Stanford's offer, which comes at a critical time in its bid for a new "general use permit" was immediately met with criticism from county Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian, who was one of two supervisors authorized last fall to negotiate with the university. Simitian dismissed the proposal as a "Hail Mary" pass thrown by Stanford just days before the Thursday, June 27, meeting of the Planning Commission, which found itself weighing the recommendation of the county's planning staff against Stanford's new proposal.
At the meeting, county staff similarly pushed back against Stanford's offer, which the university claimed includes $3.4 billion for housing alone. County staff have vehemently rejected these numbers and argued that most of the "benefits" are in fact legally mandated mitigations or, in some cases, part of the proposed development itself.
Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos pointed to the 2,600 student beds, which Stanford is including in its package of benefits and which comprises a $1.4 billion investment.
"Those aren't community benefits — that's the project application. It's what they're proposing to develop," Gallegos said.
The real value of Stanford's "community benefits" is $166 million, Gallegos said, which includes $138 million that Stanfod had previously offered to the Palo Alto Unified School District under a tentative deal that was never adopted.
Gallegos recommended that the commission reject Stanford's proposed "development agreement," which conflicts with numerous conditions of approval that county planners and consultants proposed in May as part of Stanford's new general use permit (GUP).
If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the permit will allow Stanford to build about 2.275 million square feet of new academic space, 40,000 square feet of child care facilities and transportation hubs and 2,600 student beds by 2035.
To win approval, the county is proposing that Stanford provide 2,600 student beds and 2,172 "workforce housing" units. The university, for its part, has requested that the county give it credit for 865 units for the Escondido Village housing development on campus and Middle Plaza project in Menlo Park, which would leave 1,307 units still to build. (According to Stanford, the Escondido and Middle Plaza housing total $1.26 billion of the $4.7 billion offer.)
Stanford also had offered to include 575 affordable-housing units of "workforce" housing, which the university would construct or fund in the first five-year phase of the campus expansion.
Of these 575 units, 400 would be built on campus. Another 87 would be funded through an immediate and one-time contribution of $27.6 million to Santa Clara County. The remaining 88 would be either subsidized through fees or provided on Stanford land (at least 47 of these would be in San Mateo County communities).
When it comes to addressing traffic problems, Stanford is proposing a contribution of $15 million to Palo Alto and $15 million to San Mateo County cities for bicycle, pedestrian and transit improvements. Stanford is also preparing to invest $1.1 billion in its own transportation system to maintain its "no net new commute trips" standard, which applies to peak commute hours.
Yet the transportation proposal also met resistance from county staff. Rather than accept Stanford's offer, county planners reiterated their call for new and more stringent requirements for measuring traffic impacts, including consideration of reverse commutes and average daily traffic.
The county and Stanford are also at odds over a potential development agreement. Last year, the board authorized the use of a development agreement as a potential tool for approving the general use permit. But the county halted the process after a negotiation period expired in April, immediately after Stanford announced a side deal that it had made with the Palo Alto Unified School District.
At the commission's June 13 meeting, Gallegos re-emphasized that the county's negotiations with Stanford are "suspended at the moment."
"If and when the county re-enters negotiations, it will be done at a time that's most strategically advantageous to the county," Gallegos said at the meeting.
On Thursday, she similarly recommended that the Planning Commission reject Stanford's new offer.
Pushing back against county requirements
Along with its offer to invest billions of dollars, the university would also require the county to significantly revise its proposed conditions of approval, including ones calling for Stanford to build 2,172 units of workforce housing and ones that would revise how Stanford measures its traffic volumes.
While Stanford maintains that it would meet the 2,172-unit requirement, it is relying partially on two housing developments that were proposed and approved before the current general use permit application. Catherine Palter, Stanford's associate vice president, told the Planning Commission on Thursday that the Escondido Village development "will open up hundreds of rental units in the community for future workers."
"The current base of graduate students is occupying off-campus workforce housing units today, and 75% are living within six miles of campus," Palter said. "When they move onto campus in 2020, their vacated off-campus units will be available to serve future growth in the workforce population."
The county, however, has rejected that argument. Both Gallegos and Geoff Bradley, a consultant who is managing the project for the county, argued earlier this month that Stanford is simply offering fewer units than the county is recommending.
"The Stanford proposal as currently envisioned is 40% less than the documented demand," Bradley told the Planning Commission on June 13.
County staff on Thursday reasserted their position that the Stanford offer falls far short of what's required to mitigate growth. In exchange for the purported benefits in Stanford's development proposal, the university is seeking a "loss of important community protections," Gallegos said.
Staff opposes the development-agreement proposal, she said, "because it asks us to pay a very significant price on behalf of the public."
In addition, Stanford is recommending that it continue to abide by the current method of monitoring campus traffic and that the county desist from adding new requirements. The county's proposed additional monitoring of traffic during daily peak commute periods (longer than the current one hour during the morning and afternoon), reverse-commute trips and of average daily traffic.
But Stanford staff have said the university cannot simultaneously build workforce housing on campus and reduce the car trips associated with this housing. The university has instead offered to mitigate its transportation impacts by paying a "fair share" contribution toward various transportation projects in and around the campus.
After declining to re-open development agreement negotiations last month, county leaders stated that they would return to the table if the negotiations process were open to the public, a condition that Stanford is rejecting.
That's not to say that the public would not be part of the overall approval process, noted Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president for government and community relations.
"The county has stated if there is a development agreement proposal ... they would want to bring it back to the Planning Commission first, and then eventually it would go into the Board of Supervisors. And, you know, nothing is final until it's all in public view.
"Hopefully, as we did with the school district, (there will be) a mutually supportive package that gets revealed to the public, and the public can react to that and comment on it before any decisions are made about it," she said.
But Simitian rejected the notion that Stanford is interested in negotiating in a transparent fashion.
"I understand why they want to do it (this way), but it's not in the public interest, "Simitian told the Weekly.
Dozens of speakers turned out Thursday to address the commission, with business leaders, union workers and various members of the Stanford community urging the commission to back Stanford's proposal and elected officials from neighboring communities voicing support for the county's conditions.
Palo Alto Councilman Tom DuBois pointed to a new analysis from Palo Alto's transportation consultants indicating that Stanford would need to provide about $260 million in "fair share" contributions for transportation, far more than Stanford has proposed.
The conditions of approval proposed by staff are "a critical baseline to which any further agreements should be based."
"It's important to establish that baseline," he said.
East Palo Alto Councilman Larry Moody similarly favored the county planners' position and suggested that Stanford should have done more to engage with his city, which already suffers from heavy traffic jams and which remains vulnerable to gentrification from the proposed influx of students and faculty.
Stanford's development "will significantly exacerbate the housing crisis associated with the traffic gridlock," Moody said.
"For them to believe they can move forward with the project without having consultation with East Palo Alto is something that they shouldn't be proud of," Moody said.