Inside Stanford's bid to expand -- and how it came undone

While county pushed to ensure university growth wouldn't create problems for surrounding communities, Stanford gauged the mitigation measures as economically 'infeasible'

The largest project in Santa Clara County's history got the axe just before noon on Nov. 1, when Catherine Palter, Stanford University's associate vice president for land use and environmental planning, sent a letter to county Planning Director Jacqueline Onciano informing her that Stanford was pulling its application to expand development on the campus.

"We regret that it is necessary for Stanford to withdraw the permit application, and we greatly appreciate the hard work of your office in reviewing it," Palter stated, alluding to the nearly three years of analysis that culminated in an environmental impact report, three meetings by the county's Planning Commission and three more by the Board of Supervisors, which was set to rule on the application on Nov. 5.

The decision provoked a wide range of reactions, including relief, anger and a mixture of the two. Students from the group Scope 2035 (Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035), who had consistently argued that the university needs to do more to support its workforce, immediately issued an opinion piece saying they were "saddened and frustrated" by Stanford's decision, which they called "a stalling tactic."

"We think in a matter of a few years, supervisor elections will happen and there will be student turnover. Stanford will initiate this permit and it will be able to negotiate for having much fewer mitigation measures than we may have now," Kate Ham, a Stanford senior and member of Scope 2035, told the Weekly.

Joe Simitian, the president of the five-member Board of Supervisors and Palo Alto's representative, said he was surprised to see the university walk away just days before it was set to get the board's approval.

"I thought we were headed for a win-win," said Simitian, who sat on a two-member subcommittee charged with negotiating with Stanford and who had become a lightning-rod figure during the Stanford process. "The authorization of 3.5 million square feet over 15 to 20 years certainly would've been a substantial benefit to the university ... but I respect their decision."

For Stanford, now what?

Stanford, for its part, framed its decision as a chance to regroup after a process that had become increasingly contentious and that culminated in about 400 people cramming into Palo Alto City Hall for an Oct. 22 public hearing on the general use permit (GUP). Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement Friday that the university took this step "with regret, but with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges before us in achieving a successful long-term permit at this time."

In the near-term, however, Stanford's options for campus development appear to be very limited. The university is authorized under its existing general use permit, approved in 2000, to construct 175,257 square feet more of net new academic and academic-support space, according to a new report from Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos and Onciano of the Planning Department. Stanford has developed an average of about 98,000 square feet of academic development per year, not including housing. Based on that rate, Stanford will exhaust is remaining allotment for new academic space in about two years.

Stanford can still demolish and replace buildings, provided it doesn't increase the square footage. It can continue to build housing, provided it seeks and gets the approval of the county Planning Commission. It can also re-apply for a new general use permit at any time. Or it can propose a modification of the existing permit.

"The time needed to process a proposed GUP modification and (the) extent of environmental review would depend upon the nature of the modification proposed," the county report states.

Martin Shell, Stanford's vice president and chief external relations officer, said the university will take some time to assess its options.

"Our focus has been for the past many months on reaching an agreement with the county that benefited the county, benefited our neighbors and benefited the institution," Shell said. "We're going to have to take a pause ourselves to assess what the priorities are. We clearly heard a lot from the community over the past many weeks and months, and we want to reflect on what we heard."

When asked how Stanford plans to get the additional academic space that, according to its application, is needed to support newly emerging academic fields and allow the university to "maintain its leadership in teaching and research," Shell suggested that the university may have to shift its emphasis.

"We may need to focus more on people and programs for a while, and a little less on facilities," Shell said.

The mantra of 'full mitigation'

The beginning of the end for Stanford's application can be traced to a community meeting in March when, after more than two years of analysis, county planners released a sheet of paper with a set of conditions that Stanford would have to meet to win permission for its highly contentious campus expansion.

Stanford's application, which called for 3.5 million square feet of new development by 2035, had been going through the planning process since 2016 and, up until that point, things appeared to be going relatively smoothly. In October 2018, the Board of Supervisors authorized the use of a "development agreement" for the approval process -- a mechanism strongly favored by Stanford that would allow county supervisors to negotiate directly with the university over project parameters and community benefits. This was the first time that the county had ever approved the use of such a process.

And in December, the county released an environmental impact report for the campus expansion, which proposed managing the expected new traffic problems through the existing "no net new commute" requirement -- a recommendation that Stanford supported. And while the analysis also evaluated two new housing alternatives, each of which went well beyond the 550 staff housing units that Stanford had proposed, it stopped short of recommending either of these.

All that changed on March 14, when Simitian came to Palo Alto for a special town hall meeting on the general use permit, at which county staff's proposed conditions were publicly unveiled. These included a requirement that Stanford build 2,172 units of staff housing -- the most ambitious option studied in the environmental impact report -- and that Stanford meet more stringent traffic-reduction goals, including a mandate to limit average daily traffic and the number of reverse-commute trips.

The county's conditions came with a clear requirement: full mitigation of all impacts caused by the expansion. Because the county's nexus study showed that Stanford's plan would increase the campus population by 9,601 people, the university would be required to add significant amounts of housing. And because building thousands of housing units for staff and their families would likely bring more cars to campus, Stanford would have to redouble its transportation management efforts to prevent traffic jams.

