Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 22, 1997

Twenty questions

Ten questions about Measure O:

1. What changes did the Palo Alto City Council make in Stanford's proposed project before it went before the voters as Measure O?

The Palo Alto City Council cut the shopping center expansion in half from 160,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet. The compromise also limited the Sand Hill Road expansion to two lanes from El Camino Real to Arboretum, required the university not to develop 139 acres of county-controlled land on the south side of Sand Hill (40 acres of which is the Stanford Golf Course) and required Stanford to include a child care center and a 675-square-foot deli/convenience store at the Stanford West apartments to reduce residents' daily car trips.

2. What kind of housing will be built and how much will these units cost to rent?

One element of Measure O calls for the construction of 628 units of housing targeted for Stanford faculty and employees, 388 independent-living senior condominiums, 66 assisted-living senior units and 47 skilled nursing rooms for seniors. Only the condominiums will be for sale. The below-market-rate requirement for all the housing will be satisfied through the Stanford West Apartment project. Twenty-five percent of all the units will be available at below market rate. The BMR program will be maintained for 59 years. Base BMR rents will begin at $641 for a studio, $731 for a one-bedroom, $903 for a two-bedroom and $1,238 for a three-bedroom (all in 1996 dollars). Stanford officials don't know how much rent will be for the market-rate units. As for who gets to rent the units, first priority will be given to Stanford employees, second priority will be given to those employed on Stanford lands and third priority will be given to those who live in Palo Alto or Menlo Park.

3. What does the EIR say about the impacts of Measure O on the 47-acre site and the creek area?

The EIR states that the construction of the Stanford West apartments would mean the loss of 25 acres of annual grassland habitat, which supports riparian species in the area. The EIR acknowledges that "the project site is the only substantial amount of grassland adjacent to the creek between the point near Stanford Golf Course where the creek exits the foothills, and the point downstream where the creek enters the Baylands." Additionally, 14 trees, including several native oaks, would be lost; a "significant" short-term detriment to raptors and other birds, according to the EIR. Of the 47 acres, 18 would remain as open space between the project and the creek. Mitigations such as oil-and-grease traps in the storm drains were suggested to combat the added pollutants that would run off into the creek as a consequence of increased urban pollutants, such as car emissions, stemming from the project. These pollutants present a danger to steelhead trout, red-legged frogs and other species in the creek, the EIR states.

Over all, 1,198 trees would be removed as part of the Measure O project and road expansion. Stanford plans to plant about two new trees for each tree removed.

4. Is it true that Stanford could have built the Stanford West housing project earlier and may still be able to build on the site even if Measure M succeeds?

Measure M's drafters were very careful not to require that "Ohlone Field" be designated open space. The land there has been zoned for housing for years, and Stanford has been paying taxes on it to that effect. To suddenly change the zoning could be interpreted as a "taking." If M passes, the city of Palo Alto would be required to look for alternatives to putting the housing on Ohlone field; this could be a lengthy process, but it might not be successful. Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations, said that while Stanford may eventually build housing if Measure M should pass, it won't be anywhere near the sites that the alternative measure suggests for it.

And, yes, Stanford could legally have built the housing on the Stanford West site if it had separated it from the rest of the Sand Hill proposals.

5. If O passes, what would happen with the portion of Sand Hill Road that passes through Menlo Park?

It would likely remain the way it is now for the time being. The Menlo Park City Council has indicated that it will not agree to an expansion of the portion of the road that extends from the San Francisquito Creek bridge to Santa Cruz Avenue. The EIR states that Stanford is obligated to pay 100 percent of the estimated $7 million cost of expanding that Menlo Park section.

The university's offer to widen the road and the bridge will be good for 10 years, but Stanford says it would go ahead and build the rest of its project without widening the road at Menlo Park, if necessary. "Palo Alto will enjoy the improvements at Quarry Road and Vineyard Lane and the access to the medical center will be much improved," in that case Horton said, adding "there will be a regrettable traffic situation that is undesirable in Menlo Park and at Stanford."

6. What does the EIR say about the air quality impacts of the Measure O project?

During the construction phase, the EIR says the development along Sand Hill Road would cause an increase in inhalable particulate matter. This impact could be mitigated with dust control measures. The EIR also found "significant unavoidable" impacts on air quality from air pollutants being generated by increased traffic. The increased levels of emissions generated by cars "would exceed the 80 lbs/day threshold and could hinder regional and local attainment of state ozone and PM(10) standards." A variety of alternative transportation measures were recommended to ease the effects of the air quality impacts including improved bicycle and pedestrian access to and from the housing and Marguerite service to the development sites. These were included in the final version of the project.

In February, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District wrote to the city expressing concern over the potential air quality impacts. In it, Ellen Garvey, an air pollution control officer, suggested traffic demand management (TDM) programs similar to the ones Stanford has implemented on campus. "We think it is likely that if (these) measures were put in place, traffic would be reduced to such an extent that the need to widen Sand Hill and Quarry Roads would be obviated," she wrote. Such a TDM program was not included.

