Stanford construction site could be in violation of city law | February 15, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 15, 2019

Stanford construction site could be in violation of city law

University has five construction projects approved, but is using a lot to store materials from another project

by Sue Dremann

Stanford University is violating a city nuisance ordinance that prohibits storing building materials on a site where construction is not taking place, according to a city of Palo Alto code enforcement officer.

College Terrace neighbors living near two Stanford University-owned properties slated for new homes have raised concerns about the adjoining properties at 739 and 757 College Ave., which have building permits dating to last September from the city of Palo Alto to build two new homes. But, according to neighbors, since the demolition of the properties' two structures months ago, instead of new-home construction taking place, the site is being used for the storage of equipment and building materials for other Stanford construction projects.

"The fences went up a number of months ago, and they posted renderings of the houses," said James Cook, who lives across the street from the site. "But since then, nothing has happened."

Cook said the neighborhood has noticed workers occasionally parking their personal cars on the street or bringing work vehicles to and from the site.

On Feb. 8, Cook said he saw a number of cars parked in the area. Wherever they were working, it was clearly somewhere else. At the end of the day, he saw the workers return in trucks, which they then parked on the properties, and leave in their own cars.

"It is just used solely as a storage area," Cook said, who along with other neighbors, believes the site is violating city ordinances that restrict the storage of unused building materials on outdoor sites to 30 days, or 90 days for which a valid permit is in effect and where the construction is "diligently" being worked on toward completion.

Brian Reynolds, city code enforcement officer, said that Stanford should not be storing equipment or materials from another site at the property or where there is no active construction taking place. He noted that the two sections of nuisance law referenced by residents do apply and are the ones his department uses regarding code violations at building sites.

University spokeswoman Jean McCown acknowledged that materials are being stored there but did not address the potential violation issue. Often, it's hard to prove a violation if there's an open permit, she said.

"Stanford is currently constructing five homes in College Terrace. While all of the permits were issued by the city around the same time last fall, they are starting in sequence with the crew working on these homes through staggered construction phases. These two adjoining vacant lots have been used to store and stage some materials as construction on the other homes have started. The homes on these sites are scheduled for ground breaking at the end of this month," she said in an email.

The university also obtained a building permit for a temporary power pole at the site on Aug. 17, 2018, according to city building records. One neighbor told the Weekly she's concerned that curious children might enter the site and be electrocuted by outdoor extension cords that are submerged in pools of rainwater this week.

"In terms of safety concerns identified by neighbors, these properties are fenced with locked gates and we would expect unauthorized visitors would respect those restrictions and not intrude on the sites, as should be the case with all construction sites," McCown said in the email.

Ann Rosendale, project coordinator for the city who approved the building permits last September, said in an email that the permits will expire on April 30 rather than at the end of March, after the usual 180 days. That's because the project had an approved preconstruction inspection on Oct. 30, 2018.

"For every approved building inspection, the permit is extended for another six months; additionally the contractor/owner can request to extend or reactivate the permit with the building official," she said.

Stanford's looming presence in College Terrace, which is situated between the University-owned land from Stanford Avenue on the north to the Research Park at California Avenue on the south, has long irked some residents who say its construction activity and traffic have been disturbing their peace. Residents have repeatedly complained to the city and the university about large construction-related vehicles idling or using their streets as the University Terrace residential development was built in the research park.

The university owns at least 30 properties in the neighborhood, some of which have remained vacant for years. Residents say these "ghost houses" have degraded their sense of community because they have been unoccupied for so long.

But the university has been slowly renovating or razing and building new homes on their properties. Staff has previously said Stanford plans to offer the homes to professors on a ground lease.

Each of the two properties on College Avenue is slated for a one-story, 1,545-square-foot residence with a 223-square-foot detached garage. They will replace two dilapidated structures.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


27 people like this
Posted by Stanford Fails Ethics 101
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 3:48 am

From Stanford's website:

"We will ground ourselves in our fundamental values and ensure ethical and purposeful engagement with our community and the world at all times."


"What - you expect us to follow the law?"

