San Mateo County cities fume as Stanford rebuffs their funding requests

Coalition of cities call on Stanford to 'pay its fair share' to address the impacts of proposed campus growth on housing, traffic

In a stinging rebuke, a coalition of cities in San Mateo County issued a public statement Friday criticizing Stanford for rejecting their requests for funding to address the impacts of its dramatic campus expansion on traffic and housing.

The letter from the Coalition for Stanford GUP Accountability — a group of elected representative and staff members from San Mateo County, Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City and Woodside — was released just days before the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to review Stanford's application for a new general use permit. If approved, the GUP would allow Stanford to build 3.5 million square feet of new development by 2035, including 2.275 million square feet of academic space and 2,600 student beds. County staff are also recommending that Stanford be required to build at least 2,172 housing units for staff (Stanford's application calls for 550 such units).

While Santa Clara County has the sole authority to approve or deny Stanford's request, city and county officials in San Mateo County have been persistently arguing that the approval should also take into account Stanford's impacts on the jurisdictions to its north. They point at the environmental analysis for Stanford's expansion, which concluded that about 27% of the new households associated with Stanford's growth would be located in San Mateo County, requiring about 655 new housing units. As such, they requested that Stanford contribute $196 million for an affordable-housing fund.

The cities had also requested $4.62 million for roadway and intersection improvements, $15 million for bike and pedestrian connections between Stanford and surrounding communities; $5 million for stormwater management and flood prevention; and $6.78 million in "in-lieu property taxes" to compensate communities where Stanford, which enjoys property-tax exemptions, owns properties.

In its Friday statement, the San Mateo County coalition reaffirms its concerns about the traffic and housing impacts of Stanford's proposed expansion, which is expected to add 9,600 people to the campus population. Despite these impacts, Stanford "flatly refuses" to negotiate with the cities when it comes to mitigations, the letter states. The message also states that Stanford has informed the coalition that it would only negotiate if the coalition lobbies Santa Clara County to enter into a "development agreement" with Stanford.

Such an agreement would upend the traditional relationship between the regulator (the county) and the project applicant (Stanford) and allow the two sides to negotiate a deal with additional benefits and exemptions. Earlier this month, the university suggested that it would not accept the county's approval of its application unless it comes with a development agreement.

Robert Reidy, Stanford's vice president for land, buildings and real estate, argued in an Oct. 7 letter to the Board of Supervisors that because Stanford is offering significant public benefits upfront, a development agreement is needed to assure the university that it would be able to proceed with its expansion.

"The university needs to be able to predict the costs associated with future regulations, and its ability to comply with those regulations, in order to commit land and financial resources toward housing, transportation, schools and other benefits," Reidy wrote.

Santa Clara County staff and the majority of the Board of Supervisors have thus far maintained that a development agreement is unnecessary. After agreeing last fall to consider a development agreement, the board appointed a subcommittee to explore a possible deal. The committee, composed of board President Joe Simitian and Supervisor Cindy Chavez, abruptly halted the negotiations in April, after Stanford entered into a side deal with the Palo Alto Unified School District — an agreement that was contingent on a development agreement with the county.

The San Mateo County coalition letter states that the cities have urged Stanford to address San Mateo County impacts as part of the standard development approval, but there has been no response from the university.

"Here's what every resident in San Mateo County needs to know: Stanford – with its $26.5 billion endowment — expects to reap all the rewards while leaving local taxpayers grappling with the resulting traffic gridlock, spiraling housing prices, impacted schools and environmental consequences," the coalition's statement reads.

The letter from the San Mateo County cities also emphasizes Stanford's tax-exempt status. Nearly 70% of Stanford's property in San Mateo County (an estimated $1.2 billion in holdings) is tax-free, according to the coalition. Even without Stanford's expansion, San Mateo County public agencies stand to lose $200 million in property taxes over the 18-year life of the proposed GUP.

Melissa Stevenson Diaz, city manager of Redwood City, told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that property taxes are the top revenue source in her city. She said Stanford officials had informed her that the university intends to buy a newly built apartment building in Redwood City. Because of its property-tax exemption, Redwood City stands to lose about $100,000 in tax revenues from that building in the first year alone.

The letter from the coalition of cities calls it "a bit ironic that one of the top universities in the world cannot support our local schools that educate the children of Stanford employees."

