Stanford fires back at county over new housing requirements

University seeks credit for apartments already under construction, changes to proposed traffic mitigations

Stanford University pushed back this week against Santa Clara County's proposed housing requirements as part of the university's ambitious campus-expansion application by arguing that the university deserves credit for graduate housing already under construction.

In a letter that Stanford staff submitted to the county on Tuesday, administrators pointed to the 1,300 units for graduate students that it plans to open at its new Escondido Village next year and the 215 units it plans to build at Middle Plaza, a development in Menlo Park. These projects, the university is arguing, should be counted toward satisfying some of the county's demands for new housing as part of Stanford's new general use permit.

In addition, Stanford is opposing the county's proposed changes to the long-standing "no net new commutes" policy. The county is recommending the new policy also take into account reverse commutes and automobile trips throughout the day, in contrast to the current policy that only measures traffic volumes during peak morning and afternoon commute hours.

The topic of housing has become the biggest sticking point between Stanford and the county, which is now reviewing Stanford's application for the general use permit. The university wants permission to construct 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 2,600 student beds, 550 housing units for faculty and staff and 40,000 square feet of child care space and other supporting facilities.

The county planning staff has requested that Stanford provide an additional 1,622 housing units for faculty and staff, for a minimum of 2,172 units. The new housing number is included in the conditions of approval that staff released last month and that the county Planning Commission is currently reviewing. Its next meeting is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in San Jose, at 70 W. Hedding St.

In its letter, Stanford is proposing to change these conditions to dramatically alter the requirement for new housing.

Specifically, Stanford is requesting a credit of 650 units from the Escondido Village project, which is devoted to graduate students. The new development, Stanford maintains, will allow about 2,000 graduate students to move out of the surrounding community and onto campus in 2020, freeing up community-based housing.

"Opening Escondido Village Graduate Residents will increase off-campus housing that could be utilized by workforce in the surrounding communities," the university's Associate Vice President Catherine Palter wrote in the June 11 letter.

The letter makes the case that the county should seek to encourage housing construction on all of its residential lands, rather than place the burden on Stanford. The university, Palter wrote, did not cause the region's housing shortage. Stanford recommends that the county revise its zoning code to increase permitted residential densities, reduce cost burdens associated with housing construction and create an "efficient, predictable approval process" for housing already zoned for residential development.

"These actions would encourage the development of housing that is so needed throughout the region," the letter states. "Without them, the same impediments to housing development that contributed to the region's housing crisis will continue."

Stanford is also firing back against the notion that an employer should provide housing for every person it employs. That notion is the basis for the county's proposed requirement to accommodate the more than 9,000 students and faculty members who would be added to the campus by 2035 under Stanford's proposed expansion. While it is consistent with county Supervisor Joe Simitian's position that Stanford should be required to provide "full mitigation" for its expansion, Palter argued that — taken to the extreme — the policy "conjures up failed company towns and may be at odds with the longstanding and deep-rooted constitutional principle to foster and protect labor mobility."

"Losing a place of residence at the same time a person changes their employment could create an impediment to mobility," Palter wrote.

She also underscored Stanford's commitment to address the housing shortage, in recognition of the region's urgent need for more workforce housing.

"Stanford understands we are in extraordinary times that require extraordinary thinking," Palter wrote. "We also recognize that Stanford has land resources that could be made available for housing. That is why, with some important adjustments to the conditions of approval, Stanford is willing to rise to the challenge and take a leadership role by embracing the opportunity to build more housing."

While Stanford says it is willing to meet the proposed condition for at least 2,172 units of workforce housing, it is requesting changes in how these units are counted as well as more flexibility when it comes to the location of housing and mitigations for traffic impacts. Palter noted in the letter that the Escondido Village and Middle Plaza projects, which were approved before the general use-permit application was filed, signify the urgency that the university felt in solving the housing needs of its graduate students.

"It would make no sense to the university if Stanford's accelerated delivery of these units is effectively punished by imposing new housing requirements that do not recognize this early housing," Palter wrote.

Stanford is also requesting that the county reconsider its proposed condition that at least 70% of the new units be constructed on campus (the remaining should be built within 6 miles of the campus, unless county planners grant an exception). Rather, the university is requesting that the 70% requirement apply to an area within 6 miles of the campus, or along transit corridors.

Many workers, the letter argues, would rather not live on campus.

"Many prefer to remain in their existing communities when they change jobs, or to live near relatives, friends, a place of worship, an ethnic or cultural center, a school, or in an urban center or rural setting," the letter states. "Many Stanford employees prefer to live closer to another household member's workplace or want to ensure separation between work and personal life. And most of our workforce prefer to live in single-family homes. In addition, many employees prefer that their employer not also serve as their landlord."

