News

Residents, students sound off on Stanford expansion

As county Planning Commission considers approving university's growth plan, graduate students call for more housing, child care services

With Stanford University pushing back against Santa Clara County's plan to require more housing as part of the university's expansion plan, residents crammed into Palo Alto City Hall on Thursday night to demand more protection from the impacts of the proposed expansion.

More than 250 people, including dozens of graduate students and city leaders from throughout the Peninsula, filled the Council Chambers for the county Planning Commission's hearing on Stanford's application for a new general use permit (GUP), the first of three public hearings on the expansion proposal. While some spoke in support of Stanford's plan, the vast majority urged commissioners to support — and, in some cases, exceed — the conditions for approval that the county's planning staff is recommending.

The biggest bone of contention is housing. Stanford has proposed to build 2.275 million square feet of academic space, along with 2,600 student beds and 550 housing units for staff and faculty. County planners, meanwhile, are proposing that Stanford be required to build 2,172 units, of which 933 would be designated as below-market-rate housing.

County planners are also proposing that at least 70% of the units get built on campus. The rest would have to be constructed within 6 miles of the campus unless the Planning Commission finds that doing so would not be feasible.

Geoff Bradley, the county's project manager for the GUP review, said Thursday that the proposed housing requirement is based on a study that the county commissioned last year, which analyzed the impacts of two new growth scenarios, each with more housing than Stanford had proposed. The study was commissioned during the environmental-analysis period after the county received an outpouring of public comments about the housing shortage.

He also noted that the requirement for having more housing on campus would, over time, "allow for a more balanced mix of on- and off-campus housing."

Stanford, for its part, is pushing back against the proposed housing mandate. In a May 9 letter to the Planning Commission, Catherine Palter, the university's associate vice president, argued that the county's proposed conditions to address housing would "result in significant detrimental environmental impacts to our neighbors and would impair Stanford's use of its academic campus."

Palter reiterated the university's concerns on Thursday when she questioned whether the university can ramp up housing on campus while, at the same time, complying with stricter traffic-reduction requirements. Stanford, she said, is being asked to add more than 2,000 residents, many with spouses and other household members who don't work at Stanford.

"But these new residents won't be able to use a car to make routine trips associated with any household — drive away from the campus in the morning, come home at night, and run any number of errands during the day," Palter said. "This is just not feasible."

Dozens of university graduate and undergraduate students, however — some speaking as individuals and others organized in groups — argued that Stanford's planned expansion should include housing that is both plentiful and truly affordable. Some also called for Stanford to provide more child care facilities.

Alexa Russo, a graduate student in anthropology, noted that if a large share of graduate student apartments are designated for "moderate" incomes (which in Santa Clara County amounts to about $66,000), most graduate students would be priced out.

"It is virtually impossible that any graduate student on campus would make enough," Russo said. "What is the purpose of housing designated for graduate students if the graduate students cannot afford to live in them?"

Elected officials from Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto also attended the meeting and, while their concerns varied, their request was generally consistent: "full mitigation." Menlo Park City Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor stressed the importance of having "good governance" in Stanford's expansion.

"That means full mitigation for Stanford workers, full mitigation to our housing, full mitigation for environmental impacts, full mitigation of traffic and transportation," Taylor said.

Lenny Siegel, a former Mountain View mayor, also emphasized the need for Stanford to build housing, particularly on its campus. He was less thrilled that the county potentially could allow Stanford to build housing 6 miles away from its campus, a radius that includes a portion of Mountain View.

Siegel said he and his neighbors are concerned that allowing Stanford to meet its housing requirement by building in Mountain View would make it harder for the city to improve its jobs-to-housing imbalance, and it would create new traffic problems.

"Don't make it harder for us by letting Stanford dump more housing on us," Siegel said.

For Palo Alto Councilman Tom DuBois, traffic was a central concern. DuBois suggested that Stanford consider the problems that additional housing would cause at Palo Alto intersections, particularly along Alma Street.

While planning commissioners didn't indicate on Thursday whether or not they support the proposed conditions of approval, their comments suggested they share many of the public's concerns. Commissioner Aaron Resendez commented on the worsening congestion on highways and roadways in and around Palo Alto.