Simitian made it clear at the beginning of the March 14 meeting, which was co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly, that "full mitigation" wasn't just an aspiration. It was an imperative.

"For 20-plus years, as long as I can remember, local communities up and down the Peninsula have told their constituents that when they approved a project, the impacts were fully mitigated," Simitian said. "Twenty years later, traffic is worse, not better; housing is worse, not better. So I think there is a fair measure of skepticism out there in the community, which I understand, as to whether or not full mitigation is a real thing.

"But I think in this process, it has to be real and that ought to be not only an aspirational goal but a very realistic goal and one that we achieve, whatever decision the five members of the Board of Supervisors ultimately make."

Over the ensuing months, "full mitigation" evolved into a rallying cry for local residents, Stanford students, university staff, the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education and elected officials from cities in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Advocates for Palo Alto schools carried signs at rallies in the spring and fall demanding full mitigation. Stanford students incorporated it into their chants and speeches.

Los Altos Councilwoman Anita Enander requested "full and fair mitigation" at the Sept. 24 hearing of the Board of Supervisors when she alluded to Stanford's recent purchase of an apartment building that comprised 10% of her city's multi-family properties. And at the Oct. 22 meeting on Stanford's GUP application -- the last public hearing before the university withdrew its application -- East Palo Alto Councilman Carlos Romero, San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy, Menlo Park Councilwoman Betsy Nash and Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth each used the phrase in making their requests to the Board of Supervisors.

Filseth acknowledged that if Silicon Valley were to expand, the expansion would carry costs.

"Without full mitigation, too many of those costs will fall on the shoulders of people don't deserve to pay them and in many cases can't afford to pay them," Filseth said.

In a jam over traffic requirements

The insistence on full mitigation, while theoretically reasonable, became practically untenable for Stanford, which found itself facing approval for a project it didn't ask for, one with 2,172 housing units and new traffic restrictions. As the county's Planning Commission reviewed the proposal over the summer, university leaders protested that the county's housing conditions would turn the university's campus into an "urban apartment complex" and result in more than 1,000 new vehicle trips in the evening peak commute hour.

Palter pointed to Stanford's own traffic analysis, which showed that to comply with the new "reverse commute" restriction, the university would need to "generate trips at a rate that is less than that generated by housing in Manhattan."

"This is simply impossible on the San Francisco Peninsula where Stanford is located," Palter said at the June 27 meeting.

The Planning Commission largely sympathized with Stanford and requested that the county consider alternative measures to curb traffic. Commissioners Bob Levy and Marc Rauser each argued that this traffic mitigation would put too large a burden on Stanford, particularly with the county also requiring more than 2,000 new housing units for staff. Levy noted the county's condition that 70% of the workforce housing get built on campus. Even if Stanford staff who live on campus won't have to drive to work, their spouses and roommates might -- to get to their workplaces elsewhere in the county, Levy said.

But while Stanford argued that it was being asked to do the impossible, the county's team disagreed. Geoff Bradley, the planning consultant in charge of the environmental-impact report process, acknowledged that the university would need to add new transportation services but suggested that Stanford University is "one of the few places in the county where you can do this, where all of these pieces come together."

"The goal really is to create a dense, compact, comfortable environment and not repeat the auto-centric environment where everyone does have to get into their car," Bradley said.

Disputes over traffic restrictions dogged the process until the very end. On Oct. 21, Robert Reidy, Stanford's vice president for land, buildings and real estate, proposed a different approach to manage traffic: keep the existing "no net new commute trips," require the university to make intersection improvements to address the increase in reverse commutes and replace the existing "daily trips" standard with one that considers a "vehicle miles traveled (VMT)."

But with the county preparing for its final scheduled hearing on the general use permit, it became clear that the board was unlikely to budge from the conditions of approval recommended by the county. Just before the Nov. 5 hearing, Simitian and Supervisor Cindy Chavez proposed in a memo some revisions to the conditions, including new provisions that would give Stanford "trip credits" for providing child care services, for constructing affordable housing and for providing Marguerite bus service (or another transit service) to non-Stanford-affiliated people in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and unincorporated San Mateo County. These credits could be applied to the county's tallies of reverse commutes and average daily traffic.

That, however, was not enough for Stanford. Shell told the Weekly that the university had commissioned numerous traffic engineering firms to evaluate the county's conditions and to see if they were feasible.

"The analysis kept coming back that they were infeasible," Shell told the Weekly. "And the penalty of that -- if we were unable to meet those conditions -- meant immediate suspension of construction of new development. We didn't feel we were in a position to accept conditions that we did not believe we could meet."

A deal -- or a deal breaker?

If disagreements over conditions of approval sowed the seeds of a stalemate, one incident in the spring created a fissure between the county and university so great that neither one could span it during the months that followed.

In mid-March, Stanford and the Palo Alto Unified School District kicked off a discussion of how the university could compensate for the new students who would be living in new Stanford housing and attending district schools. Under state law, counties and cities are unable to impose requirements on developers pertaining to schools beyond a school-mitigation fee, and the district would have been eligible for only about $4.2 million from Stanford, far short of what would be needed to educate the hundreds of new students.