County planners, meanwhile, note that their proposed conditions of approval already give Stanford plenty of flexibility when it comes to housing, both by allowing up to 30% of the housing to be off-campus and by allowing Stanford to pay fees instead of actually building housing. Geoff Bradley, the county's project manager for the Stanford permit process, said at a May 30 meeting of the county Planning Commission that of the 933 below-market-rate housing that Stanford would be required to build, 560 can be satisfied through paying a fee.

The county acknowledged that the additional housing will create some problems, including traffic. Even so, the requirement is intended to "ensure that Stanford fully addresses housing demand from construction of an additional 3.5 million square feet of development.

"If the county does not require Stanford to provide sufficient housing to address housing demand, ongoing development at Stanford would exacerbate the housing-affordability crisis that acutely impacts the areas around the University," a report from Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos and Planning Director Jacqueline R. Onciano states.

Stanford, for its part, argues that the county's direction to nearly quadruple the proposed new housing units without expecting a commensurate increase in reverse-commute traffic or all-day vehicle counts is unreasonable and unachievable. The cap on reverse commute-direction trips will "prevent Stanford from building more workforce housing on its academic campus." Ultimately, the letter states, no one will benefit.

The university is also "not willing to accept a condition that requires mitigation for all-day trips."

"Like the (county) administration's proposed reverse commute-direction trip cap, this cap will prevent Stanford from constructing more workforce housing on its campus," Palter wrote. "This cap also will have the unintended consequence of preventing Stanford from expanding the many programs that it offers to the surrounding community — concerts, dance and theater performances, museums, sporting events, lecture series, and other special events."

It will now be up to the county's Planning Commission to weigh the merits of Stanford's arguments against the recommendations of county planners and consultants. The commission is scheduled to hold two hearings on the application this month before it forwards its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for final review.


The June 13 county Planning Commission meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the Issac Newton Senter Auditorium at the County Government Center at 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose. Another hearing will be held on June 27 at the same time and in the same location.

Related content:

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.

Guest Opinion: I feel sorry for Stanford University


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20 people like this
Posted by Marcie
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2019 at 11:11 am

Sounds good to me. I don't understand why Stanford is required to fix all the counties housing problems. Start asking all the extremely successful businesses to do their part. Oops the cities always complain about that too.

11 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 12, 2019 at 11:57 am

VP Palter's assertions that Stanford faculty and employees don't want to live on campus is not correct. Stanford faculty and the County are aligned on the request for more affordable housing for employees on campus. The President and Provost of Stanford University engaged in a 2-3 year long range planning process. They started this process by polling the faculty and acknowledge that the number one challenge facing Stanford now is the lack of affordable housing for Stanford employees. This is an issue hurting young faculty and the ability of Stanford to recruit new faculty. Instead of fighting the County's request that Stanford build more affordable housing for their employees, we should be talking about how to do this. We are creative people - we can do this! And the plans to do this should be discussed in public, not behind closed doors.

4 people like this
Posted by anonymouse
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Of course, negotiation is a two-way process, so it is okay for Stanford to ask the County to " revise its zoning code to increase permitted residential densities, reduce cost burdens associated with housing construction and create an "efficient, predictable approval process" for housing already zoned for residential development."

10 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

It is time for the County negotiation team to sit down with Stanford, which has not happened yet and work this out.

All the posing going back and forth and the County changing conditions is not helping.

We need the housing built sooner rather than later, which is one benefit of Stanford's proposal.

But I am sure there will be give and take when and if they meet.

21 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:44 pm

Stanford should quit playing these public relations games. I am constantly blasted by their ads on Facebook, as if I have any say in the negotiations. Why don't they sit down with the county officials and negotiate in good faith?

17 people like this
Posted by double counting at its finest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:56 pm

So, Stanford wants housing that it is building against the current GUP to count towards housing requirements for the new GUP request?

8 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2019 at 1:17 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Stanford has wanted to sit down with the County but the negotiation team for the County is has refused so far/

As far as FB i get blasts from the County and Stanford equally.

9 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 12, 2019 at 3:58 pm

I just received another email message from my Stanford employer with the request: "Tell the County You Support Stanford’s Plan". Perhaps they should tell me how they plan to address "the Housing Challenges in Our Region". Then I can make an informed opinion. Asking for blind loyalty from Stanford employees is not leadership.

13 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 12, 2019 at 4:01 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

Stanford needs to create their own little city which includes schools and housing for all their employees as well as students. It is unconscionable to pay no taxes and impact the city of Palo Alto so much - impacts school, major traffic, and adding to the unavailable housing for their non-academic employees. I am very happy that the county is pushing back.

15 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 12, 2019 at 4:40 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please show any other San Mateo County employer that provides more housing for both its employees and customer/students than does Stanford?

