The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday night asking the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to require Stanford University to give the district both land and money to offset the impact of additional students generated by the university's expansion plan.
The resolution is the board's firmest stance yet on Stanford's proposed general use permit (GUP), which proposes building more than 2 million square feet of academic space by 2035. Santa Clara County is in the midst of reviewing the university's general use permit, including starting negotiations on a potential development agreement between the two entities.
The resolution asks that Stanford be contractually required to pay annual payments to the district (or a related party, such as fundraising organization Palo Alto Partners in Education), with the payment based on the number of students attending the district who live in tax-exempt eligible housing owned by Stanford; to set aside 4 acres or more of land on or near the Sand Hill Road/Quarry Road corridor for a new elementary school; and to make a direct contribution beyond mandated developer fees to mitigate the cost of building a new school.
The resolution emphasizes the district's commitment to providing neighborhood schools, including for students who might live in new housing planned under the GUP.
There is little clarity on exactly how many new students the GUP will generate given the uncertainty in long-term enrollment forecasting. The district estimates the proposed housing could generate anywhere from 275 to 860 to 1,450 additional students. (The second two estimates are from [higher-density housing alternatives studied by the county.)
Given that Stanford rental housing is eligible for property tax exemptions and as a community-funded district, Palo Alto Unified relies heavily on property tax revenue, there is mounting concern among district leadership and parents that without assurances that Stanford will help address the cost of increased enrollment, the district will face budget shortfalls, class size increases and program reductions.
Board President Ken Dauber said Wednesday that this amounts to "an existential threat to the quality of education in Palo Alto."
The cost of building a new elementary school, not including ongoing operational costs, is about $100 million. The most conservative estimate for the mandated developer fees that the district would receive for a new school is $2 million, according to a staff presentation.
Board member Todd Collins emphasized the importance of securing commitment to land for a new elementary school, suggesting that "when Stanford says 'there is no land for a school,' what they seem to mean is 'we place a higher priority on other things.'"
"As Stanford creates new neighborhoods, we hope they will help us create new neighborhood schools," Collins said.
Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza noted that the district will likely also face a separate influx of students under the city of Palo Alto's new Comprehensive Plan, which will guide housing and development for the next 12 years.
Jade Chao, president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs, read a "wish list" to the school board related to the general use permit, including that the district maintain the current per-student funding level of $19,000; adhere to its neighborhood school policy; maintain current class sizes; and that Stanford offer to sell land to Palo Alto Unified at fair market value for a new elementary school or provide funding to add a second story on an existing elementary school, among other items.
Dauber said he hopes the school board's resolution will not be read as "a confrontational or accusatory statement with respect to Stanford's intentions" and that he has "a lot of confidence in our shared interests."
Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president for government and community relations, echoed during public comment that the university is "committed to good faith, substantive discussions with the district that can lead to a collaborative agreement."
However, she repeated a previously voiced concern about potential conflict of interest for certain board members participating in decisions related to the general use permit, suggesting that "it would be unfortunate if this uncertainty could create vulnerability regarding the legality of agreements we might reach with the district."
Dauber, whose wife is a Stanford professor, reiterated that the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), in response to an inquiry from Collins, whose wife also works at Stanford, has said it is appropriate for both of them to participate in discussions related to the general use permit.
The county plans to begin negotiating a development agreement with Stanford soon, according to Geoff Bradley, president and principal of Metropolitan Planning Group and the consulting project manager for the county on the GUP. A website will be posted later this week for the public to provide feedback on the agreement.
Bradley anticipates a "robust community outreach" period in the early spring related to the potential development agreement, including public hearings and workshops with the county Planning Commission. The Board of Supervisors is expected to take it up in May or June, Bradley said.
The county is holding a public meeting to solicit ideas for potential community benefits to be included in the development agreement -- including transportation, housing, schools, health services, economic development, community services, sustainability, and open space -- at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.