Stanford hospitals' plan clashes with city vision | June 4, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 4, 2010

Stanford hospitals' plan clashes with city vision

Report categorizes impact on Palo Alto land use as 'significant'

by Gennady Sheyner

The proposed rebuilding and 1.3 million-square-foot expansion of Stanford's hospitals and medical facilities in Palo Alto would significantly conflict with the city's long-term development plans, according to an impact study reviewed Wednesday night by the Planning and Transportation Commission.

"To a large degree, this project is overwhelming the Comprehensive Plan," said Commissioner Eduardo Martinez, referring to the city's land-use bible that guides and explicitly limits nonresidential development. "It's only going to work if some of the most significant policies are revised to make it work."

The commissioners are in the midst of revising and upgrading the Comp Plan — a multi-year effort that would extend the guidelines to 2020.

Stanford's "Project Renewal," often touted as the largest proposed redevelopment in Palo Alto history, would exceed the city's height limits and restrictions for the density of buildings.

The $3.5 billion project includes rebuilding Stanford Hospital and Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and renovating Hoover Pavilion and the Stanford University Medical School.

Stanford Hospital and Clinics would be 130 feet tall, far exceeding the city's 50-foot height limit, while the Children's Hospital would rise 85 feet.

The university is upgrading its facilities both to meet the state's seismic requirements and to add much-needed hospital beds, said Mike Peterson, Stanford Hospital's vice president for special projects.

Under the current plan, the hospital expansion would add 248 new beds.

The hefty project's Draft Environmental Impact Report, published May 18, identifies two "significant" land-use impacts caused by the project: conflict with "adopted land-use plans and policies" and "adverse changes to overall existing or planned land uses in the area."

To address the inconsistency, Stanford has proposed that the city create a new "hospital zone" for the project, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

But several commissioners expressed concern Wednesday night.

Commissioner Susan Fineberg likened creating a new zone while the city is revising its long-term vision to "putting the cart before the horse." She said the city needs to explore all the unintended consequences of the proposed zone, including other projects and other parts of the city where the new designation could potentially pop up in the future.

"I think it's a grave mistake to craft language and amend our Comprehensive Plan based on a specific project while the whole policy is being reviewed citywide," Fineberg said. "We don't have the right way to handle this issue citywide."

Commissioner Arthur Keller agreed and said the city should further study the project's impacts rather than simply change the name of the zone and waive the usual requirements.

"Just because a hamburger calls itself caviar doesn't make it so, particularly if it tastes better with ketchup," Keller said.

The impact report recommends other strategies for easing the project's significant impacts. On land use, the plan largely relies on the city's architectural review process to keep the impacts of Stanford's new developments to a minimum. This puts the greatest burden for containing the expansion's consequences on the city's Architectural Review Board (ARB), a five-member commission that reviews new developments and routinely wrestles with issues such as construction materials, building colors and architectural designs.

Several planning commissioners said Wednesday they were concerned about placing such a broad burden on the Architectural Review Board, a detail-oriented board with a limited purview.

"That's putting a lot of pressure on our poor old ARB to try to make significant changes based on the tools they have to look at design quality, massing and materials," Martinez said.

The commission's meeting Wednesday night was the first of six such hearings scheduled for the next two months. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the land-use impacts of Stanford's proposed hospital expansion Monday night. The 15-year redevelopment would add more than 2,200 new employees to Palo Alto by 2025.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by Tony, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:29 am

Keller, Fineberg, Martinez, etc. - get out of the way! What a puny response to the adjacent greatness of Stanford University! Palo Alto would be a cow town if it wasn't for Stanford. Get over it, and adapt. If you can't stand to see Palo Alto grow up, then leave.

Posted by david, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:45 am

Stanford will try to buy off the city commissioners and the ARB.
Bravo to Arthur Keller, Susan Fineberg and Eduardo Martinez.
This Stanford plan is something that should go to the electorate and the ballot.
As W. Glenn Campbell once said of Stanford - the "University" -
"this institution only cares about two things ... Money and Buildings".
Let the donors take note!

Posted by 3Great Commissioners, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:59 am

Obviously Tony didn't listen to the Planning Commission but isn't letting his lack of information get in the way of having an opinion. Lots of people can't distinguish between the medical staff and the development staff at Stanford. They have very different values.
Arthur Keller, Susan Fineberg and Eduardo Martinez are outstanding commissioners who know what they are talking about. They don't bs or pontificate. It is a pleasure to listen to them. It's an education.
Smart, knowledgeable, and dedicated to our city. Kudos Commissioners!