7. Why does Stanford want to build housing on this site and not move it somewhere else?

First, the 47-acre parcel has longed been zoned for housing and Stanford has been paying equivalent property taxes on that site for years. The land is zoned for 1,100 units, but Stanford is proposing to build 628. All of the suggested alternatives, according to Horton, are unfeasible. One proposal is to build part of the housing on El Camino Park--across from Stanford Shopping Center--and part on an area near Hoover Pavilion. The EIR noted that moving it to El Camino Park across from the Shopping Center is unworkable partly because of its location and use as a softball field. The Hoover Site also would not work, the EIR notes, because to fit the number of units would involve cutting down more than 300 trees. Another proposal is to put the housing on the Campus West site located on the south side of Sand Hill across from the Oak Creek Apartments. This land is strictly off-limits for housing, Horton said, because it is the last remaining piece of academic lands available to the university.

8. Where would the additional 80,000 square feet of development be located at the shopping center, and how much sales tax revenue would this generate for the city?

The shopping center expansion would be spread across three new buildings: a 10,000-square-foot building on Arboretum Road just west of Neiman-Marcus; a two-story, 61,000-square-foot building just west of the Macy's Men's Store and a 9,000-square-foot building at the corner of El Camino Real and Quarry Road. A parking structure south of Macy's and Bloomingdale's will have room for 1,535 cars and will have elevated walkways into both stores. The expansion will generate an estimated $250,000 a year in sales tax revenue for the city of Palo Alto.

9. How much traffic will be generated by the Measure O project? What will be the impacts on Menlo Park?

As proposed, with the 80,000 square feet of shopping center addition, the Stanford projects would generate about 11,000 new daily car trips. Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Marvin Overway has said that the projects and the associated four-lane Sand Hill Road would shift traffic from Highway 101 to Interstate 280. Overway added that because of the priority given to Stanford employees in the new housing, 17 percent fewer vehicle trips can be expected than would normally accompany a project of this size. If Sand Hill Road is widened and extended, the EIR predicts that traffic levels in Menlo Park would be reduced by 15 percent from projected levels for the year 2000. This is due to a significant shift in traffic from west Menlo Park streets to the Sand Hill corridor. Because of this, the EIR notes, traffic at the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Santa Cruz Avenue/Alameda de las Pulgas would increase to 54,000 daily trips by the year 2000. Without the project, the level of traffic would be 31,800 trips per day in 2000.

10. What would be the impact on local schools if Measure O is approved?

The Palo Alto Unified School District predicts that more than 290 school-age children would live at the Stanford West Apartments. In September, PAUSD and Stanford announced an agreement whereby Stanford would pay the district $2,500 per student annually. The agreement also calls for Stanford to "provide temporary capital assistance of up to $2 million to provide additional space for students residing at Stanford West." PAUSD Board President John Tuomy said the district had wanted Stanford to offer to build a new elementary school for the children at Stanford West, but the university couldn't find an appropriate site nearby.

Ten questions about Measure M:

1. Why are there fewer details available about the Measure M project than Measure O?

Measure O represents Stanford's proposed development plan, which has gone through the public-hearing process and been adopted by the Palo Alto City Council after debate and negotiation. An eight-volume EIR on the project has been developed and approved. As a result, many details are available for examination.

Measure M is an initiative that was drafted earlier this year by Measure O opponents, who gathered 4,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot. It does not represent any specific development plan but gives the city direction in several areas. For example, it would require the city to extend Sand Hill Road to El Camino, but it does not provide details about how it will be paid for and how many signalized crossings the extension would have. If it passes, Measure M will have to undergo an EIR of its own, and the required changes to the Comprehensive Plan will need to be made. Walt Hayes, a Measure M spokesman, and Peter Drekmeier, the campaign manager for Measure M, claim that much of the current EIR could be reused; a claim that Stanford officials deny.

2. Why do Measure M supporters want the area some call "Ohlone Field" left as open space?

Measure M supporters believe that it is important to preserve the 47-acre site because it is the last riparian corridor left as open space from the foothills to the Baylands. Besides their desire to protect the wildlife that live there--among them great blue herons, trout and red-legged frogs--Measure M supporters see a larger public good in maintaining an open meadow for future generations to enjoy. "The creek is really not just the creek. It is the meadow," said Debbie Mytels, Measure M campaign co-chair. By building on it, "it destroys something in our human nature," she said.

3. Where does M suggest putting the housing?

Measure M requires the city to work with Stanford "to identify potential methods" to designate the field as open space and move the housing somewhere else. Possible options include locating part of the housing on the site of El Camino Park, Hoover Pavilion and the Campus West site. The measure suggests using such techniques as transferring development rights to shift the housing.

