Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 22, 1997

Yes on Measure O

Measure O represents a development proposal that has been carefully reviewed and approved by unanimous vote of the Palo Alto City Council and, most importantly, reflects many of Palo Alto's long-desired goals and needs for housing and improved traffic circulation patterns.

Before the Stanford Shopping Center was built in 1955, local residents were noting the need to connect Sand Hill Road--then known as Willow Road--to El Camino Real. But early proposals called for much more than a connection. The state proposed building a freeway instead. Thankfully that idea was laid to rest long ago.

Since then various proposals for an extension have been advanced and have failed for sundry legal and political reasons. Until now most of that debate has been confined to public meeting halls and court rooms. But on Nov. 4, Palo Alto residents will finally have the opportunity to voice their collective opinion on this legacy of local politics.

On that day, we strongly encourage residents to vote yes on Measure O and reject Measure M.

Measure O was placed on the ballot by the Palo Alto City Council as a referendum of its comprehensive development agreement with Stanford. It reflects many compromises and improvements since the package of Sand Hill Road projects first emerged in 1992. It has been the focus of countless informal neighborhood and formal government meetings and an eight-volume Environmental Impact Report. And, most importantly, many of the housing and roadway proposals contained in Measure O reflect long-desired Palo Alto goals and needs, objectives that have been noted in this community's Comprehensive Plan. Voters now have the opportunity to see those goals achieved.

Like many, we do not eagerly embrace every aspect of this $320 million proposal. It's not perfect. But its benefits far outweigh any of its weaknesses. And given the complexity and history of this debate, many have doubted whether a project with positive community aspects of this proportion would ever come forward.

The benefits include: the building of 628 units of housing that will give priority to Stanford employees; the construction of 500 units of senior housing including independent-living units, assisted living units and skilled nursing units; and greatly improving circulation in the area by creating new roads and expanding Quarry Road and extending it to El Camino Real. Most of all it will provide the long-needed Sand Hill Road connection to El Camino and expand the road to provide relief to the congestion that exists and reduce cut-through traffic in Menlo Park from drivers seeking to avoid Sand Hill backups.

We explained in extensive detail our support and concerns about the Sand Hill projects during a three-part series on Jan. 22, Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 of this year. But when residents go to the polls we ask them to keep a few things in particular in mind:

The 47-acre Stanford West field has long been zoned for housing. Stanford could build 1,100 housing units on this site. It is proposing to build 628. Should Measure O fail, Stanford has every right to proceed with a 1,100-unit housing development on this land.

The housing project would be set back from the creek nearly the length of a football field. This means that of the 47 acres, at least 18 will be set aside as open space. We believe the community will benefit from both the housing it needs as well as the preservation of the most environmentally sensitive section of this property.

Stanford originally requested a 160,000-square-foot expansion of the shopping center, more than 110,000 square feet above the center's current development cap. We believed in January that Stanford had not justified why it needed that much additional space. The City Council agreed, and during the review process cut that figure in half, to 80,000 square feet. Stanford says it needs that much room to maintain the competitive viability of the center and to help pay for the road improvements. In addition, it would provide about $250,000 a year in annual sales tax revenue to the city. We are satisfied that this represents an acceptable increase for the center, particularly given its new circulation patterns.

Stanford is paying the $20 million cost of all of the road improvements. This is a first. A similar Stanford proposal for a Sand Hill extension in 1978 was derailed when the city could not form an assessment district to help pay for it.

The project, no doubt, is large and complex. But the city of Palo Alto has to take some responsibility for this. Ten years ago the City Council indicated it wanted to know the university's plans for the corridor and did not want to approve Sand Hill projects on a piecemeal basis. Stanford has complied with that request.

Lastly, the road expansion is no freeway. This is a connection and a widening of Sand Hill Road designed to provide needed relief to an existing congestion problem. Palm Drive, Arboretum, Santa Cruz Avenue and Embarcadero Road are all four-lane roads; adding two lanes to Sand Hill will bring it up to the appropriate size for the demand placed upon it.

The City Council has spent years reviewing and modifying the proposal now before the voters in Measure O. It has changed markedly from when initially proposed by Stanford, and is worthy of strong community endorsement. It provides badly needed road improvements and housing, while giving unprecedented protection to San Francisquito Creek.

We encourage residents to vote "yes" on Measure O.