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Stanford expansion creates housing quandary for Palo Alto

Original post made on Jul 10, 2018

Despite often-voiced concerns about the region's housing shortage, Palo Alto residents showed little enthusiasm Tuesday for the idea of requiring Stanford University to build enough residential units to accommodate its ambitious expansion plan.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 9:47 PM

Comments (32)

39 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2018 at 10:00 pm

More housing for local workers does not cause more traffic. More workers that are hired from outside the area is causing more traffic.


36 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2018 at 12:01 am

I really hope the school district impact is greatly exaggerated. Doesn't seem fair or reasonable to add hundreds to a thousand new students to the school district without them paying their share through property tax contributions. Where is that new money supposed to come from?


66 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2018 at 12:17 am

@Dan, it's for real. When Stanford owns property and rents it to its employees, they don't pay property taxes. They went through this last year in Menlo Park, where Stanford is paying them for anticipated new kids: Web Link

"The provision for the local schools [in Menlo Park] is tied to the fact that Stanford plans to rent the 215 apartments to university faculty and staff, which means the university won't pay property taxes on the apartments. But children living in the apartments may go to the district's schools, which depend on property taxes for their operation."

The Stanford GUP plan calls for hundreds of new PAUSD students - at least 300, up to almost 1500 more, all from high-density, multi-family rental properties. Those would all be tax-exempt. This could be a huge problem.


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2018 at 12:49 am

What is "possessory interest" and when does county tax assessor get involved?


64 people like this
Posted by Stop Destroying Our City
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2018 at 5:25 am

Stanford's growth plans are too ambitious.

The City of Palo Alto has actually acknowledged that Stanford's claims it has kept traffic down are implausible. Stanford's counts don't include cars that drop people off. Stanford doesn't count people who park across El Camino from Stanford. And Stanford has invented other ways to lower the counts artificially too. Meanwhile, our traffic keeps getting worse.

Stanford simply doesn't care if it causes extra traffic, housing shortages, underfunded schools, and overparked neighborhoods. Until it truly solves these problems, we should have have a simple answer when it wants to make things worse: No!


22 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2018 at 7:37 am

Stanford, its hospital(s), its shopping center, its industrial park, can be considered as a big business enterprise. There are pluses and minuses associated with this enterprise, such as sales tax generated by the shopping center, and so on.

The biggest impact to me, personally, is the same impact as HP/HPE, Google and Facebook in neighboring cities, Palantir, and all the rest-- traffic. I imagine the impact of a few hundred students in the schools is going to be pretty small compared to the impact of the traffic.

If there is one thing that I personally want Stanford to work on, it is in reducing traffic.


12 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2018 at 8:58 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Re schools:

Let's calculate the property tax that would be paid for the housing were it developed privately. Then, let's calculate the portion of that figure that would go to finance schools and make it a fee paid upfront by Stanford in return for permission to build. Given that I'm not the sharpest pencil in the drawer I have to believe such a system must be in place somewhere so it can be vetted.


28 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 11, 2018 at 9:36 am

How about build a trailer park for all there employees who live on El Camino. Oh wait that would be too easy.


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2018 at 9:41 am

"Councilmen Adrian Fine and Cory Wolbach both said they would like to see Stanford move ahead"

Fine and Wolbach famously called for 10,000 new housing units in Palo Alto, so another 2,500 from Stanford wouldn't be much more.


38 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2018 at 11:03 am

Annette is a registered user.

I am ready to hear our leaders and planners specify what the end game is. How do they define "more"? Between what the university plans to do and what the City needs to do, where are we going? A 20% population increase? 50%? Higher?

What capacity is left in our various infrastructure elements? Asked differently, how many more structures and people can our water supply, water treatment system, sewage system, utility grid, land fill, hospitals, public safety personnel, roads, public transportation, schools, etc. support without breaking down completely? I rather doubt people will continue to clamor to live here if the area is a dysfunctional mess of a place to live.

I am very concerned that the rallying cry around housing is focused only on housing and not on infrastructure. It is irresponsible - and misleading - to talk about the cost of housing w/o including financial projections about the cost of whatever else needs to be improved, augmented, or added to support the new housing.


38 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2018 at 11:44 am

Annette is a registered user.

Current population of Palo Alto is ~66,649 per the City's website. If Fine and Wolbach are pushing for an additional 10,000 housing units in Palo Alto, they are pushing for a 15% population increase if only 1 person resides in each of those units or a 30% population increase if 2 people occupy each of those units. For discussion, let's average the two numbers.

Parents, teachers and PAUSD: can the existing schools absorb another 22.5% students?

PAFD and PAPD: can you provide public safety for a community that is 22.5% larger?

Utilities Dept: can our utilities support the increase in demand that accompanies a 22.5% population growth?