After several days of negotiations using a professional mediator, the two sides unveiled on April 15 the result: a $138-million deal under which Stanford would provide the district between $5,800 and $8,450 for every student that Stanford's expansion would bring to the campus; $15 million for an "innovative space" that would be shared by the university and the school district; and $500,000 for various transportation improvements near schools.

The deal, however, came with a key condition. It was contingent on the county inking a development agreement with Stanford.

For Simitian and Chavez, that was a deal breaker. One day after the deal was announced, Simitian stated that he and Chavez were indefinitely suspending their negotiations with Stanford on a development agreement. By conditioning its mitigations for schools on a broader development agreement, Stanford was using Palo Alto students as a "bargaining chip" to get out of other requirements such as housing and traffic mitigations, Simitian told the Weekly at the time.

"What we're faced with now is, in what purports to be an agreement, is a pretty explicit threat: If you don't back off on expectations of traffic mitigations and open space protections, we won't honor our commitment that we made to the school kids in Palo Alto," Simitian said. "That's not a good-faith effort."

County leaders also argued that Stanford had violated the ground rules for its negotiations with the county. The ground rules allowed Stanford and the county to discuss the development agreement with other "interested parties," including public agencies, but expressly prohibited making "a deal between the party and the interested party that would be presented as a proposal during the negotiations period."

The county's decision to call-off negotiations rankled some Palo Alto Unified board members.

"If the end result is that our students get less, then I think Supervisor Simitian will inevitably be blamed -- and properly, in my opinion," board member Ken Dauber said at a May 14 meeting.

But while Simitian and Chavez rejected Stanford's proposal for a development agreement, they continued to call for Stanford to maintain its pledge to the Palo Alto school district, at one point making it a condition for reopening the negotiations.

Once closed, however, the negotiations between the county and Stanford never reopened. County staff and supervisors opted to stay the course on using a traditional approval process while Stanford consistently argued that by providing significant community benefits upfront, it would need a development agreement to provide guarantees of the county's approval for future development. Reidy wrote on Oct. 21 that the development agreement is "the only legislative tool that can provide such predictability -- there is no other."

"It is undisputed that county laws and regulations that affect Stanford's academic and housing development under the general use permit can be changed absent a development agreement," Reidy wrote. "For example, the county could impose new fees that would make development under the general use permit economically infeasible. This is the type of uncertainty that dissuades an applicant from investing in long-term planning and prevents an applicant from committing to expensive community benefits that go beyond the conditions of approval."

But county staff saw Stanford's insistence on a development agreement as a way to negotiate its way out of the conditions of approval. In June, when several Planning Commissioners signaled their interest in having more negotiations with Stanford, Gallegos reminded the commission: "This is not a negotiation process. This is a regulatory process."

"We don't negotiate away conditions of approval," Gallegos said.

Some pressure, then the stalemate

The tension between Stanford and its critics reached its apogee on Oct. 22, when the Board of Supervisors convened at Palo Alto City Hall for what turned out to be the final meeting on the general use permit. Prior to the meeting, more than 100 Stanford students chanted, "Cut our housing? We say no. / Stanford has got to go!" and "Down, down with exploitation! Up, up with mitigation!"

Speakers talked about the need to keep the university accountable for the impacts of its growth. Erica Scott, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, drew applause from the assembled crowd after she accused the university of having an "incredibly conservative bias."

"It means that whenever Stanford is making a decision, it will always prioritize its interests first. That's how institutions operate," Scott said. "Student pressure is absolutely vital in forcing Stanford to create decisions that are inclusive in their scope and that take into account repercussions that echo beyond Stanford campus."

Things got even dicier at the meeting itself, with close to 300 people packing into the Council Chambers and spilling over into the lobby, where the meeting was televised. Some of the public speakers, including Stanford doctors, nurses and professors, spoke in favor of the university's request for a development agreement.

Buzz Thompson, a Stanford law professor who had previously served as head of the Woods Institute for the Environment, told the board that the institute's headquarters, which was made possible by the 2000 general use permit, was "crucial to our success" and urged the board to support the new permit. Jonathan Levin, deal of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, made the same request.

"Growth is intrinsically tied up with the excellence of the university," Levin said.

But of the roughly 140 people who spoke, the vast majority urged the board to require "full mitigation" and to hold the line on the county's conditions of approval. These requests came not just from residents who tend to view most new developments with skepticism. They also came from dozens of local officials, many of whom had praised Stanford at prior hearings, from public-school advocates wearing "Full Mitigation" stickers and from hundreds of Stanford students, including undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

Graduate student Alexa Russo spoke on behalf of Stanford Solidarity Network, a group of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, who requested more support in terms of housing and child care services.

"While we do different jobs and face different conditions, we are linked by our dire need for affordable housing and our concern about the equity implications of Stanford's development plans, not only for us but the community as a whole," Russo said.

