With negotiations between Stanford University officials and Santa Clara County supervisors over the university's expansion plans entering a new phase, residents came out in full force to a community meeting in Palo Alto on Thursday to request that the county protect local schools, roads and surrounding neighborhoods from the impacts of Stanford's growth.
These issues came up repeatedly on Thursday night, during a community meeting conducted county Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian and Vice President Cindy Chavez. The two supervisors also make up a committee charged with pursuing a development agreement with Stanford — a contract that would dictate many of the terms in Stanford's expansion.
With this process, the county is entering uncharted waters. This would be the first time the county is pursuing a development agreement on a major project. The advantage of the process is that it expands the range of community benefits that the county can request or that Stanford can offer. Whereas the typical environmental-review process focuses on requiring developers to mitigate the impacts of their projects, a development agreement allows either party to propose just about anything.
"The county can say, 'Here are some things that we like which we might not be able to ask for and compel,'" Simitian said. "The university is in position to say, 'Here are things we like and here is what we'd like to see in exchange.'"
The negotiations are kicking off at the same time as county planners are considering Stanford's application for a "general use permit" (GUP), which would allow the university to build up to 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 housing units or beds and 40,000 square feet of supporting space by 2035.
At the same time, the county is moving ahead with two ordinances that aim to promote affordable housing: a new housing-impact fee of $68.50 for every new square foot of academic space and an "inclusionary zoning" ordinance that requires 16 percent of Stanford's housing units to be designated for affordable housing. The university has pushed back against the new ordinance and has proposed its own affordable-housing plan, which includes creation of 200 below-market-rate units (which includes designating existing units to below-market rate), providing funding to subsidize 38 units for "extremely-low-income" residents, and starting an "evergreen loan fund" that would pool resources from various foundations and nonprofits to support university housing.
All these factors are in play as the two sides are kicking off negotiations, a process that is expected to conclude by May, said Geoff Bradley, the county's consultant. The county is also concurrently moving ahead with its public review process for the GUP application, which the county's Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are expected to review by July 2019.
The Thursday meeting gave residents a chance to offer their own opinions on what the county should ask for in its negotiations. More than a hundred showed up at City Hall to do just that, with many citing schools as a top priority.
Ken Dauber, president of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, said he fully supports the county's proposal to require Stanford to build housing to mitigate the impacts of its academic expansion. It would be "counterproductive," however, to require Stanford to provide housing without also providing funding for the children who would be living in those units. The board had recently passed a resolution encouraging Stanford to contribute funding toward local schools as well as to identify a site that could accommodate a future school.
Dauber estimated that the financial impacts of the new students caused by Stanford's expansion could be as high as $60 million per year, a huge burden for a district with an annual budget of about $240 million.
"To have an unfunded cost of that magnitude would I think be an existential threat to the quality of education in Palo Alto," Dauber said.
Todd Collins, also a school board member, said that the board's request is common. Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and MIT and many others all make annual contractual school funding toward their communities and have for many years, he said.
"They see that a strong university needs a strong host community and that schools are a vital part of that," Collins said.
The board, he said, has no position on how much housing the university should provide, as long as they pay their fair share for schools.
Their sentiments were echoed by numerous parents and school volunteers. Nancy Krop, a member of Palo Alto PTA Council, said the council welcomes new students and is excited to welcome them to the district. She urged the county to require in its agreement with Stanford that they first "do no harm." Thus, if Stanford adds students, it should also provide monetary contributions, she said.
While school impacts generated the most comments, housing and traffic also featured prominently in residents' comments. Some argued that the area has already experienced far too much growth and that any Stanford expansion should entail significant concessions from the university. Downtown resident Tina Peak said the county should require Stanford to build a trench for Caltrain; fix all the roads and bike paths near grade crossings; construct new elementary, middle and high schools; and require all construction to be "zero net energy."
Roberta Ahlquist, an advocate for below-market-rate housing, also said Stanford's growth should be severely restricted until Stanford builds more units for its employees.
"We request that there be a moratorium on any lab or office developments until the needs of low-income workers first have been met," Ahlquist said.
Housing for workers was also a top priority for Stanford students from the group SCOPE 2035 (Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035). They urged the supervisors to require Stanford to make contributions to surrounding communities, particularly East Palo Alto, for construction of housing. Students from SCOPE also asked county officials to require Stanford to make traffic improvements to ease the commute for employees, some of whom have to commute for two hours to get to work. One idea that SCOPE presented was extending the Marguerite shuttle system to East Palo Alto.
Simitian noted that the county already requires Stanford to contribute affordable-housing fees, that can be used for projects outside the county. Any municipality within a 6-mile radius of the Stanford campus is eligible for funding, which includes, which includes East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Woodside and Portola Valley. These communities have always had the option of requesting funding but that had not shown interest until now.
"There is no prohibition on using those funds beyond the boundary of Santa Clara County," Simitian said.
While some requested that Stanford build more housing, others focused on preventing development, particularly in the foothills and other open space areas. Former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier urged the supervisors to consider requiring "permanent protection of Stanford foothills" in the development agreement. He also recommended requiring Stanford to house all of its population on its land (outside the open space preserves), possibly by converting some commercial areas in Stanford Research Park to housing.
"Stanford has a huge impact on the jobs-housing imbalance and it's time that we address that," Drekmeier said.
Numerous speakers also argued that Stanford should contribute more toward infrastructure, including improvements to Caltrain, a service that will remain vital to allowing Stanford to meet the "no net new trips" goal that was included in its current GUP and that is also expected to be included in the next one.
"The message to supervisors working toward the development agreement is clear: Get Stanford to pay their fair share of the necessary cost of an effective, working infrastructure, including schools," former Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greg Schmid said. "Pace future Stanford growth so that new students and workers arrive after the transportation and other supporting infrastructure is in place."