Commuters and other drivers: what will a population increase of 22.5% look like on the 101? 280? Surface streets?

Stanford Hospital and PAMF: do you have the capacity to support a population that is 22.5% larger than our current population?

Sacramento and ABAG and other governmental entities impose numbers on us that result in constant cries for more housing, with what appears to be a focus on the needs of people who do NOT live here (and other cities in the cross hairs) rather than on the needs of those who DO live in the targeted cities. And our Council majority supports adding more and more office development that swells our daytime population and increases the demand for housing.

Something's gotta give somewhere. I think the reasonable needs and requirements of the existing community should not be ignored and that housing should take priority over office/r&d development. Apparently it is naïve to expect our City Council majority to act in support of these two things. Vote carefully in November.


2 people like this
Posted by At the meeting
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2018 at 11:52 am

This hand-out got passed around last night on the impact on the schools: Web Link (sorry phone scan). "Stanford do your fair share for our schools, New GUP housing must cover its costs." Interesting.


15 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 11, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Annette always asks hard questions that I don't think CC members have even begun to think about. Well, if they have they certainly haven't offered up any good answers to them. Schools and infrastructure are just two of them. We wallow in traffic and all we hear about as a solution is people walking and biking to work. From Fremont, Tracy, Morgan Hill?

No, of course not. We will build enough housing units (underparked) so they can all live here. There are a few fuzzy headed thinkers who project themselves as being the enlightened ones who can solve all our problems, when their track record, so far, is pretty dismal. But campaign season is coming up and so they will put a big positive spin on things, like ADU's being a great success story, the BP being approved for 57 units of "affordable?" housing at the old VTA site. I doubt any of them will be inhabited this year. So, one year in and we'll most likely be at least 200 units short out of the gate.
Bike boulevards, of course, another great success. And they will always fall back on BV as the hallmark of what can been done (at a very high cost) to save "really" affordable, not "affordable" housing. That's history and so let's hear about the next big chance to add the same number of "really" affordable units in PA.

You want to ask a question that will get a lot of smooth talking, flim flam skirting answers? Ask how the quality of life for us long time residents has been improved or how they propose to improve it. Let's face it, we are the forgotten ones. CC members and future members will give first priority to the millennials because they know they are the future voters of PA who can keep them in office with all the promises they make.

Incumbents and those seeking office will say just about anything, or at least enough, to mollify us older voting residents. Speaking for myself, I'm becoming more easily mollified. I'm too old to carry pitchforks and torches, or be a marching bsnner waving activist, and CC meetings go past my bedtime before issues I'm interested in come up. My best years as a PA resident are behind me. The memories remain, however, and they are grand!!


34 people like this
Posted by Get to the source of the problem!
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Get to the source of the problem! is a registered user.

Don't lose sight of the fact that Stanford's academic growth proposal creates major demand for more housing whether they build it themselves or not. (If they don't build it themselves, either those folks will have to commute (even more traffic) or taxpayers have to build it (more corporate subsidies)).

The key take away from the county's new analysis is that EITHER way, the newly created housing demand will be painful to supply, worsen traffic and burden public services (schools, water, safety). It will have a huge impact on Palo Alto.

We'll never be able to correct our jobs housing imbalance as long as we keep creating new housing demand faster than we can build supply and infrastructure to service it. When will elected officials stop pretending that building new housing, alone, can solve this crisis? They owe it to constituents (voters) to get to the source of the problem!




8 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2018 at 2:09 pm

First off, I think it is fair that Stanford, like anyone else, pay property taxes on residential properties. Note that it does pay property taxes on Stanford West rental properties. Moreover, all of the faculty housing on campus is also subject to regular property taxes as are businesses in the Industrial Park.

However, the issue thoughtfully raised on the earlier, similar thread by Resident (Adobe Meadows) is that nobody's residential property taxes likely comes close to covering the per child education cost - $18,000/year (about 170% of the State average). This would require ca. $54,000/year property tax per child which is currently about $4M of assessed property value per child. Rental housing that is held by the owner for long periods of time exacerbate this problem - as Resident notes, the current assessed value of Stanford West (built in 2000) is ca. $100M (2000 valuation plus Prop 13's limited annual growth) and so only about $500,000 of property tax. For example, people in the Duveneck area like ourselves who bought in the late 1990s early 2000s likely have been paying about $4,000/year to PAUSD, so in our case, with 2 kids, someone was subsidizing us to the tune of $25,000/year while our kids were in school. The property taxes for the school board member up the street from us who also had several kids in PAUSD schools are about half of ours, so received an even larger subsidy.

Thus, the central issue is that any new housing that is created (e.g. in response to the Grand Jury or ABAG, or as part of the GUP) will require somebody to subsidize the cost to PAUSD of those new students or will necessarily reduce per child spending by PAUSD. I suspect that creating some form of payment tied to housing units as Burt and Collins suggest will make it really tough to add any housing, other than very, very expensive housing, to the local housing stock. This calculation also explains why adding businesses and offices might be far more attractive to PAUSD than is housing since the former increases property tax revenue while not increasing student numbers.


