Support, concerns voiced for Stanford expansion plans | September 26, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 26, 2007

Support, concerns voiced for Stanford expansion plans

While many potential negative impacts raised, some call project a 'jewel'

by Becky Trout

Amid a wave of support for proposed expansions of the Stanford Medical Center and Stanford Shopping Center Monday night, members of the Palo Alto City Council and the community pointed out possible negative impacts of the massive development project.

Monday's "scoping" meeting raised questions about additional housing, water use, traffic and construction practices -- issues that were added to 128 items previously generated by the Planning and Transportation Commission and other reviewers.

The council did not vote on suggestions by council members, which were noted by EIR consultants.

Stanford Medical Center is proposing a complex project of new construction, retrofitting and demolition that would add a net 723,800 square feet to Stanford Hospital, add 401,500 square feet to the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital, completely replace 415,000 square feet of medical school buildings and add about 186,000 additional square feet of medical office space.

The new hospital would have three 130-foot towers (eight stories) and the Children's Hospital expansion would rise about 85 feet, well above the city's current 50-foot height limit.

The shopping center expansion will create a 120-room hotel and add 240,000 square feet of retail space, staffed by 185 additional employees, according to EIR consultant Trixie Martelino.

Several Palo Altans told the council Monday that saving lives is laudable, necessary work and is nearly all that should be expected of a top-notch research hospital and medical school, -- espousing a position that resonated with Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg.

"I am thrilled this opportunity is before us," Kleinberg said. "This is a jewel in the crown of our community."

While solidly supportive of Stanford's plans, Kleinberg acknowledged the project will affect Palo Alto.

Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and several other council members focused on the effects of the hundreds of additional vehicles, more than 2,000 new employees and the other impacts of the 1.3 million-square-foot medical center expansion.

"It's a very large project, the impacts will be large," Kishimoto said. "Working with Stanford … we end up with an overall better community as a result of this project."

Fifteen members of the public commented on the project, many expressing support of Stanford's plans.

Councilman Peter Drekmeier said he wanted the EIR to examine the additional housing need generated by the project, as well as increased water use. He urged Stanford leaders to use environmentally friendly construction practices.

Councilman Jack Morton said he'd like to separate the project components needed to meet state seismic standards from those included to expand the facilities.

He emphasized the enormity of the project's effects.

"I hope that (Stanford) will get most of what it wants in a way that we want it," Morton said.

Public meetings on the projects are scheduled for Oct. 4, Oct. 18 and an unspecified date in November, with the issue returning to the council Nov. 19, Martelino said.

Comments on topics to be studied in the environmental document will be accepted until Oct. 1 and should be directed to Steven Turner, 250 Hamilton Ave., fifth floor, Palo Alto, CA 94302 or e-mailed to

In other business:

* Delegates from one of Palo Alto's Sister Cities, Enschede, the Netherlands, attended the meeting to kick off a five-year economic alliance between the two cities.

The Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved the project, which will involve the cities, their business communities and Stanford University and Enschede's Twente University.

The groups will work together to improve their economic bases through exchanges of students, entrepreneurs and others, improved communication and additional efforts, the program description states.

Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto presented Enschede Mayor P.E.J. den Oudsten a golden key to Palo Alto. In exchange, the city received two photographs of innovative projects in Enschede.

The project is not expected to use City of Palo Alto funds, city staff members said.

* On a 7-1 vote, the council approved a letter to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission stressing the urgency of the proposed improvements to the massive Hetch Hetchy water system and urging the commission to minimize the additional use of water from the Tuolumne River. Drekmeier, an employee of the Tuolumne River Trust, did not vote on the letter and Kleinberg was opposed, because she interpreted the letter differently than her colleagues, saying it did not actually oppose additional use of the Tuolumne River.

The Hetch Hetchy upgrade includes a $4.3 billion series of projects to strengthen the system's ability to withstand and recover from an earthquake and to amplify the water supply, which currently serves 2.4 million Bay Area users.

A draft environmental report for the project is available at Comments are due by Oct. 1.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by backed the wrong horse
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:35 am

"Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and several other council members focused on the effects of the hundreds of additional vehicles..."