"To me, (traffic) is going to be a huge impact. ... We have to look at this deeper than what we're talking about," Resendez said.

Commissioners also offered some suggestions for revising the housing requirements. Commissioner Vicki Moore wondered if there is a way to ensure that rent for graduate students does not exceed 30% of their incomes.

Others said they would like to see the county restart its negotiations with Stanford over a development agreement, which would allow the university to offer benefits beyond what the county can mandate through the environmental-review process. While the Board of Supervisors agreed last year to move ahead with these talks, negotiations collapsed in April after the university announced a separate agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District. That agreement was contingent on the county approving a development agreement with Stanford, a condition that prompted supervisors Joe Simitian and Cindy Chavez to halt the talks.

Stanford has consistently maintained that a development agreement is a critical piece of the application. On Thursday, Palter asked the planning commission to delay its review of the conditions of approval until such an agreement is in place so that the application can be evaluated as a "comprehensive package."

"The project before you is simply not ready for your thoughtful deliberation," Palter told the commission.

County staff firmly rejected this argument.

"We don't need a development agreement to process this application," Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos told the commission.

She also noted that even though the negotiations are suspended, "there are communications occurring between the county and the university about the conditions under which negotiations may resume."

Both Commissioner Bob Levy and commission Vice Chair Marc Rauser said they continue to favor a development agreement process. Levy embraced Stanford's position and said it would be best to consider the conditions of approval and a development agreement in concert. He also wondered whether it's truly possible to fully mitigate the impacts of Stanford's growth, as many have called for.

"We're trying to (bring) all impacts to zero, but with all the growth we're looking at, is that even feasible?" Levy asked. "Is it even a sustainable plan? Or do we need to step back and say: What is really sustainable?"

The second and third Planning Commission hearings on the Stanford GUP will be held at 1:30 p.m. on June 13 and June 27 in the Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian sits down with Weekly staff to discuss the key areas of contention around Stanford University's proposed expansion on "Behind the Headlines." Listen to the discussion now on our YouTube channel and new podcast.

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Comments

41 people like this
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of Nixon School
on May 31, 2019 at 4:02 am

Last night Stanford kept telling us that they had to grow in order to fulfill their Academic Mission. This is crazy non-sense.

Stanford University has become the Winchester Mystery University- it thinks it needs to keep building or it will die.

Let’s stop this insanity before we have to sit in our cars all day to allow Stanford to keep doing more and more “Good”.
Enough is enough!!






46 people like this
Posted by Stop the Madness
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2019 at 6:50 am

We can't keep packing more people in without adding housing, childcare, schools, parks, roads, transit, shopping, health professional offices, and all the other requirements of urban life.

Stanford needs to be told one simple message: Start acting responsibly. Provide 100% of the housing. And don't make communities around you worse either.


38 people like this
Posted by Reach Balance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2019 at 7:09 am

The road ahead is pretty clear when one remembers that Stanford has no right to get all or part of what it wants of the over 3 million square feet of development. The County can and should just say NO if Stanford doesn't do what it requires.

If Stanford can't accommodate the housing required for lack of space as required in the Conditions of Approval on its campus, then Stanford that should cut back on some of its development. Doesn't "lack of space" tell Stanford something? It sure as heck can't expect to dump its "excess" on Palo Alto and other towns.

It shouldn't even be able to build 30% of its housing in our towns rather than on campus as currently allowed under the County Conditions of Approval. Why should our towns have that burden placed on them with all the attendant impacts? The 30% requirement should be changed. The traffic impacts already from the new campus housing will be staggering even with mitigation.


13 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on May 31, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I did not understand Stanford VP Palter's reasoning that building more houses on campus would mean that the spouses of Stanford employees who live on campus " won't be able to use a car to make routine trips associated with any household — drive away from the campus in the morning, come home at night, and run any number of errands during the day," Is the County restricting transportation of Stanford employees and their spouses that live on campus? Can't some of traffic be handled by the Marguerite bus and other modes of public transportation? And can't housing be placed close to stores, like in Stanford Terrace or along Sand Hill? I live on campus and I walk to the stores, to the PAMF, and to restaurants downtown. I could take the Marguerite, but I like to walk.