22 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:00 am

If Palo Alto were to fine Stanford $1000 per day for their law violations, Stanford could continue paying the fine for 72,000 years before exhausting their endowment. Although the funds would be a rounding error for Stanford, the money could be put toward Stanford's PAUSD obligations that they refuse to pay, which would have a real impact on schools.

34 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:08 am

Wow. I walked by this lot and was wondering what was going on?
Seems really rude for an institution like Stanford to treat the neighborhood with such disrespect and quite unnecessary.

10 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:44 am

Let the Stanford bashing begin from the usual suspects. JR has no idea what an endowment is. It is not to be used to bail palo alto out from their financial incompetence. And stanfird is not refusing to pay their pausd obligations- that matter is still in negotiation.
Anon- Stanford owns homes in that neighborhood, so they are part of the neighborhood. What is rude is the CT neighbors not resurrecting private property sales between homeowners and Stanford.

33 people like this
Posted by Anti-Community
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:04 am

That Stanford owns 30 homes in this small neighborhood that they will demolish and rebuild has serious consequences in two ways beyond the illegal code violations cited here (not Stanford’s first recently - remember its huge illegal dumping on the golf course that the County busted them on).

First, a private entity is taking over a significant amount housing here, rebuilding it to its specifications all at once which will artificially change the look and feel of the neighborhood which would otherwise evolve in a slower, more eclectic individualized way.

Second, no taxes will be paid into our schools by any families with children living in these homes, as Stanford is a non-profit and doesn’t pay school taxes for homes it owns. So our schools suffer because of Stanford’s expansion into College Terrace.

Stanford should build housing on its own land, not take over our neighborhoods to use as it wants.

8 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:47 am

Anti- community- I think that Stanford should be allowed to build housing in the dish area . Do you agree. The buying and rebuilding of the homes is between two private entities- nothing to see and nothing to stick our noses in over

9 people like this
Posted by Bashing^4
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 15, 2019 at 2:22 pm

Is this housing project a Stanford LBRE or Stanford R&DE. Not all Stanfords come in the same flavors. Stanford has become more like a franchise that sells the logo and name.

LBRE is more sophisticated and something like this comes down to an individual project manager that just isn't on the list ball. They have the competency to do it right if they wanted.

R&DE is the step-couisn that you see at family events but you don't know if you are actually legally related. This is more like a construction circus which sets up a tent and starts their show. Each time you gave no idea what you are getting. They do not have any competency in construction management and if anything good happens it is by chance.

Hope that helps.

16 people like this
Posted by Not the old Stanford
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 15, 2019 at 4:50 pm

Stanford is not what it used to be. It is now one of the looming mega corporations that are devouring our once university town.

Stanford needs to be thought about in the same category as the voracious Facebook, Apple, Google, etc.
It has the same mentality: Expand, make big money, and to heck with the locals. There's money to be made.

4 people like this
Posted by gravel, eh?
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 15, 2019 at 6:08 pm

Ever hear of site gravel... people have to walk through those puddles and get their feet wet. What if someone falls down carrying some heavy tools; they fall in the mud, nice! Plus, that muddy water is running off to some storm drain into the creek--I assure you. Be kind to the workers, at least buy them a truckload of gravel for their storage yard if you are going to be cheap on your going to insist on shunning community courtesy.

1 person likes this
Posted by Property taxes
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 15, 2019 at 7:55 pm

Property taxes is a registered user.

Only the core academic campus is exempt from property taxes

Owners of faculty homes on campus pay property taxes to the county.

Homes that Stanford owns and sells in Palo Alto are subject to Palo Alto property taxes based on the selling price.

That being said, because Stanford only leases the land the homes are on, and because there is a very restricted pool of eligible buyers, these properties tend to sell for less than comparable properties not owned by Stanford. Thus the property tax base will be slightly lower than if the property were subject to normal market forces.

11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:18 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Not the old Stanford - I'm guessing that what we are seeing now is in keeping with Stanford values. Ol' Leland was known as a Robber Baron. That sort of nickname doesn't happen for no reason.