After the Oct. 22 meeting, Stanford and the county continued to exchange proposals in hopes of breaking the stalemate. Days before the scheduled Nov. 5 hearing, Stanford presented the county a "proposed motion," which called for suspending the hearing and directing the county executive to "ensure" that county staff and Stanford representatives meet regularly between now and Feb. 1 to "work collaboratively toward a revised set of draft conditions of approval that are feasible and that establish clearly defined requirements."

Simitian and Chavez proposed their own conditions, including trip "credits" for reverse commutes and average daily traffic; a new study to create "affordability standards" for graduate students; and the establishment of a "school operations funding formula" along the lines of the one contained in the doomed agreement between Stanford and the school district.

The conditions, however, proved moot. As Nov. 5 approached, the two sides weren't getting any closer to consensus, they told the Weekly. Facing the prospect of a Pyrrhic victory, the university decided to walk away.

Who's responsible?

Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president for government and community relations, who took part in the last-minute discussions, said it became apparent to Stanford that the board majority wasn't willing to delay its consideration of the application or to consider a development agreement, as Stanford had requested.

"We did not get any affirmative answers. We didn't see that the position on the county's side was changing," McCown said. "Since we've been very consistent that the development-agreement piece is critically important to what we'd like to do and what we think the community would like us to do, we didn't see how we could move forward."

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who was not available for an interview for this article, issued his own letter to the Stanford community on Nov. 1, explaining the university's decision to withdraw and promising a "new phase of engagement with our local communities."

"Through that process, we hope to gain a deeper mutual understanding of the challenges facing our region, how Stanford can best enhance its contribution to addressing those challenges, and what the implications are for our long-term campus development," Tessier-Lavigne wrote.

But some critics of the proposals, including members of Scope 2035, believe that by withdrawing its application, the university is seeking to avoid -- rather than engage -- the students who have been calling for the university to do more. Ham, an urban studies major, lamented that she and other activists will soon be graduating.

Convinced that Stanford's strategy amounts to waiting its critics out, Ham said the group is now focusing on passing its knowledge to the next generation of student activists.

Others have blamed the county and Simitian for halting negotiations with Stanford in April. Supervisor Dave Cortese voiced his frustrations at the Sept. 24 hearing, at one point accusing County Executive Jeffrey Smith of "running a rogue operation" by not considering a proposal from Stanford in June and not submitting any counter-offers.

Dauber, meanwhile, criticized Simitian for proposing a "school operation funding formula" for Palo Alto schools that would fall well short of what the university had offered in April. Both he and board Vice President Todd Collins said they were taken aback by the fact that the district wasn't consulted before the formula was proposed.

"It's hard for me to understand how this fits with the collaborative, respectful relationship between the governing bodies to have no consultation with district," Dauber said.

Simitian said he believes that the issues that came up over the course of the approval process -- and the "full mitigation" standard -- will not go away any time soon. Simitian's seen Stanford protest new policies before and then ultimately accept them, namely during the last general-use permit approval process in 2000.

Simitian, who served on the board back then, said the 2000 process resulted in a new "housing linkage" policy (which requires Stanford to provide 605 housings units for every 500,000 square feet of academic space), a "no net new commute trips" standard and the existing policy on protecting the foothills from development.

Simitian's take on Stanford's withdrawal is simple: The university "didn't want to fully mitigate the impacts of development."

"Not sure that will serve the university well in the years ahead, but it's their right to make that choice," Simitian said. "In this climate, getting approval for 3.5 million square feet of development and pre-authorization for 20 years is hard to imagine.

"Yet we got there. As long as there was full mitigation."

Related content:

Over the past year, Stanford and Santa Clara County clashed over numerous issues. Here are three key points of contention.

• Palo Alto Weekly journalists discuss what led to the withdrawal of Stanford's application on the "Behind the Headlines" webcast and podcast.

Editorial: On the eve of county approval, Stanford withdraws its development application and forfeits years of work. There was a better way.


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.


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 8, 2019 at 7:38 am

Stanford is taking its marbles and going home. It's no better than a schoolyard bully.

It's too bad. That would have been a lot of non-tech jobs for the region. These jobs don't go away during a recession and help even out the bubbles that form in this area. Your house price, your job and your retirement account are all tied to Google/Facebook stock price.

14 people like this
Posted by Who's the bully?
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 8, 2019 at 8:16 am

Who's the bully? Stanford is the only regional employer the county expects to provide concessions on this scale. Why don't we expect the same from Facebook, Google, Apple, and other large employers in the region who are expanding at the same rate and with similar negative externalities? All regional mega-employers should be expected to add no-net new trips, contribute to public transport, contribute land for school campuses or other non-profits, and help solve the housing crises they create. Stanford already gives back way more than other employers in the form of school campuses, the Marguarite shuttle, recreational and enrichment opportunities for the public, public service, etc. I'm glad Stanford pulled out of these negotiations because Stanford was being bullied by the county, but it is a lost opportunity for the region. The county bungled this one.

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:08 am

Posted by Who's the bully?, a resident of Los Altos

>> Who's the bully? Stanford is the only regional employer the county expects to provide concessions on this scale.
Why don't we expect the same from Facebook, Google, Apple, and other large employers in the region

Google, Facebook, Intel, and Cisco have been involved in the housing/transportation discussion. Google seems to be doing the most. They certainly haven't done full mitigation, but, at least they are discussing housing and transportation in public. Facebook has been talking about it. Apple is another story: "We pay taxes." Web Link

In the Weekly article, I particularly liked this:


Speakers talked about the need to keep the university accountable for the impacts of its growth. Erica Scott, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, drew applause from the assembled crowd after she accused the university of having an "incredibly conservative bias."

