. As for membership, I would have nominated Jennifer DiBrienza and myself. As a litigator, I have experience with negotiations that require a balance between collaboration and strong advocacy -- the exact balance we need here to ensure our students' needs are met.

Alex Scharf

The amount of time spent on this one agenda item was exorbitant. I think if too much time is being taken and no resolution presents itself, I would vote to table it for another time or do nothing (abstain). In this case, there's already a system in place which is the superintendent is consulting with board members freely. No ad hoc committee is necessary.

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Ad hoc school committee to advise on Stanford expansion

Board forms advisory group after debate over scope, membership

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 22, 2018, 8:56 am

The Palo Alto school board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to form an ad hoc committee, made up of board President Ken Dauber and Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza, to advise the superintendent on issues related to Stanford University's proposed campus expansion.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell cast the dissenting vote after voicing concerns that having Dauber, whose wife works at Stanford, serve on the committee gives the "appearance" of a conflict of interest. She also made a failed motion to have the ad hoc committee meet directly with Stanford staff with the goal of working more collaboratively with the university on its General Use Permit (GUP) application.

Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president of government and community relations, also told the board Tuesday that depending on the committee's scope, they should "keep an eye on the legal question of conflicts of interest."

The board's vote came after much debate over the committee's role and its membership. As an ad hoc committee, the group will serve in an advisory role and is not a decision-making body; any substantive discussion or decisions would be held with the full board. An ad hoc committee is not subject to the state's Brown Act, so it is not required to notice or hold public meetings. It is not a standing, ongoing committee, and will dissolve when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors takes a final vote on Stanford's plan, which is expected to happen by early 2019.

Dauber said the proposal for such a committee was made to allow for more timely, structured communication between Superintendent Don Austin and the board on the general use permit.

He rejected the suggestion that he has a conflict of interest in serving on the committee. Dauber had recused himself from previous GUP discussions until this summer, when board member Todd Collins, whose wife also works at Stanford, sought advice from the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which said it was appropriate for them to participate.

The ad hoc committee is one that "doesn't have a decision-making role, that isn't meeting with the university and that is explicitly required to return to the board if there's any substantive decision," Dauber said. "Given the feedback that the FPPC has provided and the distance between this committee and any actual decision, I don't see a conflict issue."

The committee's formation is set against the larger backdrop of disagreement over the potential impact of Stanford's growth on the school district. As proposed by Stanford, the general use permit calls for building about 2.275 million square feet of new academic space and 3,150 housing units (apartments and student beds) on campus between now and 2035.

But in response to public concerns about insufficient housing, Santa Clara County planners recently added a study of two alternatives that propose more housing units: a total of 5,699 in what's known as Housing Alternative A or 4,425 in Housing Alternative B.

While Stanford estimates the General Use Permit would generate about 275 new students for the school district, the district believes that is a conservative estimate. The county estimated that the alternative with the most housing could bring as many 1,500 students to the district. Some are now speaking out about the financial implications of potentially enrolling hundreds of new students but receiving no additional property tax revenue, as Stanford rental housing is tax-exempt.

Of the board members, Collins has taken the strongest stance against Stanford. He has been making the case in public and private meetings for why Stanford should contribute its "fair share" proportional to how many new students its expansion will generate for the district.

Collins said Tuesday that Stanford has made "misleading" statements about its contributions to the district, including that Stanford's commercial properties generated about $23.8 million for the district last fiscal year. Collins said that according to his own analysis of county tax records, Stanford pays $1.5 million in commercial and residential property taxes to the district, with the remaining amount paid by tenants who ground lease property from Stanford, such as at Stanford Shopping Center or Stanford Research Park.

"As the largest and wealthiest landlord in our district, they've got to do their part," Collins said. "I hope that Ms. McCown and her colleagues will carry the message back to Stanford decision-makers and that Stanford will stop denying the problem and instead start working on how we can address it."

Dauber said he hopes the ad hoc committee will help both institutions "move past philosophical questions about who's responsible for property taxes ... and just realize that if we add students without revenue then we're going to have a lower quality education in Palo Alto for our students and that's not an acceptable outcome."

The board also voted unanimously to authorize DiBrienza to speak with district attorneys about issues related to the General Use Permit. Board bylaw had limited that communication to the board president.

-------

How would the candidates vote?

As part of the Palo Alto Weekly's election coverage, we will be asking the candidates who are running for Palo Alto Board of Education how they would vote -- and why -- on significant issues that the board takes action on before November.

This week, the Weekly asked the five non-incumbent candidates how they would vote on the formation and membership of the ad hoc committee related to the Stanford General Use Permit application.

Stacey Ashlund

I would have voted to form the ad hoc committee.

Regarding the membership, I would have voted to amend the motion to include Melissa Baten Caswell and Jennifer DiBrienza. Both Ken Dauber and Todd Collins have spouses employed by Stanford. It is highly likely that they will not negotiate in the best interests of the district, as doing so could negatively impact their spouse's employment or advancement at Stanford. I agree with Baten Caswell that it is likely that the public will perceive this as a conflict. Given that Terry Godfrey is ending her term, and that this ad hoc will extend beyond the end of year, that leaves Baten Caswell and DiBrienza.

Chris Boyd

I would vote "yes" on the proposal to form an ad hoc committee.

The membership of that committee should be preeminently qualified and report directly to the board. Access to Stanford educational resources is required to achieve excellence in education at PAUSD and to achieve vital district goals such as equity in education for all students. ... Embedding deeply in the Stanford GUP process improves our forecast, our fiscal plan and our impact to Stanford's future direction. PAUSD must be able to influence the governmental oversight of Stanford policy.