Before the emergence of Silicon Valley, the immense acreage of the school allowed Stanford to grow and expand somewhat unobtrusively for decades, but those days are over. Now the accelerated growth that started a couple of decades ago is colliding with some geographic limitations and area infrastructure deficiencies. Let's hope the City of Palo Alto and the County require sufficient mitigations for the growth planned in the new GUP so that Stanford doesn't become the behemoth that brings us to our knees.

2 people like this
Posted by Muchadoaboutnothing
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2019 at 10:05 pm

We live in a world full of poverty, political corruption, war, racism, and environmental degradation. And folks are getting upset about a school building houses for their professors? I don’t get it.

6 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 10:01 am


They problem is NOT that stanford is building houses; just the opposite.

Despite receiving permits to build houses almost a year ago they are using the lots illegally to store vehicles, construction materials and construction debris from other sites.

11 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 10:19 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

If Stanford University actually owns these vacant lots, shouldn't they be allowed to store lumber there even if it is a potential eyesore?

Not defending Stanford but 'back in the day' if you owned an empty lot & were building right next door, this wasn't an issue.

On the other hand, Stanford University is getting a bit too big for its britches & their objectives often conflict with the residents of Palo Alto.

Then again, if it wasn't for Leland Stanford, there probably wouldn't be the City of Palo Alto as we now know it as the larger town of Mayfield was rejected as a university site.

Pretty ironic to say the least.

9 people like this
Posted by Stanford Development
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:09 pm

> Despite receiving permits to build houses almost a year ago they are using the lots illegally to store vehicles, construction materials and construction debris from other sites.

It's called PRIVATE PROPERTY & as long as Stanford isn't storing hazardous materials or posing a safety threat to nearby residents, it's their land.

And if the area is fenced off, there is no reason for anyone to get bent out of shape.

Complainers should have purchased the properties in question. Then they could do whatever they wanted with them.

It's an area designated for new housing...not a nature preserve.

8 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Feb 16, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Stanford may own the land but they must comply with city law and zoning regulations. It is unlawful to use the land they have purchased as a warehouse for building materials that are used elsewhere. If Stanford has a need to store building materials I suggest they do so on their own campus, or maybe at the location of the former Orchard Supply Hardware in Mountain View since they have closed down. I'm sure Stanford could afford to buy or lease the location of the former OSH with a small portion of their $26.5 billion endowment.

Wherever Stanford decides to store their building materials, they must comply with the law. This is not a private property issue. This is yet another issue with Stanford thinking the law does not apply to them.

9 people like this
Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Ms. McCown's response is inadequate. The Code is clear there is a violation. Stanford strives for academic and athletic excellence I would hope it would take the same approach with compliance with the Law. The City should proceed with enforcement and also inspect the unoccupied homes which the University has purchased to ensure they presently comply with Building and Fire Code provisions. The University should comply with the law as any homeowner should not advance excuses for noncompliance.

3 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 5:23 pm

Bill- isn't there a committee in CT whose sole purpose is to monitor Stanford and immediately launch complaints when they do something that does not comply with CT residents demands.
CT residents are never satisfied- anyways demanding more and more- no real grocery stores in town to protect jj&f, private streets for ct residents parking only, complaining about Facebook shuttles which cut down on car traffic and on and on it goes.
Looking forward to Stanford, in private transactions, buying up more and more of the dilapidated homes in ct.

4 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2019 at 5:48 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Oh c'mon, Gimmee! There's no such committee, but there is an involved citizenry. And that's a good thing b/c government at all levels will disappoint if citizens don't pay attention and demand accountability. Demands are sometimes irrational and sometimes even rational requests cannot be met, but inattention is a sure pathway to trouble.

There was an article in the Daily Post Friday about an issue in Los Altos. Had the neighbors there not paid attention, a problem that actually did not exist would have been "solved" with an over-kill response that would have badly impacted the neighborhood. The only reason the ridiculous "solution" didn't happen is that neighbors paid attention in the knick of time and launched a protest.

Agree, though, that there are some dilapidated homes in CT. Chances are some of those are already owned by Stanford and left unoccupied. That strikes me as socially irresponsible given the housing crisis. Stanford can do better than that. Easily.