11 people like this
Posted by More dishonesty
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Such predictable piling on and peer pressure. County - your EIR said no need for Stanford to build additional housing. Forcing Stanford to build extra housing imposes costs on our community, not benefits. Traffic, congestion, environmental impacts. And extra unfunded students for the school district. Stop demanding that Stanford build extra housing beyond it's proposal.


23 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Chambers were packed last night. I was not able to attend but tuned in from home prior to the beginning of public comment. If you are following this issue closely and were also unable to be at the meeting, please "like" this message. Regardless of your position on the proposed growth I think it might be instructive for Stanford, the County, and local City Councils to see a metric (albeit an unscientific one) on how concerned people are about the university's expansion plan.


19 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Is Stanford just receiving so much money designated for new buildings that it "has" to grow just to spend the money? This is crazy. Stanford, please ask donors to contribute to a fund that will allow tuition and on-campus housing costs to be lowered. This "grow or die" idea is, frankly, -stupid-, and, unbecoming to a university dedicated to -knowledge-.


23 people like this
Posted by Stanford as landlord
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2019 at 2:52 pm

There is an assertion that Stanford shouldn't be a landlord. Yet isn't what they have been for years with the Escondido rental units?

The testimony from graduate students last night was eye opening. Their Stanford incomes from teaching, etc. hovers around $30K a year, yet to live on campus Stanford charges about $2,400 a month! Sounds pretty unethical to me.

The first thing Stanford needs to do is step up to the plate and take responsibility for providing housing ON CAMPUS for ALL their graduate students that is AFFORDABLE FOR THEM. Which would also free up lower income housing for those not associated with Stanford. Especially in East Palo Alto.





As we were reminded last night, Stanford is by far the biggest local employer with their employees far exceeding those employed by Google or Facebook.


9 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2019 at 4:50 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@anonymous. "I did not understand Stanford VP Palter's reasoning that building more houses on campus would mean that the spouses of Stanford employees who live on campus " won't be able to use a car to make routine trips associated with any household — drive away from the campus in the morning, come home at night, and run any number of errands during the day," Is the County restricting transportation"

Yes. If you read the County's Conditions of Approval, you'll see that in addition to the requirement that the "no new net commute trips" program continues (so no more people commuting onto campus during commute times); the window for the commute time frame was expanded AND the County added that "average daily trips" can't increase AND reverse commute trips (people leaving campus for work) can't increase either. If it does, then Stanford is in violation. And, there's a new penalty/enforcement mechanism.

One of the Commissioners raised the question at the beginning of the evening. How do you put 1500 apartments on campus to house families and not allow any more trips onto or off of campus? The only way I could think was to not allow cars. That works for students, but for families it's much, much harder.


5 people like this
Posted by walk
a resident of Stanford
on May 31, 2019 at 5:51 pm

I have lived on and near campus without a car for the past five years. It is no big deal. You don't need a car. We walk everywhere. Those few times we can't walk or take a bus, we use a carpool rideshare. If I was anywhere further from campus, I would have no choice but to drive.


2 people like this
Posted by campus traffic
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2019 at 8:30 pm

To those sounding the alarm that new campus residents won't be able to use a car to run errands, the "no new net trips" is restricted to specific commute hours. So that's a bit of an exaggeration. Most of us, if at all possible, organize our schedules to avoid running errands during commute hours.

Also, if one spouse or partner has a job at Stanford I think it highly likely that the other will also seek a job on campus. The University is by far the largest employer in the area so there are plenty of jobs of all kinds.


5 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@campus traffic. Can you explain the other conditions regarding reverse commutes and “average daily trips?” And, it’s really, really not an option to believe / think or require / restrict spouses to get a job at Stanford.


7 people like this
Posted by Senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:34 am

Why doesn't Stanford buy some land near Yosemite or elsewhere and start a new campus there?


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 1, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Annette is a registered user.

