Keeping the cars away | January 23, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 23, 2008

Keeping the cars away

New housing plan aims to keep Stanford traffic circulating on campus — and out of College Terrace

by Sue Dremann

Relieved College Terrace neighborhood residents have won a concession from Stanford University over housing developments that are planned along Stanford Avenue.

When the university builds 37 single-family homes along Stanford Avenue between El Camino Real and Harvard Street, driveways and access to the homes will come from Olmsted Road — not Stanford Avenue. The same will be true for the 29 townhouse-style rental homes for athletic coaches planned for a vacant lot at El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue, said Jean McCown, Stanford's director of community relations.

The university made the decision after meeting with board members of the College Terrace Residents Association last year, according to McCown.

The news is welcome to College Terrace residents, who say their neighborhood has been inundated with cars going to and from Stanford's Escondido Village housing development, Escondido Elementary School and neighboring daycare centers.

Residential side streets have also been clogged at all hours of the day and night with parked cars left by students and their guests who don't want to pay for a parking permit or who catch rides into campus on the Marguerite shuttle, according to residents.

"It's very good news and definitely a step in the right direction," College Terrace Residents Association President Greg Tanaka said. "I think the whole neighborhood appreciates that Stanford is listening to the community."

But Tanaka said more traffic restrictions would be needed to impede the overwhelming flow of traffic down Stanford Avenue. The association has asked the university to allow pedestrian access only to roads feeding into Olmsted from Stanford Avenue. The university could add new roads that would link the new residential areas to the inner Stanford campus from the Olmsted side, he said. McCown said she doesn't think it will be possible to close off existing streets.

Under the 2000 Stanford General Use Permit (GUP), the Stanford Avenue location could have up to 75 housing units. On Olmsted Road, up to 250 graduate-student housing units could have been added, according to McCown.

Stanford Avenue resident Karie Epstein said the university's plans to cut back on the number of units and to build single-family dwelling more in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood are "a step in the right direction."

But much work remains to fix the traffic and parking problems that have plagued the neighborhood for years.

"We've become a de facto parking lot for Stanford. ... While Stanford isn't all bad, I don't think they've stepped up to the plate in terms of transportation issues," she said.

As an unintended consequence of the university's "greening" by encouraging people to take the Marguerite shuttle into the campus, parking and traffic problems were exacerbated a year or so ago with a new shuttle route down Stanford Avenue. People began parking throughout College Terrace and taking Marguerite into campus, she said.

"It's about time for them to bite the bullet and have a satellite parking area," she added.

Even with the reduced number of housing units, Epstein still sees no plan for accommodating additional children at the already burgeoning Escondido Elementary School and daycare centers.

And Stanford must come up with a strategy for keeping construction traffic off Stanford Avenue and out of the neighborhood. That is something McCown acknowledges Stanford is trying to work on.

"One hope is to look at the sequence of which project comes first and to use one site for staging," she said.

Stanford plans to host a broader neighborhood meeting with a project-management team present to answer questions about the impact of construction sometime in February, she said. The projects should go through Santa Clara County's design-review process in six months, she added.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at


Posted by Frustrated, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:42 pm

I absolutely hate the idea of this green belt, small though it is, being turned into high density housing. And I know it will change this neighborhood I know and love, and not for the better. But I realize, too, that this is private land owned by Stanford, and I have no more right to tell them not to build the housing they need then I have to tell the neighbors across the street that the purple paint they used for their house also wrecks my view. What to do?

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:26 am

This is a great way to go forward. Reasonable residents, and an institution that is willing to negotiate with them. This is the kind of measured approach we should be taking with Stanford in all negotiations.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 3:55 am

I suggest we close all roads into College Terrace until they decide to join the real world where a right of way is what it was dedicated for.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:55 am

Frustrated, the road in front of your house is a public right of way; anyone can drive on it, anyone can park on it. Why buy a house on Stanford Avenue if you don't want traffic?

Posted by egret lover, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2008 at 7:04 pm

To "Resident":
Kindly note that the posting by "Frustrated" focused on the loss of the narrow green strip between Stanford Avenue and Olmsted Rd, i.e. the land that the houses will be built on. There's not a word in that message about cars and the behavior of their owners.

In fact, many people will be missing that last bit of undeveloped space. The drainage ditch will be entubated, so the egrets who stop by seasonally won't be seen anymore. The annual cycle of green growth when rains begin, grass that isn't a lawn species, the mowers just before Stanford graduation will be history. Not exactly like paving over Yosemite, but a loss to neighbors none the less.

To his/her credit, "Frustrated" clearly grasps some basics of private property rights that so many Palo Altans seem to forget, and isn't expecting to be able to stop this development.

The facts are that this is privately owned land, never zoned as open space and outside of Palo Alto. In fact, its fate was sealed in December 2000 when this parcel was designated for medium density housing in 2000 when the County Supervisors approved Stanford's GUP.

That said, it's still perfectly legitimate for neighbors to be concerned about compatibility of what is built with the existing look and feel of the neighborhood. And given how underparked the last housing project Stanford built in this area turned out to be, there is every reason to examine the parking and circulation plans carefully.

It remains to be seen whether Stanford will be proposing the equivalent of the purple house for both the Stanford Avenue and the El Camino projects discussed in the article, or whether there will be a real effort to build a long-lasting neighborly relationship.

Posted by WhatNoise?, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2008 at 10:39 pm

I also lament the loss of the greenbelt and large trees that will come with the development at Stanford. As a homeowner on Stanford Avenue, I am not bothered much by traffic, but rather enjoy access to the running path and greenery across the way. This little bit of open space does much to enrich the lives of students, runners, and neighbors as well as the occasional Great Blue Heron seen on the creek. I'm sad to see it developed but realize that Stanford has the right to do so.

Posted by Robert Ruether, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2008 at 11:58 am

I think Stanford's planned 75 houses on that green strip along Stanford avenue might be prevented by bringing attention to the fact that the green strip is a riparian way. It has a creek all along it and does attract species of water birds including egrets and blue herons. As a wet land this precious green strip in Palo Alto should not be destroyed, and I wonder if the laws of the state and country aren't available to ensure its proper valuation as the resource it represents to our progressively "green appreciating" life style. Shame on Stanford in trying to grab this last green strip and with a creek running through it.
Nature defenders please help!

Posted by Sick of Stanford Metastatic Spread, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 25, 2008 at 9:18 pm

Why is it necessary for Stanford to stuff more university housing into this last little strip of up open green space, when there are so many open spaces scattered throughout Pine Hill? There is plenty of space up there for additional housing without creating further congestion within a very dense area.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 25, 2008 at 11:19 pm

It's closer to transit. All neighborhoods that are closer to transit, all over America, are going to experience densification. Thier value is "proximity".

The challenge will be to find ways to maintain of neighborhood integrity as we bring more levels of dynamism and diversity to community. We've done it before; we'll do it again.

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