You might have thought that Stanford University, realizing that it was hoping to do things that would result in hundreds of additional vehicles, would have supported the Mayors of Palo Alto and Menlo Park on August 30, 2007, in the fight against public transportation cutbacks by the VTA.

You would have been wrong to have thought that. The truth that you have to accept is that no "public" system is going to come to anyone's rescue. It's going to be hundreds of individuals in hundreds of cars. Stanford is smart. It knows that.

The only hope is that no time is ever going to be wasted studying projects involving tiny vans masquerading as "shuttles." I hope that Stanford is smart enough to know this, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Griffin
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:22 pm

This is the 1st time I've looked at Town Square Forum, and I'm shocked! Shocked that the topic of Stanford's enormous expansion projects has garnered only one, single, solitary comment...and that was from someone not even living in PA. So it is w/ dampened expectations that I am here posting a (slightly) longer version of my remarks before CC last Mon. nite (9/24), in hopes of eliciting some feedback of a positive or other anyone out there? Hello? OK, here we go:

My concerns are focused tonight on the transportation aspects of these projects. And while I have confidence that Stanford will pursue shuttle bus and Transportation Demand Management strategies, I still would like the EIR to address traffic impacts at specific intersections and to suggest fixes for the anticipated degradation of service. Those intersections are:
Middlefield @ Willow Rd. Middlefield @ Hawthorn Middlefield @ Lytton Ave.
Lytton Ave @ Alma Lytton @ Hawthorn Alma @ Churchill Alma @ Charleston
ElCamino @ Page Mill ElCamino @ Embarcadero ElCamino @ Sand Hill Rd

The Downtown North neighborhood in particular is vulnerable to traffic trying to get to and from the Bayshore freeway. I would ask that the EIR specifically address the potential for increased levels of cut-through traffic in this area and how to address such a threat. Signage is the only protection offered currently.

There is another transportation issue, and it doesn’t involve cars. Rather it is the Stanford helicopter traffic, primarily to and from the Palo Alto airport. Why the chopper has to fly over University Ave at such low altitude is beyond me, but the prospect of increased flights to serve an expanded hospital means more very loud noise, and I’d like the EIR to assess what that increase will be and how to attenuate the racket produced by that low flying air craft.

All of us want to see these Stanford projects be a successful addition to Palo Alto and to be successfully integrated into our local infrastructure. Back in the ‘50s it was possible for a developer to simply build his shopping center, say, without worrying about infrastructure or adequate access. The trick was to stand back and wait for the locals to wake up to the gridlock and then to demand that their cities fix the problem, neatly letting the developer off the hook to solve the problems he created. Now, 50 years later, we’re smarter and demand to know the impacts ahead of time (more or less).

There remains, however, the question of who gets to pay for ameliorating these impacts, once they’ve been duly identified. The projects before us tonight---wonderful though they may be---are basically enormous in scope and will impact the community on an increasing basis for years to come…what with their 1000 additional vehicle trips during morning & evening commute hours. And all those cars heading for those 3,000 new parking spaces.

Solutions won’t be cheap. They may very well include new grade separations at various Cal Train crossings, involving emmanent domain transactions and very expensive construction costs. So perhaps the elephant in the room here is the… so far… unanswered question: who pays for all this traffic? Are Palo Alto taxpayers going to be the ones to foot the bill for solving Stanford’s traffic problems? I certainly hope not, but as they say, inquiring minds want to know.

Like this comment
Posted by question
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2007 at 8:48 am

How much money would be necessary to ameliorate the impacts of this traffic and how could money be used to ameliorate the traffic?

Is it possible to tax the parking?

Like this comment
Posted by Money cant fix everything
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:35 am

Money is one important factor but not the only one. How much money is it worth to sit in a traffic jam that will make you late to an important morning meeting? orclass?
Need to consider mass transit of some kind.
When Stanford expanded long ago it set aside large tracts for housing, now occupied by large numbers of staff and faculty. They need to do the same thing now.
How to deal with the increased traffic to and from the shopping center is a whole other problem.