"It means that whenever Stanford is making a decision, it will always prioritize its interests first. That's how institutions operate," Scott said. "Student pressure is absolutely vital in forcing Stanford to create decisions that are inclusive in their scope and that take into account repercussions that echo beyond Stanford campus."


Wise beyond her years. Unfortunately, and predictably, Stanford's GSB confirmed her view exactly:


Jonathan Levin, deal of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, made the same request.

"Growth is intrinsically tied up with the excellence of the university," Levin said.


Grow or die. What else would you expect from the conservative GSB?

14 people like this
Posted by Joe is not the hero
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:49 am

Maybe you should just put Simitian on the masthead and get it over with.

Simitian was both arrogant and incompetent. His hubris is matched only by Stanford's.

Now no one will get anything, an abject and predicable failure by Simitian and yet the Weekly is helping Joe to spin it as a victory for "the community."

I take great comfort in the fact that he will never be elected to Congress from this district [portion removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Ray Price
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:01 am

Joe is not the hero: "I take great comfort in the fact that he will never be elected to Congress from this district [portion removed.]"

I know it's tough for Stanford employees having a very emotional reaction to learning they will have to follow the rules for once. But this could not be more wrong, and the evidence is there if you choose to look at it (trigger warning: it may hurt your feelings). The exits from past elections consistently show Simitian pulling down a higher vote share than other candidates (Clinton, Harris, Eshoo, etc) in NON-Palo Alto cities.

12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:09 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I suggest Stanford deal with their campus rape culture before they resume their 'Bigger is better, we must engage in massive growth or we will crumble and die' hysteria.

8 people like this
Posted by eenee
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:33 am

eenee is a registered user.

They should just build in Redwood City. Evidently we have a city Council that has no concern at all for traffic mitigation or affordable housing

7 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Rez
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:33 am

I agree with Who's the Bully? What's interesting to me is that I haven't seen a discussion of the feasibility of the County's mandated traffic restrictions or the desirability of the outcome. This article glosses over the issue just stating, "Geoff Bradley,...acknowledged that the university would need to add new transportation services but suggested that Stanford University is "one of the few places in the county where you can do this, where all of these pieces come together...The goal really is to create a dense, compact, comfortable environment."

What does this mean? It means the County's goal was to re-engineer Stanford into a self-contained/closed campus - essentially a "dense, compact" island where public transportation (which we don't have) would be the only option for people living in new the ee housing. Not Ubers or Lyfts, as that would be a vehicle. Over 2000 new homes and no cars.

It works in an urban area where there is extensive public transportation - like Boston or New York or Chicago.

I can't even imagine the uproar Palo Altans would have if the County mandated that Crescent Park needed to add over 2000 new housing units - which would make us dense and compact instead of suburban with R1 zoning throughout - and then say, and we're monitoring all of your traffic and there can be no increase in traffic. If there is, then whatever project you're working on, you have to stop, you've violated the terms of our mandate. Citizens of Palo Alto are in a panic that the State may mandate higher density near public transit. Yet, it's fine for the County to turn Stanford into a "dense, compact" island.

Of course every engineering company Stanford had analyze the scenario said it wasn't feasible. I don't think it was desirable either.

6 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:59 am

To build on @Crescent Park Rez, the draconian levels and impractical nature of the mitigations would probably cause them to get thrown out in court, if Stanford wanted to go that route.

You want to build office space, but to do so you need to *build* on your *own land* sufficient housing for all the workers? And once they live there, they can't generate any traffic, ever? If either of these standards were applied to anyone else, there would never be any commercial development in Silicon Valley again - all that could exist would be self-contained company towns.

That's not planning, that's nonsense. Joe, maybe you can hurry back to PA City Council (like your friend Liz Kniss) and muck things up there.

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:03 pm

Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> To build on @Crescent Park Rez

A question for both of you: Is there any limit to the number of office jobs that any employer, whether it be Stanford, Google, Cisco, Facebook Apple, or anybody else, jobs that any employer can add? Because, it is so easy to add 10,000 jobs now that all you need is a desk and a chair and a laptop. Unlike the old factories and labs, and even offices with lots of filing cabinets and paper files, it takes a tiny amount of space per employee using laptops. You can probably house 10-20 people in your condo or house yourself. Maybe 30-50 for a large house. So, where are they going to live? How are they getting to work? Are they going to drive? Where will they park? Do you have room for 10, 20, 30, or 50 cars to park on your property?

The big companies have made it clear that the reason they are here is because of the advantages of having a huge labor pool of 25-50 year old at-will employees.

There is no natural limit such as there used to be on concentration of employees. For that reason, it is perfectly rational for the city and county to focus on the housing and transportation required for people to live and to get to work.

17 people like this
Posted by Only Reasonable
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:11 pm

The point is not Joe Simitian, although our city owes him our immense thanks for his bold, skilled and faithful leadership on this issue.

