Diana Diamond: Housing, dollars, fairness and the new Stanford Med Center | September 26, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - September 26, 2007

Diana Diamond: Housing, dollars, fairness and the new Stanford Med Center

by Diana Diamond

As the plans for expanding Stanford University Hospital slowly wind their way through an approval process at Palo Alto City Hall, one of the things the university may be asked to do is provide housing for some of the 2,000 new workers expected once the expansion is completed a decade or so from now.

Yet in a relatively short period of time, community attitudes toward the need for more housing in our city seem to be changing.

I first heard the shift two years ago, when a politically correct candidate for City Council raised the then-politically incorrect question of whether our city really needs to continue to provide more and more housing to fill the jobs-housing imbalance (too many jobs in Palo Alto, too few houses to enable all those workers to live here).

We are almost built out, he said.

Similar questions surfaced recently because of a new state housing "allocation" issued through the Association for Bay Area Governments (ABAG) that Palo Alto must provide 3,505 more housing units to take care of our share of the region's anticipated population growth.

The mantra for years has always been we need more housing, more affordable housing -- we have to balance the imbalance.

But now the conversation has turned to realities: additional houses mean additional schools, parks and libraries for the anticipated 9,463 new residents in the 3,505 new units.

Yet the continued refrain from the council seems to be the need for more housing in the city.

Take the case of Stanford's plan to expand the two hospitals and the medical center by 1.3 million square feet. The council is talking about asking Stanford to provide housing either on or near the campus for a portion of those 2,000 new workers that would be here once the expansion is completed a decade or so from now.

It feels to me like city has been on a drive to see what it can extract from Stanford. For example, a couple of months ago City Manager Frank Benest suggested the council require Stanford to pay a housing development fee. Council approval was necessary because nonprofit hospitals, including Stanford, are exempt from such a fee. Cost to the hospital: an estimated $16 million, according to Stanford spokesperson Jean McCown.

Stanford argued at the time that agreeing to the fee would be unfair, since many items need to be negotiated before a development agreement is completed and even the EIR will not be completed until spring. Nevertheless, four council members voted for the fee (Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto, Peter Drekmeier, John Barton and Jack Morton); two voted against it (Bern Beecham and Judy Kleinberg). Three council members (Larry Klein, Dena Mossar and LaDoris Cordell) had to recuse themselves because they or their spouses work for Stanford, City rules require five votes for passage since this is a nine-member council. Four is not five and the fee imposition failed.

But still on the council discussion table is the notion that Stanford should provide housing for its employees. Also on the table is expansion of the Stanford Shopping Center, a for-profit entity. The center will be asked to pay the housing development fee, but at this point it is not being asked to provide any housing for an anticipated 900-plus new employees.

Some principles are at stake here for me:

Should a city demand that only one employer in town, the university, provide housing? Palo Alto does not ask this of Hewlett-Packard, Google, Wilson-Sonsini or any other employer in town.

Since existing law acknowledges that nonprofit hospitals are exempt, why try to impose the fee? Sure it's a way to fill the city coffers, but is it a fair way to go?

Why add additional costs to a hospital by requiring it to provide housing? Who will eventually pay for that housing? The patients?

Isn't a non-profit hospital a community benefit since it provides medical services for local residents? I think we all benefit from this nearby medical facility, if not now, then later.

Housing is not the only request being made of Stanford. Indeed, the Planning and Transportation Commission at one of its recent meetings thought of a lot of things it wanted Stanford to give to the community.

Some of the suggestions from commissioners included providing for Palo Alto's entire shuttle system, developing the costly Intermodal Transit Center at the train station, or even building a performing arts center for Palo Alto residents. One commissioner thought it would be nice if Stanford turned Hoover Tower into a hotel. And a resident who is concerned about flooding in the Crescent Park area wanted Stanford to fix the problem by controlling flooding in the foothills.

I am certainly not suggesting that Stanford should not accommodate the city's concerns about increased traffic and parking problems. There are mitigations the university must provide. But many of the suggestions so far have no correlation to expansion of a medical facility.

Keep in mind that the two hospitals are independent and separate entities and do not receive any financial support from the university. Both hospitals have their own boards of directors and are self-sufficient.

I don't think the majority of residents here want to make such demands on either the university or the hospital. We don't want the medical center to be our community Sugar Daddy.

Diana Diamond is a long-time resident of Palo Alto. Her e-mail is Diana@DianaDiamond.com.