When Palo Alto residents need an emergency room do they go to the Palo Alto Hospital?
No, because Palo Alto sold its interest in the Stanford Hospital decades ago:

" When the Stanford Medical School moved south from San Francisco in 1959, the Stanford Hospital was established and was co-owned with the city of Palo Alto; it was then known as Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center. It was purchased by the University in 1968 and renamed." Wikipedia

12 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 12, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Simitian is heading toward getting the county in a big loss in a lawsuit. When the county loses that, let’s see how many of Simitian’s acolytes here are still singing his praises.

16 people like this
Posted by Add a job- Add a home
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 13, 2019 at 11:51 am

Stanford and all the other huge development companies need to just shut up and get with the new reality that if they build a job then need to build a house. The days of cheap land where people could just spread out and build a home are over. The reality is that adding more high paying jobs drives out lower paid existing renters and home owners. To alleviate the problems that are caused by overbuilding there are two answers: either stop adding jobs or force rich companies that are benefiting from being allowed to develop in this area to house ALL of their workers. Tax payers should not be responsible for footing the bill to house people driven out by there huge corporations that are collectively raking in billions. It is time for them to pay the true cost that their being situated here is demanding from the community. That means housing, schools, roads, pollution control, water and quality of life. Demand more and stop letting them buy off local and state elected representatives.

3 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@anonymous at Stanford. “VP Palter’s assertions that Stanford faculty and employees don’t want to live on campus is false.” How do you know that “anonymous?” My own anecdotal information tells me that her statement is true. I (like you I’m sure) know Stanford faculty and employees and they don’t want their housing tied to their jobs. But why are we speculating? Housing and Land group conducted an extensive survey- let’s just go with the data! And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “I feel confident that Ms. Palter and her group are well-informed regarding the Provost’s and the President’s planning efforts” since Ms. Palter’s group engages in long-term planning.

5 people like this
Posted by former staff
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 14, 2019 at 4:27 pm

If a few staff want to live elsewhere, no one is forcing them to live on campus.

V.P.Palter is the new public face for V.P.McCown, development lawyer.

Double counting the housing construction sounds familiar, development lawyer-talk.

3 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 14, 2019 at 5:40 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@former staff. Staff don't want to live on campus because instead of renting, they'd like to buy something super far away and commute (one of my friends lived in Palo Alto, then Menlo Park, then bought a place east of Oakland - she comes in three days a week now). And, if they take a job elsewhere, they'll have to move. Fine for young people, but once people have kids that are in school, they don't like having to move them around. And, no security for spouses of faculty. If they separate or divorce, the unaffiliated spouse is out.

10 people like this
Posted by not everyone wants to live on campus
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 14, 2019 at 9:25 pm

We are a Stanford faculty family. And we agree with Palter "Not every Stanford affiliate wants to live on campus." We were eligible for and looked at the available on campus housing (15 years ago) and deliberately decided we wanted to live in a different community. We love Stanford but we already get enough of it. We wanted our children to grow up in a neighborhood with a more diverse set of jobs. And we wanted to make friends with others not attached to Stanford.

How many of you would want to live in a neighborhood entirely made up of your co-workers?

When Stanford builds graduate student housing on campus this provides a benefit to the outlying communities. Now those grad students are no longer looking for rentals elsewhere. And they don't mind living on campus because it is a temporary gig. More STUDENT HOUSING on-campus is essential.

For Employees, Stanford finding ways to support the building of more housing beyond the confines of campus will be a good thing.

I don't see the County making the same requirements for Apple or for the 49ers or for ANY other employers. That's because then some CITY would have to agree to the new housing. This is such hypocrasy.

I don't think Stanford is perfect. And they should certainly hold themselves to a high standard of being a good neighbor. BUT this area's problems were not created by them (other than by creating desirability) we should not expect them to be a sole savior.

8 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2019 at 3:33 pm

This article was already obsolete by yesterday morning (June 14). At Thursday (June 13th)'s hearing, the County sharply refuted the Stanford claim mentioned in the headline here.

The County's response was in Friday's (June-14) printed Daily Post, where I read it on the front page. Here's a link to the online version of that story, until the Weekly produces its own: Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Jun 15, 2019 at 4:52 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

And at the meeting as noted in the Post, the county took full responsibility for the fact that there are no development agreement talks the with collaborative (ha ha) statement from the CEO office that the County would never enter development agreement talks (breaking their own agreement from February) unless it was advantageous to them.

Translation-- we prefer extortion to collaboration.

4 people like this
Posted by Leonardo Leal Guerrero
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jun 18, 2019 at 2:45 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Kim Suz
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 17, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Stanford is being asked to meet EXISTING, unmet commitments. They are also being required to not add to the housing shortage and traffic gridlock throughout all of Palo Alto. That’s smart development, not a punishment. No public benefit of cultural events makes up for contributing to this area’s largest problems. They are not offering enough $ to improve transit in any effective way. They are also buying up existing housing in Palo Alto thereby taking that off the market forever and pushing the problems they have created into the community. The housing they have built has NO restrictions on the amount of cars residents own so that doesn’t help mitigate anything.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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