The point is that development causes impacts, big development causes big impacts, and developers must be held responsible for mitigating those impacts. Nothing unreasonable there.

So for now Palo Alto and nearby towns will be shielded from contending with the increase in employees, students, traffic, etc that would have come had the Supes caved. Should Stanford grow up and be ready to act more responsibly for its actions, then it can expand. No one other than Stanford is to blame.

4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Rez
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:26 pm

@anon. I didn't say it wasn't rationale for the County to focus on housing, transportation and employee count, I said that in looking at the Conditons of Approval for traffic, I could see how it would be impossible for Stanford to comply with the County mandated conditions and therefore, understandable that they would withdraw their application.

If you are offered a permit that has conditions that you cannot meet, why would you accept the permit?

Regarding altering or reducing the size of the development itself, that never came up because the County absolutely refused to engage with Stanford. There were no discussions.I don't know why the Weekly keeps reporting that negotiations/discussions were stopped - they never started. See the County's record on this. Supervisor Wasserman wanted to know why no one at the County ever responded to letters and proposals submitted by Stanford. No one even acknowledged them. He felt that they had not done as they had been directed to do - that they basically defied orders. Watch the meeting online. Maybe the Weekly should watch that one and do a story on it. That would be news.

1 person likes this
Posted by Net of what
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:34 pm

What does "no net new commute trips" mean?

Net of what?

5 people like this
Posted by Nanny
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:38 pm

Mauricio- is that your excuse of the day why Stanford should not expand???? Surely you can do better. Plus over the years you have claimed that Palo Alto is a dump- surely Stanford’s expansion would have improved the city.
I do hope that the weekly- Simitians publicity agent and head cheerleader is negatively impacted by this action of Stanford’s. Expect even more emails and pop ups asking for money from the weekly

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Posted by Crescent Park Rez, a resident of Crescent Park

>> t wasn't rationale for the County to focus on housing, transportation and employee count, I said that in looking at the Conditons of Approval for traffic,

>> Regarding altering or reducing the size of the development itself, that never came up because the County absolutely refused to engage with Stanford. There were no discussions.

Stanford, though not-for-profit, as a corporation-like private entity, seemed to have forgotten that negotiations with public entities require a lot of transparency. I don't want to engage, -again-, in a 'he-said she-said" regarding the school board negotiation attempt, but, while Stanford may be private and may expect that private-party negotiations are private, it doesn't work that way with public entities. [Brown Act, Bagley-Keene Act, Public Records Act, etc. etc. etc. etc.]

Now, regarding what Stanford needs to do to get things (re-)started: if there is to be a major expansion in number of employees, then, present a realistic transportation plan regarding where those employees likely will live, and, how they will get into Stanford through Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Once -the public- knows what the -real- plan is, then, the representatives of the public- the city councils, the SCC board, etc., can respond, as can PAUSD, Menlo school boards, etc.

Simply put, Stanford needs to be transparent regarding its public dealings.

9 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Rez
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 2:23 pm

@anon. You missed the point. The Board voted on and approved the County engaging in development agreement discussions. It did not mean that a development agreement would be used, but that the County was to meet with Stanford and discuss concerns of the County and communities, their needs, etc. It was a unaminous vote. Board members were very surprised to find out that not one discussion had taken place that the County staff did not even acknowledge letters with offers from Stanford.

Stanford kept saying we want to discuss a Development Agreement. And, since the Board had voted unanimously to engage in discussions, this wasn't an unreasonable request on Stanford's part.

Then County Staff said no, we don't do development agreements so there's nothing to discuss. And, others start talking about "negotiations" in public and transparency.

What negotiations? There were no negotiations. They never even had a discussion even though the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to engage in discussions.

19 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Did we all forget? Here's the headline from a year ago, Oct 17, 2018: County agrees to negotiate a development agreement with Stanford behind closed doors Web Link The vote was unanimous. Simitian said he felt "optimism about the exercise.”

Now history is being re-written. Simitian and his shills say: "the County has never done a development agreement in its history, why would it do one now? And if it did, it would have to be negotiated in public!" It takes a real pro to pull off a flip-flop like that with a straight face.

Hard to blame Stanford for getting whiplash when the agency changes the rules in the middle of the game. The two sides literally never negotiated, not once. What drove the change?

Simitian threw a tantrum over Stanford working out an agreement with the PA schools, which he had planned to sell out in the DA negotiation. He couldn't sell out the housing advocates and the unions - Chavez and the other Supes would never have agreed.

So, with no cards left to play, he just jammed up the process and everyone ended up with nothing. Which is fine for all the Palo Alto NIMBYs (Simitian's base) but basically a zero for everyone else. 'Atta boy, Joe!

9 people like this
Posted by Thanks Joe
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2019 at 5:01 pm

According to Collins and Dauber, Simitian was willing to take less for the schools than PAUSD negotiated! And didn't bother to tell them he was throwing them under the bus!

It's pretty remarkable what Simitian fans are willing to excuse. [Portion removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm

In my opinion, the County Supervisors and Stanford -- yes absolutely, Stanford -- have together done the region an immense service.