2 people like this
Posted by The lady doesth protest too much
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 16, 2019 at 5:58 pm

Annette- I guess gimme should have called them “observers”

Web Link

“The College Terrace Residents Association has a group of board members known as “observers” who monitor relevant public meetings and news in their assigned area and then report back to the entire board on pertinent local actions and issues of interest to College Terrace. These four observers cover Stanford, the City of Palo Alto, the California Avenue Business District, and the Research Park.

The observers typically deliver their reports at the CTRA’s monthly meetings but, going forward, we’re also going to publish those reports on the website so that they’re more readily accessible to the neighborhood. This month, we have updates from our Stanford and California Avenue observers.”

So let me understand you, Annette, you and others bash Stanford and demand they provide housing for their employees. Stanford is buying homes and rebuilding/remodeling them and you bash them for that.
Sounds like the above described Facebook issue — Facebook will bring too many cars to CT, so let’s bash them. Facebook uses shuttles to cut car traffic, but let’s bash them for the shuttles they use.
CT wants it both ways. Sorry that is not how it works.

9 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 6:29 pm


What exactly is your complaint???....

Is it that College Terrace, like many other neighborhoods in Palo Alto has citizenry that is responsible and engaged?

Civic engagement is generally regarded as laudatory in a democracy. As a matter of a fact it is an essential principle for democratic society .

if you want to complain about that complain about the constitution and to the founding fathers of this nation.

3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2019 at 6:37 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@lady doest protest . . . I am killing some time here so will hop in and reply to you. Bashing? Hardly. Information sharing, yes. That said, I happen to think all the large employers in the area, including Stanford, have an obligation to participate in the balancing of the jobs:housing imbalance.

My takeaway from the article is not so much that people are bashing Stanford for buying homes in CT (really, it only makes sense that they would given CT's location) but that they are disregarding city laws and leaving housing unoccupied at a time when housing is in such short supply. Surely you have seen the RVs parked on El Camino immediately adjacent to Stanford. Communities such as Stanford and Palo Alto ought not have such a woeful housing situation that people must live in RVs parked along the El Camino - particularly not when there is empty housing within blocks of that. I think that's worth a little protesting.

5 people like this
Posted by Don't Be Grumpy...Life Is Too Short
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 16, 2019 at 8:23 pm

> Stanford and Palo Alto ought not have such a woeful housing situation that people must live in RVs parked along the El Camino - particularly not when there is empty housing within blocks of that. I think that's worth a little protesting.

But could the RV dwellers afford the exorbitant Palo Alto/Stanford rents? Perhaps they could park along CT streets to eliminate some congestion along ECR.

>>isn't there a committee in CT whose sole purpose is to monitor Stanford and immediately launch complaints when they do something that does not comply with CT residents demands. CT residents are never satisfied- anyways demanding more and more...

[Portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2019 at 8:16 pm

Whomever said, "much ado about nothing" is lying. This much ado about something that should concern Palo Alto residents. College Terrace neighborhood is very unique and special. It is 2 blocks by 12 blocks. Every time a home goes up for sale, Stanford bids up the prices so high and "no conditions" with all cash offers, no real Palo Alto person can compete with purchasing the College Terrace home.

How would Old Palo Alto resident like it if Stanford came in and bid on their homes that came up for sale and bought them up systematically, one by one.. until Stanford owned 30 homes and had plans to keep buying more. Stanford that will put their tenant's children into PAUSD but won't pay a cent of property taxes. PAUSD will deteriorate. More and more children are going into Escondido PS and Greene MS and then PALY from Stanford... where residents of Stanford homes in College Terrace won't be paying a SINGLE CENT.

College Terrace resident have less and less ability to speak and have a community presence as Stanford owns and continues to buy up more and more homes that come up for sale in College Terrace.

How about if Stanford did that in Crescent Park neighborhood. Imagine... a neighbor puts their home up for sale, and families bid on it but it goes to the highest cash offer of Stanford University. Your neighbor is now an institution.. that will razor and build a cookie cutter home to their specifications.... and continue to rent out on an ongoing churning basis to their tenants ... all without paying into city of Palo Alto taxes. THINK ON THAT.

