Stanford Plan

Uploaded: Thursday, October 26, 2000, noon

University counterattacks on land-use plan
President exhorts 'alumni and friends' to lobby county supervisors to kill 99-year open space proposal

by Don Kazak

A proposed 99-year open space plan for Stanford University's foothills is "unacceptable" to Stanford and would mean that "our new housing and new academic facilities will be on indefinite hold," Stanford President John Hennessy has declared.

Read the letter and statement by John Hennessy

In a letter and e-mail addressed to "Stanford alumni and friends," Hennessy exhorted them to contact the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and attend a public hearing Monday in San Jose. The board is scheduled to vote on the plan on Tuesday.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian Tuesday night--at a packed town hall meeting in Palo Alto--proposed that 1,000 acres of foothills land be kept open for 99 years in exchange for the 2 million square feet of core-campus academic development and 3,000 housing units Stanford has proposed.

"Both the (Stanford) Trustees and I view these new conditions as unacceptable," Hennessy said in his letter to alumni and friends.

"The new proposal mandates a 99-year dedication of one-quarter of our Santa Clara County lands. Unless this condition is removed, I believe we will not be able to accept the new General Use Permit. Our new housing and new academic facilities will be on indefinite hold."

The impasse could also threaten the earlier Stanford offer of the former Mayfield School site at El Camino Real and Page Mill Road as the location for the Jewish Community Center's community-services center, and an even earlier offer of $10 million to the Palo Alto Unified School District to help build or reopen a third middle school.

Hennessy in his Oct. 25 letter/e-mail urged people to contact supervisors and ask them to approve the Stanford plan with a 25-year open-space provision, as accepted earlier by the county Planning Commission. That plan would provide for nearly 2,400 acres of Stanford land west of Junipero Serra Boulevard to be preserved.

In a separate statement, also issued Wednesday, Hennessy declared that he was "disappointed that, with less than a week left in a two-year process, unprecedented new conditions have been interjected," referring to Simitian's Tuesday night presentation.

For several weeks, however, Simitian had been meeting with Hennessy and Board of Trustees Chairman Isaac Stein on Friday mornings in an attempt to hammer out agreement on outstanding issues, including open space provisions.

Larry Horton, Stanford's director of government and community relations, said Thursday that the 99-year open space requirement is the sole problem at this point: "It's the last bite that is causing the problems," he said. "We have very serious policy and legal objections."

In spite of those problems, Horton said Stanford is "still hopeful that there will be a satisfactory conclusion" at the Tuesday supervisors' meeting.

While the entire Board of Supervisors will deliberate over Stanford's 10-year use permit, the other four supervisors have been taking Simitian's lead because Stanford is in his supervisorial district and he has helped guide the 18-month county-review process.

That process has included more than 40 public hearings and meetings, often with hundreds of people--such as at Tuesday night's packed Town Hall meeting in the Palo Alto City Council chambers.

Simitian had a rapt audience when he outlined his main points. Stanford graduate students, faculty and officials were in the audience, along with half of the Palo Alto City Council, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District officials, members of environmental groups, and Stanford critics and supporters.

Many of those who spoke at the meeting praised Simitian for his leadership in the planning process, while others thought he went too far.

"I wouldn't want to be in your shoes for anything in the world," Palo Alto City Councilwoman Nancy Lytle said. "And I wouldn't want anyone else to be in your shoes."

Lytle credited Simitian for "balanced, fair, thoughtful" leadership.

Another speaker Tuesday night, Dorothea Almond of Palo Alto, called Simitian's open space proposal "like a taking without compensation."

"No other major landowner has done anything comparable to what Stanford has done" to preserve its land, said Goodwin Steinberg of Palo Alto. He credited Simitian for trying to come up with a solution on Stanford's plans but also warned, "I hope you use the same skill to keep this from blowing up."

But it did blow up Wednesday.

Stanford is contending the open space plan suggested by Simitian is illegal. But that is contrary to separate legal opinions from the county counsel, outside counsel retained by the county, outside counsel retained by the Committee for Green Foothills, and from Palo Alto City Attorney Ariel Calonne. In addition, Simitian himself is a land use attorney and certified city planner.

Without a new use permit, Stanford can't move forward with the 2 million square feet of new academic buildings it plans for the next decade, plus 3,000 units of faculty, staff and badly needed graduate student housing.

As one graduate student, Mary Lee Kimber, said about being housed on campus, "If I don't have housing, my graduate career ends" because she can't afford to rent in the community.

In one of his most telling comments Tuesday night, Simitian noted that "because Stanford is unincorporated doesn't mean it is ungoverned."