The costs of economic expansion, and who should bear those costs, is the Bay Area’s central challenge today.

The County-Stanford dialogue has been by far the most through, quantitative, and public discussion of this challenge that the Bay Area has ever had, and it’s been overdue. For too long, the costs of commercial expansion -- most recognizably housing and transportation, but also utility services, public safety, parks, schools, and a host of other downstream issues -- have been simply ignored as the Valley has grown.

With almost no exceptions (Mountain View’s North Bayshore planning process with Google is one), regional development has proceeded under the apparent rubric that these things are all unconnected, and therefore dismissable. But in reality they are =completely= connected; and the denser the Valley gets, the more those connections matter, and cost. The neglect of this fact has come back to us all, in the form of the region’s legion of social ills from traffic congestion to the flight of the missing middle to the growth in RV- and tent-dwellers. It’s been high time all this was dragged into the light, and the County-Stanford process has done that.

This situation is particularly challenging because it requires a “system” view, and approach. I’m not optimistic we’ll get that from Sacramento, which strikes me as having a few too many political gunslingers making opportunistic deals with special-interest silos, while offering symbolic thoughts and prayers to everybody else. So our region will have to fix this ourselves, and the very first step is surely to measure what we’re dealing with.

The GUP dialogue has laid out by far the clearest accounting of this landscape ever seen in this region: this many technical jobs, that many non-technical jobs, this much housing, that much -affordable- housing, this much traffic, that much reverse traffic, this many kids in schools and where, that many people in libraries, how much fire service from where, how many people through the train station, and so on and so on and so on.

That accounting is going to be critical if we’re ever to achieve sustainability as a region, because right now we’re clearly not there.

So thank you Joe and the Supervisors and Staff for forcing the discussion, and thank you Stanford for wholeheartedly engaging in it. Wherever the GUP expansion ends up, your many person-years of joint effort has given us tools and processes we’re going to keep needing for a long time to come.

6 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 8, 2019 at 7:10 pm


There is important point that you do not address. Facebook and Google will continue massive development. There is no way Menlo Park and Mountain View will completely shut them down, but they are not going for a 15-year GUP either.

If Stanford goes to one-off approvals, do you think these systemic mitigations you seem to envision will really take place? How much consideration will Menlo Park and Mountain View give Palo Alto in the mitigations they require of their developers and companies?

4 people like this
Posted by Mary Ruth Leen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:56 pm

Mary Ruth Leen is a registered user.

Thank you, Mr. Simitian for swing through the attempts by Stanford to do an end run. Appreciate your continued caring for the citizens of Santa Clara County.
Keep up the good work!
A 30 Year Homeowner in Palo Alto.

6 people like this
Posted by Stanford is the #1 Commercial Property owner in SCC
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 11:00 am

From the SJ Merc: Stanford is the #1 Commercial Property owner (apart from their academic, housing, and open space real estate holdings) in Santa Clara County--ahead of Google, Apple and all other commercial property holders.

The reason the county controls the GUP environmental review process is that Stanford sits on county-controlled land. Google dealt with Mountain View as the controlling agency. Facebook dealt with Menlo Park. Each of these agencies has local policies that apply.

6 people like this
Posted by Lost Opportunity
a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 9, 2019 at 4:00 pm

Stanford can still add more employees and more students without constructing more space by packing more people into existing space. Stanford can also continue to expand facilities by buying and building elsewhere on the Peninsula.[From Redwood City to Mountain View, Stanford has already purchased/built/leased office complexes and apartments complexes for students/staff.] But now the additional students and workers will have to commute between communities. The result will be worse traffic, more demand for housing, and higher housing costs with no additional community benefits. County: how is this helpful?

At the same time, the County shouldn't expect Stanford alone to solve regional problems that have been created over time by a handful of very large employers. Why should Stanford face stringent requirements that other large regional builders like Facebook and Google do not have to provide? (such as no new net trips, constructing affordable housing, providing child care services, providing bus service to non-company-affiliated people...) The inconsistency is baffling and disturbing, especially since it is my opinion that Stanford already provides far more community benefits than those other companies. We should not ask more of Stanford than we ask of all the other companies that have a similar number of employees in this area. "Full Mitigation" on a regional level should be expected of all employers, and not applied randomly or inconsistently.

4 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2019 at 8:35 pm

@Mayor Filseth. Thank you for acknowledging the incredibly detailed analysis and plan that was developed by Stanford and then evaluated by an independent contractor in the EIR. If only every project had to project their growth twenty years out and determine everything from traffic impacts to the potential number of school children to attend PAUSD.

But, my gratitude stops there. Because, thanks to your work and the work of others back in 2013 to stop 60 affordable housing units for seniors from being developed (I believe that there are now just 16 homes planned for the space) SB50 is currently being re-written to target cities like Palo Alto. See: "Filseth also took part in the residents' campaign that successfully overturned the council's approval of a housing development on Maybell Avenue last year." Web Link

How is your "no growth" mentality any different from all those auto factory workers in the rust belt who are waiting for their good jobs from the 70's to come back? Or the miners in Kentucky and West Virginia who want to hang onto their coal mining jobs and are climate change deniers?