"The roads, bridges and pathways Stanford employees use daily receive no funds for repairs or upgrades from Stanford. Likewise, nothing for parks, 9-1-1 dispatch and first responders. Nothing," the letter states. "The time has come for Stanford to pay its fair share. As representatives of local communities that would be impacted by Stanford's development, we call on the university to work on a deal that would fully compensate our communities for the impacts of Stanford's growth."

The letter from the coalition follows repeated calls from San Mateo County elected officials and staff members that Stanford provide "full mitigation" for its expansion, which includes commitments to cities for housing and transportation funding. Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecelia Taylor and Councilwoman Betsy Nash both urged the county at the Oct. 8 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting to require Stanford to mitigate its impacts. Nash said the city already suffers from "inadequate housing availability, housing affordability and traffic congestion."

Stanford's obligations to address its impacts on surrounding communities are expected to be a key theme at the Oct. 22 meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which will be held in Palo Alto. The 6 p.m. hearing at City Hall will be preceded by two rallies, one spearheaded by the student group Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) and another one by Palo Alto Unified School District advocates.

The meeting will be the third of four scheduled public hearings on Stanford's proposed expansion. The final meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 in the Board of Supervisors' Chambers at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


15 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2019 at 7:31 am

Glad to see Stanford standing up to what amounts to political extortion.

SMC and SCC are two of the wealthiest counties in America. Almost all of our residents benefit tremendously and directly from having Stanford in our community. Stanford already contributes millions for housing and other improvements. The University attracts talented and smart people who settle, start businesses, and help our economy perform better. Our homes are worth more. This creates a stronger tax base for our politicians to spend.

They just want more because why stop there.

Good for your Stanford.

29 people like this
Posted by Full Mitigation
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2019 at 9:57 am

Full Mitigation is a registered user.

The community is asking Stanford to fully mitigate the costs of their expansion including traffic, housing, class sizes and transportation infrastructure. All of these also benefit Stanford and their teachers, staff and students.

18 people like this
Posted by Sharks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2019 at 11:05 am

In case you hadn't noticed, we don't need to attract anyone more. The companies in this area are already treating Silicon Valley and especially Palo Alto like some kind of clown car they can all pile into without limit.

I support Stanford, too, but it's a bit much to say they benefit the community directly. They're actually pretty standoffish (Stanford-offish). They've done nothing at all to keep the area from the ills of overdevelopment, and now they are subject to the pushback as they try to expand their part of the clown car.

I can't think of any benefit from Stanford that comes even close to the daily detriment to families of losing time together, losing productivity, losing quality of life, having to breathe the fumes, having the noise, of just the traffic increases we have over the last 10 years. All other costs have skyrocketed. Your arguments about Stanford's "benefits" ring pretty hollow in what Stanford and the big companies have been taking away from the local communities while also constantly libeling residents to get their way.

Your arguments are pretty tone deaf. Is that how people at Stanford feel? We're so great, our mere presence is such a great thing that all the damage that occurs to the lives of ordinary residents around here is nothing in the face of basking in our glory?

6 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2019 at 9:43 pm

I’m not a Stanford person at all. Nor are my comments tone deaf. I’m simply pointing out that 1) our counties are very, very wealthy with lots of resources, and 2) Stanford contributes more than its fair share to that wealth.

People act as if Stanford is solely responsible for growth, traffic, and all the “bad” things they like to gripe about. They’re not.

6 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 21, 2019 at 9:09 am

Can't government in California be honest for a change? Affordable housing in Silicon Valley is unaffordable. The cost of construction is now around $700,000 a rental unit. Last in, last price. Stanford can say: We can't help with the very high price of land around here for development of units. Live some place else where you can afford to live. There are plenty of places throughout the U.S. where you can buy a house, etc. That's where California's middle class is going because of California's insatiable demand for entitlements.

George Drysdale initiator and educator

7 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2019 at 10:52 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

Stanford University is a great university, however, Stanford Corporation is just a bully and likes to do business by intimidation.

1 person likes this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2019 at 10:54 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

Stanford University is a great university, however, Stanford Corporation is just a bully and likes to do business through intimidation.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

From Tokyo to Cupertino: Afuri Ramen's first California location debuts tonight
By Elena Kadvany | 2 comments | 3,082 views

Disposing of Disposables
By Sherry Listgarten | 13 comments | 1,327 views

Couples Counseling, Al Pacino Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,185 views