4. If Measure M prevails, will the Sand Hill projects be built? Who will pay for it?

That depends on whom you ask. Stanford officials say no, it will not be completed as proposed. "As fiduciaries neither I nor the Board of Trustees can agree to squander resources on a measure that brings no benefits by comparison with Measure O, but imposes unconscionable costs on the responsible use of the legacy that Leland and Jane Stanford created for the benefit of future generations and their pursuit of teaching, learning and research. I will not be a party to such an undertaking," President Gerhard Casper said in recent state of the university address.

For their part, Measure M supporters think this is a campaign bluff. Drekmeier said connecting Sand Hill to El Camino would be a requirement in Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan if M is approved. He estimates the connection alone--which is what most voters agree on--would cost the city of Palo Alto no more than $2 million, money that he says is already available in city coffers. He adds that Stanford desperately needs the housing to attract faculty and staff.

This still leaves the widening, the senior center, a whole package of road improvements and the shopping center expansion. But Drekmeier points to what he sees as equally important costs. "Who is going to pick up the bill for air pollution?" he asked. "Measure O will significantly degrade our quality of life. Who is going to pay for that?"

5. Explain the third-lane idea. Will it work?

Measure M calls for keeping Sand Hill at two lanes but authorizing the creation of a third lane for public vehicles such as buses and ambulances. Measure M supporters note that the third lane would help encourage public transit and address the needs of emergency vehicles.

Stanford and some local transit and emergency service representatives say the third lane would be a safety problem. "We believe that (the Measure M traffic changes) are dangerous, misleading and could cost someone's life. It does not improve our response times," said Tony Spitaleri, president of the Palo Alto Firefighters Union, at an Oct. 13 press conference.

Drekmeier challenged those contentions and added that what should be of more concern to voters is the "sausage" effect on Sand Hill due to Menlo Park's refusal to widen their section of the road. "Trying to get a fire truck or an ambulance over the bridge in that situation is ridiculous," in that situation, Drekmeier said.

6. Why did Menlo Park endorse Measure M last week?

The Menlo Park City Council voted 3-2 to adopt a resolution endorsing Measure M last week for a variety of reasons. In its resolution supporting M, the council states that Measure O is incompatible with Menlo Park's General Plan. The resolution goes on to say that the final EIR for Stanford's plans "outlines significant unmitigated environmental impacts including, but not limited to, degradation of air quality, endangerment of the creek, noise pollution and traffic congestion." Menlo Park also supported it because under Measure M, Palo Alto would be required to consult with Menlo Park and other neighboring communities on an ongoing basis "to identify and implement methods of eliminating or significantly reducing any adverse traffic impacts of the Sand Hill Road extension and projects in the Sand Hill Road area."

7. Measure M calls for a TDM program. What does that mean?

Traffic demand management programs are incentive programs to discourage employees from driving to work. Stanford uses them on their university lands to conform with strict Santa Clara County requirements for traffic management. Employees are paid--either in cash or in public transportation vouchers or bicycle supplies--not to bring their cars to work. According to Stanford, the program has been successful. For example, the 1990 U.S. Census has found that 21.3 percent of Stanford employees ride their bikes to work. The average is Santa Clara County is 1.4 percent.

8. What does the EIR say the traffic would be like under a two-lane Sand Hill Road?

The current studies did not examine that specifically. The only scenario examined by the EIR is if Sand Hill is extended to El Camino and kept at two lanes and the rest of the Sand Hill projects are built as well. In that case the EIR notes that it would result in "lower traffic volumes but great congestion and delay on Sand Hill Road and higher volumes and greater congestion" on streets in West Menlo and on campus.

"The limited capacity of the Sand Hill Road corridor, coupled with additional travel demand from proposed and cumulative projects, would lead to a greater increase in traffic on parallel arterial and collector streets including Campus Drive West, Junipero Serra Boulevard, Middle Avenue, Santa Cruz Avenue and Valparaiso Avenue," the EIR notes. "The beneficial effect of the proposed Sand Hill Road extension and widening, which included a reduction in through traffic on these streets, would be lost (under this) alternative."

9. Measure M supporters have stated they have concerns about Stanford's long-term building plans. What are those plans?

Stanford officials have said they are planning to build a 230,000-square-foot cancer research center near the hospital. Stanford officials have also said that they may want to eventually add up to 400,000 square feet to the medical center for outpatient services, both for clinics for Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

If Measure O passes, Stanford has said it will keep 139 acres near the golf course as open space until the year 2020. Horton said 31 of those acres could actually be used for faculty and staff housing before that date. The Campus West site, located across the street from the Oak Creek Apartments, is reserved for academic purposes, but currently, "we have no plans" there, Horton said.

Measure M supporters are suspicious of these claims. "It's clear that the whole emphasis here is development in this corridor," Mytels said. And this is where M supporters take issue. "The old-fashioned way of just pouring down cement is not going to get us into the 21st century," she said.

10. Why does Measure M have an expiration date?

Because Measure M is a package of amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, it is due to expire in 2015--the date the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan is scheduled to be renewed. It cannot be overturned before then without a vote of the public.