The Palo Alto Unified school board will meet with a district attorney in closed session on Tuesday to discuss options for taking legal action regarding the impact of Stanford University's proposed expansion plan.
The school district has become increasingly vocal in its demands for mitigations as negotiations with the university over its proposed general use permit (GUP), which school staff believes will generate enough students to impact the district's budget significantly, have broken down, Superintendent Don Austin said in an interview Sunday.
"Stanford's reluctance to have any meaningful dialogue with us and in fact to be at this point in time without acknowledging that there's an impact to the school district in any way and subsequently offering no thoughts about mitigating efforts — we're going to look at absolutely every aspect of the GUP and anything that might be a path for us to take to re-engage Stanford in the process," Austin said.
In a letter to Austin on Tuesday, Stanford took issue with this characterization and said that "Stanford is committed to constructive and fact-based discussions with PAUSD about the 2018 General Use Permit in order to understand concerns about potential future conditions and to consider how they might be addressed."
The school board planned to discuss its legal options in the context of Santa Clara County's environmental impact report pertaining to the general use permit, which would allow Stanford to build up to 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 new housing units or beds (this includes 550 that would be available for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and medical residents), and 40,000 square feet for child care centers and transit hubs by 2035.
There is little clarity on exactly how many students this would generate for the school district. The district estimates at the low end it could be more than 200 and at the high end, as many as 1,450 additional students, while a Stanford fact sheet asserts an estimate of 275 students is "conservatively high." The district is concerned that these students would come without funding attached, given Stanford rental housing is eligible for property tax exemptions. As a community-funded school district, Palo Alto Unified relies heavily on property tax revenue.
Released in December, the final environmental impact report asserts that existing district schools could accommodate new students generated by Stanford's growth.
The report states the district has "multiple options to explore before building a new school, including reactivating existing school sites such as Cubberley, Greendell and Garland, and utilizing properties currently leased to private school providers."
The district disagrees and says its priority is not capacity but rather offering neighborhood schools to serve children who live nearby.
"The route we have is to go back to the county and say, 'please look at this; there are things we disagree with in here,'" board President Jennifer DiBrienza said of the environmental impact report.
The board unanimously approved in November a resolution asking the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to require Stanford to give the district both land and money to offset the impact of additional students generated by the university's expansion plan.
The resolution asks that Stanford be contractually required to pay annual payments to the district, 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.
Austin said it became clear to him during meetings throughout the fall between district leadership and Stanford representatives, including Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president for government and community relations, that the university was unwilling to pursue such mitigation options. The last meeting they had was about two weeks before the board approved the resolution, Austin said.
Since the board approved its resolution, the university's "actions have been predicated on the board resolution conveying that the county was the entity to whom the school district seemed to entrust these matters and decision," Martin Shell, vice president and chief external relations officer for Stanford, wrote in the letter to Austin Tuesday.
Stanford will soon present to the Board of Supervisors proposals for additional community benefits, including related to the school district, Shell wrote.
The district has been ramping up its lobbying efforts related to Stanford's growth in recent weeks, including by creating a 24-page briefing book and new website to lay out its concerns. Austin sent the briefing document to the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, writing that Stanford is "unilaterally deciding to negatively impact per-pupil funding in a single school district without regard to the fallout for all Palo Alto staff and students.
"Throughout my career, I cannot think of another example when a similar scenario would have been considered viable or appropriate," he wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to the supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors recently started negotiations with Stanford on a first-of-its-kind "development agreement," which is giving both sides the opportunity to request concessions and amenities that fall outside the purview of the environmental-review process.
The county has been notified about the school board's closed-session discussion of possible legal action, Austin said.
Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo partner John Dietrich, who specializes in school facilities and real property, will be advising the board on this matter, according to Austin.
"We're going to pursue every avenue that we have at our disposal to make sure that our students aren't negatively impacted by Stanford's growth," DiBrienza said.
The board did not announce any reportable action after coming out of closed session on Tuesday evening.