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Prior to founding her firm Diamond Communications & Design in 1993, Diana Diamond was head of publications for the Marketing and Strategy Department of Stanford University Hospital.

Diamond says, "Keep in mind that the two hospitals are independent and separate entities and do not receive any financial support from the university. Both hospitals have their own boards of directors and are self-sufficient."

Each of the hospitals may have its own board of directors, and the hospitals may be independent of each other, but I believe they are both subsidiaries of Stanford University, and the advocates for the hospital projects include Jean McCown, Stanford University's Director of Community Relations, and Charles Carter, Stanford University's Director of Land Use and Environmental Planning, neither of which is part of either hospital. (The University's own Internet site says, "Stanford Hospital and Clinics is a university-owned, nonprofit corporation".)

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Diana is on target with her concern. There is a "hand out" attitude that Palo Alto projects toward Stanford University. It poisons the well prior to, and during all development that happens as a result of Stanford activities. That our own City Council members subscribe to this (some of them), is unfortunate.

Stanford is insular; there's no duobt about that. With this as a given, we should be employing municipal development talent that know how to go right to the top with Stanford, other large enterprises, and our neighboring municipalities to make good things happen.

Right now, that isn't happening. As a result, we have an anarchy of ideas, relative to what Stanford can do for Palo Alto, as if it hasn't done almost enough, already.

And we wonder why relations between our two communities are tense? We need leadership on this issue - in policy, and in city operations.

On a related issue: any City Council candidate with ties to Stanford University sufficient to cause recusal on Stanford issues that come up before Council, should be considered a non-candidate, by default. It's absurd that we have candidates who cannot speak to issues about our most important neighbor. Let's not let this happen, again,

Posted by Tom, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 25, 2007 at 11:17 pm

Wasn't Palo Alto established to provide housing for Stanford's University?

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2007 at 6:54 am

Regarding one point that Ms Diamond raised:

"Should a city demand that only one employer in town, the university, provide housing? Palo Alto does not ask this of Hewlett-Packard, Google, Wilson-Sonsini or any other employer in town."

the answer is quote clear--the city knows that Stanford cannot re-locate--so it can try to extort money from Stanford at every turn. However private companies will not sit still for extortion attempts by cities whose finances are being mismanaged by it's "leaders". They will thank the city and move to another location that is more favorable to them.

Our city leaders need to make a decision--either the city is built out or it can handle more housing--this selective "we can handle more housing if Stanford foots the bill" approach is hypocritical and ridiculous.

Posted by CJ, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2007 at 12:10 pm

Thank you Diana Diamond for calling out this issue. I am sick and tired of the double-standard that Palo Alto has for Stanford development and ANYONE else. Having Stanford as our neighbor gives us Palo Altans far more than it costs us! We have top-rate lectures, performances, athletics, the Dish, and excellent medical care facilities because of Stanford (and that's just a few of the perks). Do we get that from HP or Google? No, nor should we expect it.

And I agree with Mike about the City Council issue -- if we are going to have three people regularly have to recuse themselves from important issues than they should not be running (or at least elected) in the first place.

Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 27, 2007 at 12:33 am

The Stanford expansion is unprecedented and massive. The increase in square footage, density, height incursions, number of new commuters, etc., will have a very significant adverse environmental impact. The years-long construction will be a terrible imposition, and uproot many well established doctor and dentist offices. On the other hand, the expansion will not provide comparable benefits to Palo Alto. As a medical facility, it services the entire region. A small percentage of Palo Alto residents ever actually have any use for it at all. Why on earth should all of Palo Alto bear all these costs when most of the benfits are enjoyed by users outside Palo Alto? The bottom line is that this expansion can not happen unless Palo Alto says it can. Palo Alto is under no legal or moral obligation to approve it. The only way that Palo Alto could possibly justify approval is if it obtains significant concessions from Stanford, such as housing and other financial or in-kind payments.

Posted by hugh treanor, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

To: Editor
RE: Diana Diamond's 12/27/10 Bishops Abortion Stance too Extreme
I guess Bishop Olmsted and his Christian fraternity in their haste to be prescriptive have forgotten St. Thomas' views on the subject of the law.
"An unjust law is not a law, in the full sense of the word. It retains merely the 'appearance' of law insofar as it is duly constituted and enforced in the same way a just law is, but is itself a 'perversion of law." ( St Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologicae, Q. 95, A. 2.)
Above quote from Expedia on the subject of Natural Law.
Hugh Treanor