One of the speakers made the point that growth does not have to mean physical growth. That's worth serious consideration. Harvard, Princeton, MIT and Yale have managed to retain their prominence as institutions of higher learning despite not being endowed with the acreage that Stanford has. Cal has managed the same. Surely Stanford is as creative as those schools.

I doubt a more conservative growth plan or even a no-growth plan would render Stanford mediocre. On the other hand, quality of life issues (lack of housing, cost of housing, traffic and congestion, cost of living) could well impact Stanford's ability to attract "A-Team" graduate students, faculty, and staff. That might register on the mediocrity scale.

Jumping tracks, I wonder if the pro-growth City Councils we have had are ruing their many approvals of unmitigated commercial growth. The problems that confound us (homelessness, housing insecurity, circulation quagmires, transportation and other infrastructure deficiencies, etc) are a direct result of those decisions. Our next election opportunity comes around next year. Now is the time to pay very close attention to the positions our elected officials are taking on the critical issues of the day, including Stanford's GUP, because that helps inform decisions at the polls. It also lends understanding to the endorsements on all those glossy (and wasteful) campaign materials.


8 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2019 at 12:55 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@annette. MIT, Harvard, Columbia, U Penn, are integrated into cities which provide them with public transportation, roads, sewers, fire, police, etc. public transportation is what is lacking throughout the Bay Area. One can take a train to Boston, hop on the T and be at Harvard in a matter of moments. City codes dictate height of buildings, etc. Palo Alto and Stanford grew “together.”

Having been to many of these meetings, the sense I get is that people are angry/bitter that we’ve become a ridiculously expensive place to live.

Well, it’s not Stanford employees who are outbidding people on homes. I live close to downtown in an area that had a high percentage of rentals. Artists, musicians, vet techs, visiting Stanford scholars and grad students used to live here. They were priced out 5 to 10 years ago. And those multiple unit dwelling that had three or four affordable units in them? They’re gone too. Single family homes are there now.

So people can be angry and blame Stanford, but you’re just scapegoating them and avoiding tackling the larger issues: public transportation & SmartGrowth.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 1, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Mary - I am not blaming Stanford for the situation we face here; both the City and the University are negatively impacted by the growth policies the City has been following; there'd be much less resistance to the GUP if we had managed our growth better. As is, I think it painfully obvious that we overdid commercial growth and "under did" housing and transportation.

I fully agree with you about transportation and Smart Growth. Not to be punny, but that train left the station decades ago when BART did not extend to San Jose. The remedy is mind-bogglingly complicated, disruptive, and expensive.

The tech titans could help us out a bit by not buying up multiple properties to build their private compounds. Imagine the housing that could have been built on Cowper on the lots that Acton bought. And let's not forget the unfortunate loss of the affordable housing at the Hotel President. Also, Stanford could help itself and the City by not keeping ghost houses. And the City could require periodic inspections of ghost houses to ensure that all codes are being met, charging steep fees to cover the cost of those inspections. That might alleviate some of the ghost houses.

Maybe the silver lining of the GUP discussions will be a set of decisions that puts us on a better path going forward.


6 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

“Maybe the silver lining of the GUP discussions will be a set of decisions that puts us on a better path going forward.”

Yes. This has to be the goal - a focus on a plan, a blueprint, a path for the future.

We have ghost houses, but their not owned by Stanford.

I think addressing the “ghost houses” is an excellent suggestion.

It doesn’t matter to me if Stanford builds or not. I do think they should expand their undergraduate class to enable more young people to have the opportunity to attend.

Whatever is decided, it needs to be based on good public policy. Not just what works for Palo Alto, Menlo Park or Stanford.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Posted by Mary O, a resident of Crescent Park

>> We have ghost houses, but their not owned by Stanford.
>> I think addressing the “ghost houses” is an excellent suggestion.

I wonder if there is some algorithm that can determine which houses are "ghost houses"? To start with, we would have to decide on a definition. Without any PII, I can say that one wealthy person I'm slightly acquainted with who lives in the Bay Area has "several" residences "around the world". I guess if you spend a week or two in a place once a year, it isn't a "ghost house". Or is it? We all probably know several people who have two or three places. Sometimes, a residence here, a ski place at Tahoe or somewhere, and/or a beach/coast place somewhere. If, say, I grew up in Santa Cruz and, say, wanted to keep living there, it might annoy me if someone else bought a place and spent the night there maybe 6-14 nights a year. Coastal addresses are very limited, after all.