Much ado about NOTHING? Cow manure! This should be highly concerning to the Palo Alto city council and they should pass regulations about how Stanford is expanding into Palo Alto the city by buying up properties and homes.. one by one as they go up for sale. What if 80% of the homes get bought up by Stanford. Nice boat load of NON Taxes Palo alto city will have in it's coffers.

There should be a limit. When will city of Palo Alto pass bylaws about this? When the ENTIRE neighborhood of College Terrace is bought up by Stanford? Then why not Professorville? Then one by one... Professorville homes can be bought out there too.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Just because it's not your neighborhood, you say "much ado about nothing"?? Really? are you that short sighted?
THINK votes and rights. WHy not give the entire city of Palo alto to Stanford? Just sell the entire city to Stanford and city council can say they work at Stanford. How about that.

11 people like this
Posted by Big Red
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 17, 2019 at 8:39 pm

> Why not give the entire city of Palo alto to Stanford?

This makes sense. Palo Alto wasn't much of a town in the early days. Leland Stanford put Palo Alto on the map. It's the same with Cambridge, New Haven, College Station and just about any university town in America. The same with colleges. No one would know of Walla Walla if it wasn't for Whitman College or Yellow Springs if not for Antioch College.

Stanford gives Palo Alto its identity...not the other way around. The last time I checked it was STANFORD SHOPPING CENTER not Palo Alto Shopping Center. The same goes for the hospital.

Palo Altans should be grateful for Stanford's presence. Its close proximity keeps their property values up as well. It also makes some Palo Altans appear more worldly & educated when they say they're from the area.

This is true even among some RV dwellers. I asked one why he was parked along ECR across from Town & Country Village. His reply, "Because now I am a Stanford resident." People come from miles around to be a part of Stanford.

So let's not be an ingrate just because there's a pile of lumber and a few cans of paint situated on STANFORD property.

Just look the other way & go about enjoying your day. There's far other more important things to get bent out of shape over.


4 people like this
Posted by Gimmee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2019 at 9:21 pm

Resident- the sales are transactions between two private entities. I am sure the seller has no problem with selling for top dollar. What kind of bylaw do your expect the city to pass? Do toy really think the city did try to regulate private transactions?

4 people like this
Posted by Alternative Strategy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 18, 2019 at 6:54 am

If the CT residents are that concerned about the Stanford housing developments ruining their small neighborhood, they should pool their resources & buy some of the properties.

Then rent them out as affordable housing to those whom they choose.

Fat chance...far easier to complain about Stanford.

10 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 18, 2019 at 9:58 am

the article is primarily about Stanford using two R-1 parcels in an illegal manner for storage of materials and construction vehicles and debris from other construction sites/projects.

the article clearly states that this is illegal in our municipal code.

Thats the story. No one has said Stanford is violating any law by buying homes and leasing them to stanford faculty and excluding the general public. That is not against the law, but it is unwanted by some in the College Terrace neighborhood.

5 people like this
Posted by Another Big Red
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 18, 2019 at 4:52 pm

If the stored materials are not ecologically hazardous big deal.

Just look the other way. Palo Alto is 'development central' nowadays so folks shouldn't be all that surprised or outraged to see cyclone fence closures, piled-up lumber & trucks.

If the area is enclosed, why be a curmudgeon about it?

Just remember, it was Leland Stanford who put PA on the map. Not the other way around.

1 person likes this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Stanford employees who purchase the newly built homes in College Terrace will indeed pay property tax on those homes/properties based on the County Assessor's property tax assessment, which is about 2x the purchase price, or full market value (i.e. the price of that home on the open market).
Considering that the homes razed for the construction were typically older/smaller and had tax assessments that dated to many years ago, the new taxes collected will be significantly more than any tax previously collected on the same property. Ergo, there will be more, not less, tax funneled to PA schools as a result.
There are other issues worth discussing surrounding Stanford's expansion and how Stanford is maintaining construction sites, etc., but I think that it's important that the tax issue be presented accurately.

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