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of Professorville
on Jun 3, 2010 at 1:29 am

It used to be that Stanford could rule over the city of Palo Alto with arrogant impunity.

Now Stanford sees the city of Palo Alto as an ungrateful kid unwilling to compensate his parents for all the sacrifices and benefits that has been bestowed on him.


the student is now the master.

Such impudence! Such an ungrateful attitude!

As a prisoner surveyor, paid years ago said to me in a "survey".....

"don't you think that the city of Palo Alto owes it to Stanford to....."

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

Gee this town is embarrassing. Our poor ARB can't handle the plans, good, we don't really want them involved if we want these buildings to look decent. Check out the new faculty housing at Stanford Ave and El Camino and compare it to Arbor Real or any of the strange boxes visible from 101 or the new JCC. Who would you want working on your designs? Come on, one of the members of the ARB has a dragon painted on their garage and we want that kind of input into hospital buildings to last for decades?

I am wondering if there is a way for Stanford to go over Palo Alto's head - to the county or state for approval.

Exceeding the height and density zones in the middle of Stanford land is really a "who cares" for Palo Alto residents. Lets deal with issues which will actually affect the residents such as traffic. Leave the aesthetics to the more than competent architects.

Perhaps the Planning and Transportation Commission's time could be better spent planning some revenue producing projects to help our city budget. Halting any large residential projects til we get our budget - state and city - in better shape.

Posted by How about a balanced viewpoint?, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2010 at 11:03 am

Stanford does contribute quite a lot to Palo Alto and vice versa. This needs to be a symbiotic relationship. Finding the right balance in these negotiations is a real challenge. Stanford will need to yield more, as Palo Alto simply CANNOT afford to mitigate all of the impacts of a project his size. Please READ our city budget!!! We already have an enormous structural deficit.

Further, the facility they are building is not designed just to serve our community. They plan to draw specialty patients from all over the region...and beyond. SHOULD Palo Alto taxpayers absorb the costs of those types of impacts?...especially when year after year Palo Alto is passed over by the county and state for transportation dollars because south county cities have heavier representation on transportation boards? How can higher levels of government who want this regional project help with the impacts? What is Stanford doing to collaborate with the city to lobby and capture more federal, state, county transportation dollars to mitigate the impacts of this project? What are our county, state, and federal elected representatives being asked to do to help with this?

I would like Stanford to look at City of Palo Alto (CPA) budgets and understand the city's very REAL financial limitations. In sum, they need to behave like a considerate neighbor. CPA, on the other hand, needs to use the EIR to identify a specific set of impacts to focus on, and then work hard to get mitigations for those. CPA needs to identify what they really NEED Stanford to do--what are CPA's GOALS in these negotiations? I think this will be somewhat easier for the city to determine now that the EIR is available for review.

Calm down, rollup your sleeves, and get to work. Please stop spouting off if you haven't done your homework. It doesn't help. Stanford is not an angel of salvation nor are they a devil of destruction. They are a university that is VERY aggressively pursuing a project that will provide significant benefits AND impacts to the community, and they need to be responsible about working with the city to find a balance that is fair to the community. I am not satisfied that they have done that yet, though their ad campaigns are working hard to convince me that they are. I would like to see some substantive offers made. CPA must be responsible, too. Let's have a grown up, informed community conversation. Casting aspersions is not helpful. It just gets people wound up.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Professorville
on Jun 3, 2010 at 11:16 am

I guess it's time for Palo Alto to decide whether they want the hospital complex inside its borders or outside. Stanford has plenty of other land, county land, that it could build on. I personally would rather see the hills left pristine and accommodate more density within Palo Alto.

As for the adverse impacts, the adjacent uses all belong to Stanford anyway.

Posted by Patient at Stanford, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2010 at 11:35 am

I would ask each of our board members to check in to the Stanford ED overnight just one time before they make a decision. The hospital serves a critical service to our community. Sadly it is out dated, overcrowded and kind of scary. We as a community deserve better.

Posted by Scrooge, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Traffic is already horrible, backing up on Embarcadero for blocks. Pretty soon it will be solid from 101 all the way across El Camino.

Think about the traffic problems before creating more.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

The Biggest traffic problem right now is Embarcadero between High and El Camino. Embarcadero needs to be expanded to four lanes and a new underpass built. AND there should be an overhead walkway for Paly students to get from the high school to T&C. The students have the right of way to push the 'cross' button at will so that light goes red for them constantly then another light at T & C. suddenly goes red, and everything backs up in both directions, sometimes spilling out and across El Camino. This situation needs immediate relief. Traffic exiting T&C at TJ's zooms out onto Embarcadero. It's a mess.