I don't imagine too many people have vacation houses in Palo Alto, but, there certainly are some that seem to be peculiarly vacant. How many? Investments, I guess. Should there be a limit on the number of scarce dwellings one person can own? In case you are wondering, this is a -large- phenomenon in Manhattan:

Web Link

Is this a problem? I guess vacant buildings just block sunlight, but, otherwise, don't have much effect on infrastructure. Whenever someone starts pushing for high-rises in Palo Alto, you can bet they are thinking "investment". Rather than "housing"-- you know, places where real people live.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2019 at 5:06 pm

^ First it will be “ghost houses”, then “ghost bedrooms”, “ghost garages”, “ghost closets”. All could sit empty, or sit full of "stuff" that never gets used. Owner's prerogative. Guaranteed by the Third Amendment.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde

>> ^ First it will be “ghost houses”, then “ghost bedrooms”, “ghost garages”, “ghost closets”. All could sit empty, or sit full of "stuff" that never gets used.

I hope this isn't an argument for hoarding. There have been several TV series about this.

>> Owner's prerogative. Guaranteed by the Third Amendment.

Constitutional clauses and amendments are never absolute in the manner you imply, because they conflict with one another. Hence laws, and, Federal/Supreme Court decisions that define and clarify the boundaries.

"Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins."

When life and liberty conflict with property, laws are needed. Just as zoning can restrict where you can locate a pig sty, tax laws can restrict how you spend your money. "etc., etc."


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2019 at 9:59 pm

^ What will happen when the city assigns a homeless family to your empty bedroom?


2 people like this
Posted by Messenger
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2019 at 8:37 am

Time to look seriously at building a modern, Smart City of the future on the Embarcadero land east of 101... 20,000 new residents in an area which will not inconvenience existing Palo Altans one whit.

Plus, we can provide high quality, affordable housing for a couple thousand on the Palo Alto Square site, the Fry’s site, and flip several large industrial properties into housing in the Stanford Industrial Park. We don’t need Palo Alto Square now that Mountain View put in 12 ultramodern theater screens by the Milk Pail.

This should have done decades ago, but greed and ineptness combined to create the wild jobs/housing imbalance that is wrecking our roads, parking, affordability... making it impossible for our very own kids to ever afford to live in their home town.


7 people like this
Posted by Ghost houses
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 2, 2019 at 4:33 pm

@ Mary

On my block I have three "ghost houses" owned by Stanford. Whereas they were previously rented (one to a teacher and her daughter) they are now empty. Although one was torn down and the rebuild is almost finished so perhaps we will have someone living there by the end of 2019. isAfter much pressing Stanford has admitted to buying approximately 30 homes in College Terrace during the last few years and most of them are being kept empty.


9 people like this
Posted by ghost houses
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 2, 2019 at 8:33 pm

correction

@Mary

"We have ghost houses, but their not owned by Stanford."

There are FOUR EMPTY houses OWNED by Stanford on my side of the street, between College and Stanford Ave, with a fifth one that was torn down and is in the final stages of being rebuilt.


4 people like this
Posted by Old Red
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 4, 2019 at 7:51 pm

A massive residential development near 'the dish' would meet the needs of additional Stanford housing.

Besides, the only ones I see walking around there are mostly Palo Alto residents. They can go to Foothills Park for their nature walks.


5 people like this
Posted by Former Stanford Grad Spouse
a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2019 at 2:01 pm

I spent five years in graduate student housing at Stanford as a medical student spouse. The unit was substandard, bug infested, with contaminated water from a leaking underground storage fuel tank. Our food budget was $20/week. We couldn't afford a car. I took the bus to work and to the grocery store. Thankfully, I had access to quality child care on campus. Stanford has done a lot to alleviate some of those conditions, but graduate student families are still food insecure and limited in income and opportunities that require Stanford to step up. I don't have "the" answer, but it sure isn't passing the buck to the local communities to fix Stanford's student population related problems.


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