Stanford Plan

Uploaded: Monday, November 27, 2000, 3 p.m.

Stanford development plan is approved
Compromise reached on protecting foothills

by Don Kazak

The process was sometimes contentious, and there were sharp disagreements and even threats of lawsuits along the way. But in the end, a compromise was reached on Stanford's future development plans that seemed to mostly satisfy the key groups involved.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor voted unanimously Monday morning to approve a set of planning guidelines for Stanford development for the next 10 years, a plan that leaves the Stanford hills protected for at least 25 years--unless a future county board changes that.

The fight had been over the Stanford hills and what kind of protection the land should get.

Supervisor Joe Simitian, who led the public planning process over the last year or so, had suggested a 99-year plan for protecting 1,000 acres of the Stanford hills.

Environmental groups had pushed for permanent protection for all of the hills, a position the Palo Alto and Menlo Park city councils also backed.

In the end, the board approved a 25-year building ban in the hills that could be amended later.

Once the final language in the Stanford's new general use permit and community plan is approved by the county board Dec. 12--a formality after Monday--Stanford will have the green light to build 2 million square feet of new academic buildings and 3,000 units of faculty, staff and graduate student housing over the next 10 years.

But Stanford didn't everything it wanted, either. The Stanford-written first draft of its development plan was largely rewritten by county planners to provide much more planning detail, and agreeing to keep development out of the foothills for 25 years was also more than the university originally intended.

But, as Stanford President John Hennessy said Monday, it's a plan the university can live with.

The significance of the community plan is that, once approved, it becomes part of the county's General Plan, which would then require action by a future county board to change in any way.

"I think it's a good agreement for everybody," Hennessy said. "I think it's a good balance of what Stanford would have liked and what other members of the community would have liked...

"I think we can live with this agreement. I think we can continue to be a strong university and prosper with this agreement as it currently stands. It's certainly not the agreement we would have written...but I think it's an agreement we are cautiously optimistic we can live with."

Environmental groups Stanford Open Space Alliance and Committee for Green Foothills had a high-profile public campaign over the last few weeks, with newspaper and TV ads and even campaign lawn signs calling for protection of the foothills, which the county action falls short of.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Peter Drekmeier of the Stanford Open Space Alliance. "It used to be that Stanford got everything they wanted, now they just get most of they wanted."

Drekmeier noted that he and others had hoped for hills-core campus tradeoff, where development rights from the foothills would be transferred to the core campus, in return for leaving the hills alone. A version of this concept was also part of Simitian's suggestion.

For Simitian, who was elected to the state Assembly Nov. 7, approval of the Stanford plan ended what had been a tiring and sometimes difficult year of work on the issue.

Simitian's proposal for 99 years of protection for 1,000 hillside acres caused Stanford to say it would reject the plan with such a provision and would sue, if necessary.

The threat of a lawsuit may have been a factor in the lack of support Simitian had from his supervisorial colleagues for the 99-year, 1000-acre plan.

"I can count to three," Simitian said Monday, referring to the number of votes needed on the board to get anything passed.

"I said at the onset of this process that the question was whether a great university can stay great without compromising the quality of life in surrounding communities," Simitian said. "I thought it could be done, and I think it has been done."

It isn't clear whether opposition will remain to the plan. Denice Dade of the Committee for Green Foothills said earlier in the process that any plan without permanent protection for the foothills would be unacceptable.

One result of Monday's action is that Stanford will have to submit a plan to the county for "sustainable development" beyond what will be allowed in the general use permit that should be approved in December.

This means that the university will have to take a longer look at its own future, which could result in some sort of ultimate build-out or development cap being set for the campus.

"We're very much in favor of a build-out study," Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations, said before Monday's meeting. Hennessy said later that the "sustainable development plan" needs to be defined further to determine what it means.