And there should be NO left turn onto El Camino southbound from T&C at Scott's Seafood. That would solve alot of dangerous near miss problems.

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 3, 2010 at 12:57 pm

i am very much agreed with stanford patient that stanford 'ED' is out dated .Stanford hospital and it's critical ,out standing service is very important to all communities.It's sad that every time we have to deal with durty politics. Human life is more important .

Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 3, 2010 at 1:23 pm

And some 'HSR' supporters want high speed rail on peninsula and station in palo alto. No 'HSR' on peninsula. Stanford hospital plan needs to happen.

Posted by Noel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm

These hospitals are deep within the Stanford campus and therefore will not visually impact Palo Alto in any meaningful way. The hospitals will provide important services to our community as well as jobs. The hospitals will also further strengthen Stanford as one of the world's great learning centers. Yes, there will be more traffic, but that is not the end of the world.

This is exactly the kind of projects for which exceptions should be made. I would like to see our planning commissioners focus on maintaining or reducing the actual population density of Palo Alto so that we can maintain the neighborly feel of our city and not overwhelm our schools which are already underfunded.

Posted by prospective, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jun 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

I applaud the forethought and fine work of those working to improve if not expand the hospital(s) My only concern is the height. Traffic can be mitigated. Even San Francisco traffic is better than that of Boston.

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

"Commissioner Arthur Keller agreed and said the city should further study the project's impacts rather than simply change the name of the zone and waive the usual requirements."

Yes, by all means--let's subject this to a few more years of study.
i seem to remember that the city a while back was pushing for taller building so that it would have a small footprint and free up space for grass etc. Now they are against that? If so, that is typical Palo Alto.
Stanford would be wise to look elsewhere to build it's new hospital. What happens if it cannot meet the mandated deadline for the retrofit? Can they then sue the city for procrastinating (aka the palo alto process)?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 3, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Svatoid suggests:"Stanford would be wise to look elsewhere to build it's new hospital."

I agree. If Stanford started negotiating with Redwood City to build their entire new hospital complex adjacent to their new outpatient facilities in Redwood City Palo Alto would get down on its knees and beg Stanford to stay. And just imagine what the vacancy rate on Welch Road would be without Stanford Hospital.

Here is my post from March 2009

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, on Mar 17, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I think it is time for Stanford to stop feeding Palo Alto's desire for extortion and to simply move all of its medical activities to a friendlier setting. The space on campus which would be freed up by such a move could meet the non-medical expansion needs of the rest of the University for years to come and would be well within the limits already approved by the County.

Harvard has given up trying to satisfy the outrageous demands of Cambridge and is building a huge expansion across the Charles River in Boston.

Redwood City has a lot of available space and understands that they will receive much more by Stanford's presence than it will 'cost' them.

At least turn the discussion into a contest so that Palo Alto and Redwood City compete to make the University their best offer.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 3, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Housing for the huge number of new hospital employees should not be the sole responsibility of Palo Alto. Stanford Medical Center is a 'regional facility". Stanford and Menlo Park and others must share in the traffic problems. Maybe Stanford should just annex Palo Alto, and we all just sit back and watch their world go by and let Stanford deal with the unions and our civic $$ problems.. Maybe then we can use Stanford's golf course, libraries, swimming pools. Stanford students, residents and Stanford employees can use ours now.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 4, 2010 at 8:06 am

Studies of impacts are a ridiculous waste of time and money. The comprehensive plan should simply say "support building a world-class hospital." No planning changes are ever going to solve any traffic problems as long as there are more jobs here than residents.

Posted by Tyler Hanley, digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jun 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The following comments were moved from a duplicate thread:

"If Stanford builds this huge facility, I do agree that they should also be asked to provide the housing that ABAG is sure to tell Palo Alto they have to build to accommodate Stanford Hospital's employees."

-- Posted by Build Baby Build on June 2, 2010 at 11:26 p.m.

"Isn't it time that residents in our city say 'Thank You' to Stanford for continually reinventing a world class learning institution and hospital that cares for the people of this community? This is not some cheaply designed office building or condo building designed to conform to wishes of our city's biggest whiners. It's a hospital that will care for us. It's a medical school that will educate future doctors that will help the rest of the world. It's a chance for us as Palo Altans to do something to contribute to the rest of the world. Aren't we willing to bend some rules to help ourselves and the rest of the world develop and provide better medical care? Stanford is investing $3.5 Billion in our community. I'd like to be the first Palo Altan on this board to say 'Thank You'. Good work."