Kathy Jordan

I would have voted to form the ad hoc committee.

I would have pressed for Todd Collins to be appointed to it if he was willing. He has shown himself to be the most engaged and the most knowledgeable on the issue, in my opinion, and also the most likely to press to protect the district's interests in this matter. I would only have approved Dauber and DiBrienza to serve on it if Collins refused to serve.

Shounak Dharap

If I were on the board, I would have voted to form an ad hoc committee to work with Austin and legal counsel to establish a dialogue with Stanford regarding the GUP. As for membership, I would have nominated Jennifer DiBrienza and myself. As a litigator, I have experience with negotiations that require a balance between collaboration and strong advocacy -- the exact balance we need here to ensure our students' needs are met.

Alex Scharf

The amount of time spent on this one agenda item was exorbitant. I think if too much time is being taken and no resolution presents itself, I would vote to table it for another time or do nothing (abstain). In this case, there's already a system in place which is the superintendent is consulting with board members freely. No ad hoc committee is necessary.

Comments

Embarrassment
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:06 am
Embarrassment, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:06 am

Watching that discussion last night was painful. If Stanford was watching, they must be licking their chops at the dysfunction of this board. MBC continually tried to get Dauber off the commiyeven after multiple explainations that there wasn't a conflict. Then TG actually gave in to MBCs whining and made an amendment to remove Dauber and replace him with MBC. when that failed she tried a different set of members. No one seemed to even know what they were voting on or what the committee would be doing.

Alex Scharff is right. Way too much time spent on this.


Revolving door
Stanford
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:39 am
Revolving door, Stanford
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:39 am

Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president of government and community relations was concerned about conflicts of interest.

She is an expert on the subject as she is the prime example of a person who turned her city council experience into advocacy for [portion removed] Stanford.


Barron Park dad
Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:58 am
Barron Park dad, Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2018 at 10:58 am

Isn't it plainly obvious to the average layman that the amount of new housing Stanford is proposing under the proposed General Use Permit would result in far more than 275 incremental students to PAUSD, and thus would dump a huge cost problem onto PAUSD's lap?

If Stanford denies that, how about they take contractual responsibility that if this new housing results in _more than_ 275 new students, then they will pay $20K per student to the district? (PAUSD spends roughly $20K per year per student.)

Also, Stanford's argument that they should get credit for the property taxes paid by tenants of Stanford Shopping Center and Stanford Research Park is beyond non-sensical.


Stanford should pay taxes on their non-student housing
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2018 at 12:05 pm
Stanford should pay taxes on their non-student housing, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Any housing that does not directly house students should be required to pay property taxes. If Stanford feels the need to subsidize its faculty, they can pay the taxes to the County.


wayne douglass
Los Altos
on Aug 22, 2018 at 12:55 pm
wayne douglass, Los Altos
on Aug 22, 2018 at 12:55 pm

When I was a journalism student at Marquette University in Milwaukee back in the 60s, there was a government reform group called The Ad Hoc Committee to Abolish Ad Hoc Committees. What a good idea! Aside from puncturing the pomposity of politicians (always a good idea), it would lead to eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy that contributes to the paralysis of analysis. Alas, it never caught on.
Speaking of pomposity of politicians, I give you the president of the school board:
The ad hoc committee is one that "doesn't have a decision-making role, that isn't meeting with the university and that is explicitly required to return to the board if there's any substantive decision," Dauber said. "Given the feedback that the FPPC has provided and the distance between this committee and any actual decision, I don't see a conflict issue."
Thank you for your input, Ken, but could you give that to me in English?
It is dispiriting to note that all the new candidates for the school board support the formation of the ad hoc committee, except for Alex Scarf, who said with admirable clarity, "No ad hoc committee is necessary." The school board can stand only so much clarity. Clearly, Alex is unqualified to serve.
On the other hand, speaking of the paralysis of analysis, Todd Collins offers "his own analysis of county tax records." Again, thank you for your input, Todd, but for once I'm on the side of Ken Dauber, who "hopes the ad hoc committee will help both institutions 'move past philosophical questions about who's responsible for property taxes.'"
I hope so, too, but why do I doubt it?


Parent
Community Center
on Aug 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm
Parent, Community Center
on Aug 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm

Thanks to the school board for taking on this important issue and thanks especially to Collins for raising community and district awareness of it.
Given that the FPPC has already weighed in to clarify that Collins and Dauber would not be conflicted, it is not clear why Caswell was so resistant to the board President participating. What’s even odder is the quote from candidate Stacy Ashland. She made the accusation about Collins and Dauber that “it is highly unlikely that they will negotiate in the best interests of the district”. Collins has been the strongest voice on the board and in the community for pushing Stanford to pay their fair share of new student costs. Dauber strongly supported Collins on the issue and his wife is a tenured professor so she is pretty immune to Stanford administration pressure.
This sort of nonsensical and reckless accusation makes me concerned about her temperament, objectivity and competency as a prospective board member.


Revolving door
Stanford
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:47 pm
Revolving door, Stanford
on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:47 pm

McCown is a well-known supporter of developers, for example,

Arrillaga's huge proposal for 27 University Ave. "Stanford Director of Community Relations Jean McCown said that the University supports the project."
Web Link

Before going to work for Stanford development, she was the attorney for the developer of the block-long building at 800 High Street.
And more.


Paly parent
College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm
Paly parent, College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Why would a prospective school board member (Ashlund) come out swinging against two board members who are trying to get Stanford to pay their fair share? The last thing we need is a board member who kowtows to Stanford.


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