The latest long-term plan for Stanford University's growth and development for at least the next quarter century is currently being reviewed by Santa Clara County.
The plan — which goes by the unlovely acronym of "GUP," for General Use Permit — currently proposes that Stanford be allowed to build 2.275 million square feet of additional "academic space," and add 3,150 new housing units plus 40,000 square feet for child care and other support facilities.
The plan replaces an earlier GUP approved after a hard-fought process in 2000. That GUP allowed for approximately 2 million square feet of academic space plus 3,000 housing units. It had significant mitigations — such as a 25-year requirement for a "supermajority" four-fifths vote by the five-member Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The GUP and Stanford's future growth is the only direct land-use governance by the county, which usually pushes development proposals into the 15 cities in the county. There are about 4,000 acres of Stanford land in the county's jurisdiction, not counting a similar amount of acreage in San Mateo County.
So the GUP has huge potential impacts of a vast expansion of jobs and new families, requiring community schools and urban services and traffic mitigations.
And the new GUP is upon us.
A 100-plus page key "conditions" report by county staff was made public on Wednesday, May 22, and the first of three public hearings by the county was held on May 30 in Palo Alto. (The other two will be in San Jose.)
The hearings are of particular importance because a majority of county Planning Commission members are not from Palo Alto — and only one of the five-member Board of Supervisors represents Palo Alto.
The biggest déjà vu will be felt by Joe Simitian, who is once again a member of the county Board of Supervisors after taking a break to serve in the California Assembly for four years and the state Senate for eight years before being re-elected to the supervisors in 2012.
"We spent the last couple of years of my time on the board working on the GUP application," Simitian recalled of the 2000 GUP. "We got most of it done before I left in December of 2000 and headed off to the state Legislature.
"Here we are 23 years later with yet another go-round on the GUP," he said.
There are mostly new players on both sides of the matter, other than Simitian.
One big similarity between the two GUPs is that it isn't as much the size of the projected growth as the "conditions" attached to the plan. The conditions are already surfacing as a primary source of conflict.
Last time, Stanford officials choked on one condition in particular: a requirement that there be "no new trips" added to commute-hour traffic. Stanford was able to alleviate the impact of that by getting "commute hour" defined as one hour. (One department head even sent out a memo urging people to avoid that hour when traveling to and from work.)
But this time the county staff is recommending a new "commute period" of three hours, reflecting roadway reality. And it is harder to circumvent.
Also, the 25-year protection for development on Stanford's foothills lands, only to be undone by a four-fifths vote of the supervisors, is likely to be extended to 50 years, as suggested in a Weekly editorial, or even 99 years, as suggested by county staff.
We have already entered the arena in terms of comments.
Stanford Associate Vice President Catherine Palter two weeks ago assailed the still-emerging county staff recommendations as "unworkable and infeasible" and called any deliberations "incomplete and premature." She asked for a delay in public hearings.
Simitian countered at the time that as the full staff report hadn't been published yet he didn't see how the university could say the conditions aren't achievable. He suggested Stanford was trying to "roll back meaningful conditions of approval before they see the light of day."
And now, the light is shining.
"One thing that was very gratifying was that we got a unanimous result and there was no litigation (or) referendum. In fact the Northern California Chapter of the American Planning Association gave the planning effort itself an award.
"Certainly there was a little bit of tumult out there in the community as we went through the process, but ultimately I thought we had a good result," Simitian said.
Stanford also has been citing positive aspects of the 2000 GUP, running a series of ads citing the Marguerite shuttle bus system and other features that emanated from the 2000 GUP conditions.
University officials have long insisted they need to protect the university's long-term potential for expansion, particularly into areas of knowledge and technology that have not been thought of yet. Some years back, such things would include stem-cell research, exploring the human genome and other areas that back then would have sounded like science fiction.
There is a big distinction between the core campus expansion (or re-use) and Stanford's foothills lands. One recent study suggested that if Stanford's recent growth rate continued it would take a century for available campus flatlands to fill up without making the university overly dense, compared to other major university campuses.
So the big hurdle may be simply one of trust, which was at a low point during the last GUP process.
Simitian thinks it is possible to overcome that.
"There is one common theme," he said. "Almost everybody wants the university to be a continuing success story. They just want it to occur in a way that doesn't adversely affect surrounding communities.
"We all know how important Stanford has been to the success of our region. We all want that success to continue.
"Some conditions are wide-ranging in their impacts, and there are a host of issues. My hope and expectation is that we will get a good result that will allow the university to prosper in the days ahead."
Even Stanford officials would agree with that.
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.