-- Posted by Glen Kacher on June 3, 2010 at 12:24 a.m.

"Keller, Fineberg, etc. get out of the way! What a puny and poor excuse for municipal management, seriously. Get used to the fact that you live next to one of the great universities on earth, and that it includes a world class medical center, and that the high end town you live in is high end <because> Stanford is your neighbor. Start figuring out ways to adapt instead of putting your fingers in the dike. The region and Palo Alto are going to change; all are becoming more urban. Get used to it, or leave."

-- Posted by Tony on June 3, 2010 at 12:25 a.m.

Posted by PolicySage, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2010 at 11:07 am

Palo Alto should be delighted to have Stanford as a neighbor. People who have had years to develop a new Comprehensive Plan, if they had their way, would kill the hospital construction, while they continue to fiddle away. And in X year they would come up with a draft, which would be discussed interminably.

Can't something be done about Boards, Advisory Boards, and the myriad of other committees that slow or halt progress?

Please wake up, Palo Alto.

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Given that we're about to overwhelmed by a "senior tsunami" as noted in another PA Online article (which, if I look at my neighbors around me, I believe we're ground zero), it would be stupid not to allow Stanford to grow.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm

>”Maybe Stanford should just annex Palo Alto, and we all just sit back and watch their world go by and let Stanford deal with the unions and our civic $$ problems…”

Not a bad idea!

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Stanford annex Palo Alto!! GREAT IDEA!!! At least then Palo Alto's senior leadership/management wouldn't be inept, and the outraged whining few would be just a nusiance.

Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 4, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Sidestepping the us-vs-them part of this issue, Stanford's planning people would be remiss if they weren't considering alternative sites, and asking themselves questions like--

--Does the medical center need to be adjacent to the rest of the campus?

--Would a site with easier traffic access (e.g., closer to 101) better serve the staff and patients?

--Would a different site give the option of building out rather than up, and allow for future expansion?

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Stanford's Hospitals are teaching hospitals connected to the School of Medicine and need to be adjacent.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Neighbor states:"Stanford's Hospitals are teaching hospitals connected to the School of Medicine and need to be adjacent."

Having the hospital adjacent to the medical school is nice but not essential. The Palo Alto VA is a Stanford teaching hospital and the new Stanford clinics in Redwood City is also a teaching facility.

It would be much better to have a new hospital in Redwood City built to Stanford's exact needs than the inevitably degraded and delayed design that Palo Alto will impose on Stanford.

Posted by Tony, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2010 at 2:48 am

"Stanford will need to yield more, as Palo Alto simply CANNOT afford to mitigate all of the impacts of a project his size. Please READ our city budget!!! We already have an enormous structural deficit. "

Palo Alto doesn't understand how to ADAPT to anything, largely because of the way the governance model is designed, and even more ironically because it has largely thrived by <riding on Stanford's coattails for decades>. Let's start calling a spade a spade here. If oru region is not going to become a backwater, we'd better STOP listening to Commissioners who ask for one more study, and then another one to follow up that study and so on. Delaying this project on the current grounds of objection is almost imbecilic! Do tehse people not realize what that hospital represents? And do they not realize that there are other ways that Palo Alto can adapt without having to gouge Stanford? I hate to say this, because everyone isi trying to do their best, but we Palo Altans are caught in a congenital trap. We think that Stanford "owes" us something. It doesn't. We need to grow up and take care of ourselves. Commissioners, put your thinking caps on and stop looking for the obvious (gouging Stanford). The current mess makes all of you "little town heros", but what is the larger impact of your actions. Delaying a world class medical center and all the BENEFITS it can bring. Sorry, but the current crop of Commissioners are all about scarcity (with the Council not far behind) Spell that "scare-city". Wake up and smell the benefits from this project. Honestly, there are times when I wish Stanford would just pack up and leave the congenital self-prepossession of this place looking at itself in the mirror, syaing "what happened". Like I said before, Keller and the rest need to get out of the way. So far, their process is bankrupt, and benefiting only the Weekly's forums.

Posted by Laura Pisani, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

I am a parent of 2 children at the Stanford Arboretum (CCLC) daycare.
Our daycare is 40' from the Hoover Pavilion part of the proposed LPCH expansion project, yet we were informed of its proximity to the daycare center only after the city's June 6th approval of the project at a parents meeting this week.
It seems that the general consensus is that we would like Stanford to relocate our children's center for the duration of the construction.
CCLC staff had requested this of Stanford and was declined.

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