With Stanford University and Palo Alto Unified School District preparing to launch negotiations, dozens of parents, teachers and school district volunteers gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday evening to demand that the university fully address the impacts of its expansion on local schools.
Holding signs that said "Full Mitigation" and "$tanford $hare the Costs," residents marched around King Plaza just before a scheduled Town Hall on Stanford's expansion plans and heard from Superintendent Don Austin, Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth and other city and district dignitaries.
Their message was consistent: Stanford should be held responsible for any impact that its expansion will have on the school district, which means contributing annual funding for new students and assisting the district with the construction of a new school. The district's Board of Education approved a resolution containing these demands last November but has not secured any enthusiasm — much less commitment — from the university.
Some expressed optimism on Thursday that this will change in the coming months, as the district and Stanford begin talks on community benefits that Stanford would provide as part of its General Use Permit, in which it's seeking permission to construct 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 550 housing units and 2,660 student beds by 2035. The county this week issued a recommendation that Stanford revise its plans to include at least 2,172 housing units for faculty and staff.
School Superintendent Don Austin was one of several officials who lauded the community organizers for mobilizing and getting Stanford back to the negotiating table. Austin called Stanford "a partner to the school district, a valued resource, a source of many of our parents and kids."
"We want to serve as many of their families as they possibly can. We just want to make sure that when there's an impact, that they do their part to mitigate it. That's all we're asking for.'
He called Stanford's agreement to engage with the district "a real positive step" but noted that there is plenty of work ahead.
"We're optimistic that the talks are going to remain positive and have substance and meaning and that we're going to strive toward making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors that we can both get behind," Austin said.
Board of Education President Jennifer DiBrienza, who recapped the GUP process that launched in late 2016 and described the board's resolution, lauded the crowd for showing up to the rally.
"Without a doubt ... a lot of reason why we're back in these talks has to do with all of you rising up and raising your collective voices," DiBrienza said.
Stanford, she said, has a history of making significant investments, whether it's commissioning award-winning architects to design new buildings or creating championship-winning sports programs.
"When Stanford decides to do something, they invest. And that's all we want. We want them to invest in the city and in the school district in the same way that they benefit from both," DiBrienza said.
After the event, Stanford issued a statement saying it looks forward to upcoming meetings with Austin and his team to discuss potential community benefits.
"The two organizations are taking this step to accelerate the process for developing a set of options to resolve an issue of great importance to the university and Palo Alto residents," Jean McCown, the university's assistant vice president and director of community relations, said in the statement. "Stanford remains committed to engaging with the county in comprehensive development agreement discussions and will seek to have the results of direct discussions between PAUSD and the university included as community benefits in the final agreement with the county."