The "I don't want things to change/must cling to the past" mentality is how Trump got into office.

Should Stanford's GUP application have gone through? I don't really know. There was so much demonizing of Stanford that it was impossible to get a clear sense of what was proposed. And, our City Council was pretty clear that Stanford should not be allowed to add one more student or one more job. Wasn't there a middle ground? I can tell you that if we, as a community were given a choice between allowing growth at Stanford OR allowing more tech companies to expand, I'd choose a university anyday. Tech companies come and go; a university rarely does a massive layoff.

How much has Palo Alto changed since the 1970's when my husband took a job here? It's been a lifetime of changes. And, we embrace it. Change happens. Fight it. Ignore it. Or work to shape it.

We missed an opportunity to work towards shaping our future. I hope we don't miss the next opportunity (thought doubtful it will be with Stanford). Oh, wait. SB50 will be shaping our future. Thank you for that.

4 people like this
Posted by lili li
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2019 at 7:32 am

Stanford can play hardball too if it wishes to do so. Close the Dish to outsiders. Close all its roads to outsiders. Close those two PAUSD schools on Stanford property. Fill the football stadium with events day and night every weekend. Fill Bing concert hall every night. Fill the amphitheater as often as possible. Shut down the free Margureite shuttle service except to those with a university id. Invite in restaurant-competing food trucks every day and night. Open up the open space for events, any group that can pay. Refuse to allow tourists on campus. Lock down all the buildings. Beef up security to keep outsiders out. Etc.

6 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2019 at 7:35 am

@Who's the bully? - Stanford doesn't pay property taxes on much of what it owns, as opposed to the regional employers you mention. Those property taxes the regional employers pay, help fund the social services, education and transportation (roads, etc).

8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 11:19 am

Posted by Mary, a resident of Crescent Park

>> But, my gratitude stops there. Because, thanks to your work and the work of others back in 2013 to stop 60 affordable housing units for seniors from being developed (I believe that there are now just 16 homes planned for the space) SB50 is currently being re-written to target cities like Palo Alto.

So, because a poorly-conceived project was blocked, it SB50 is the opponents fault? BTW, why isn'f affordable housing being built in the Fry's site?

>> Should Stanford's GUP application have gone through? I don't really know. There was so much demonizing of Stanford that it was impossible to get a clear sense of what was proposed.

From this and your previous posts, I don't think you really grasp that "Stanford, Inc." is not a poor, underfunded "university". It is a modern, large scale enterprise. Not-for-profit, and, it enjoys all the benefits therefrom. But, it is a large employer, a large landowner, and has a significant impact on local transportation requirements. It is appropriate for Santa Clara County, which has the -responsibility- to oversee development on non-incorporated lands, to consider the transportation impact of a large increase in Stanford employment.

Oh By The Way, I would and do say the same about Facebook, Google, Cisco, and Apple.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
8 hours ago

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

We keep referring to "the county". Please note that the biggest city in the county is San Jose which is currently being gutted by Google to build it's "modern city". It is buying up county owned land and converting it to a giant metropolis.

Within the county Palo Alto is a small city and SU is a giant university which provides many of the amenities, including employment of all type people required to run a city. SU is a non-profit while Google is a commercial entity which has a tax base that still needs to be reviewed as to what the county has given away for their presence.
So evaluating the pluses and minuses at the county level you have very different outcomes regarding how land is used and appropriated. The county has big players and big issues. All of those issues implode onto our small city as to what we are willing to give away and what we want. Not an easy task - so let the people who have all of the facts regarding land use and tax base a break here. A giant balancing act in which you cannot isolate a topic relative to outcomes since it is all inter-related. Giving concessions to on side and not to the other leads to poor management of land use.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
7 hours ago

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Note in the SJM today 11.11 - "Upcoming bond christened as Prop 13". It is specific to Bond supported construction costs for California schools - K-12, and includes community colleges, CSU, and the UC system. So at the "County" level this is another qualifier in a negotiation as to how PAUSD schools can proceed on their long term goals - which includes the implosion of SU growth and it's affects on our schools. It is also a qualifier in a negotiation with SU in that that state is going to fill in the blanks here so SU does not have to pony up more money.

No - the state is starting over with the prop numbers so it is not the Prop 13 of yesteryear. CA Gov trying to create more confusion which will have an effect on the bond fund coming up in the next election. So a wait and see here as to how much the PAUSD can justify getting from the bond fund - should it pass - another source of income regarding our schools. Note that Foothill CC is not in the city of Palo Alto so the negotiation regarding growth on that campus will fall into the hands of other city and county officials who are also working issues with De Anza CC that now has severe building issues - their performing arts center and main garage. Foothill and De Anza are politically tied up together within the county.
Yes - this has everything to do with SU since the cost on their growth can be offset by other contingencies. So there is a balancing act here at the county level with a lot of big time players moving land and construction around.

As a side issue RWC is in San Mateo County and will be promoting their own issues concerning SU growth in that county.

3 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Crescent Park
4 hours ago

Terrific analysis, Palo Alto Online. We're lucky to have you. The whole issue has been profoundly complicated.

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

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