15 people like this
Posted by No to Stanford's GUP
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Bottom line is that we need to stop building if we are to retain any quality of life. The city of Palo Alto has done a good job so far stopping more office growth. And if the resident inspired proposition gets passed in the November election, then this reduced office growth will apply city wide.

We need to stop the Stanford growth also. They are big enough. Only a cancer wants to grow forever and that is what Stanford has become to our quality of life.

Shut them down by writing to the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors and asking them to vote no on Stanford's GUP (general use permit).


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2018 at 3:32 pm

If Stanford is going to have more housing that will add students to PAUSD, is there any way that we can ask Stanford to house PAUSD teachers?

Serious question. Could PAUSD teachers be eligible for some of the housing that is being built? It would make sense to me


29 people like this
Posted by jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 11, 2018 at 3:33 pm

@Gale Johnson
"Annette always asks hard questions that I don't think CC members have even begun to think about."

There is a minority of CC members who do want to ask the hard questions, but this often conflicts with the agendas of the majority CC members who do not want these hard questions asked.

Unfortunately, the chair of the CC, both last year and this year, who run the council meetings and can permit who can speak, when, and for how long, have cut off those who want to ask the inconvenient hard questions by not allowing all council members to speak before the chair allows a motion. A motion once proposed and seconded prevents any comments at all beyond that narrowly addressed in the motion. Thus, where there is a conflict of opinion the minority council members are silenced. A very effective political tactic.

Previously, the practice was to allow at least one round of comments from ALL the council members before allowing a motion. and cutting off any further comments.


14 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Marie is a registered user.

As bad as the impacts are of sufficient housing to house all new Stanford employees and students if the GUP is approved as proposed, the impacts of not requiring it, is worse as it will worsen the housing imbalance significantly. Stanford should be required to build enough housing within Stanford for employees and students generated by the GUP. If they don't want to build the housing, then don't hire the people or admit the students. This may sound harsh, but the consequences otherwise are horrendous.

Stanford must be required to pay their fair share for the infrastructure to support whatever expansion is approved.

Best would be if they scale back their plans, but if not, they need to pay for the infrastructure to support it.


9 people like this
Posted by Against_larger_Stanford
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 11, 2018 at 8:27 pm

One question the community should ask more strongly is "Why does Stanford need to grow?" On their own website their answer is: "We live and work in an environment where knowledge is continually advancing. New technologies enable new fields of study to emerge and existing ones to grow. How we teach and conduct research is also rapidly evolving. Our academic and research facilities need to be updated or replaced to meet these challenges in real time." Updated or replaced does NOT mean more facilities. Many corporations update their office and lab spaces without increasing footprint. Stanford has so much money that they continue to build infrastructure without being a good steward (of course much of the money is by donors that insist that the only way they will donate is to have a new building named after them). The real waste is new 'inter-disciplinary' or 'multi-disciplinary' fields that somehow require more new space. In other words, someone in building A and someone in building B are going to work together, so why not make a new building C for them? I have literally talked to Stanford personnel that joked they didn't even realize they had multiple offices assigned to them in different buildings: one had three offices in three buildings assigned but was only aware of one until recently (and only uses one). Stanford has not put forth any reason they need to grow. Resist!


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 11, 2018 at 8:36 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Jane - thank you for posting the synopsis of the way the 2017 and 2018 City Councils have been led and the meetings conducted. Between what you correctly describe and the ridiculous, suppressive 60 second rule, challenge to the Majority's development-friendly agenda is quashed. What are they afraid of? Opposition can be healthy as it can lead to better conclusions. The CC is supposed to work for the betterment of the City, but this majority works for the benefit of those who support them and their own agendas. I call that conflict, but I am old fashioned about my expectations regarding civic service.

I also ask, are we better off for their leadership and the execution of their agendas? I don't see much in the way of improvement on the housing front. In fact, I see some very sad developments, increased demand, and momentum that will only make matters worse.

Everyone who is concerned about this should write CC and urge them to accept the change to the Comp Plan that the citizen's initiative proposes. We need a doubling of the allowed office/r&d development growth rate about as much as we need a hole in the head. There is NO demonstrated need for the growth rate in the Comp Plan, but there's potential for positive change by lessening it. We do need that.


15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2018 at 8:55 pm

I am concerned about additional traffic and impacts on our public schools that we, Palo Alto taxpayers, are asked to accept. I strongly feel Stanford should be held more accountable in ways that are meaningful to Palo Alto residents. This does NOT mean token actions that benefit Stanford instead of us! Some proposed things are confusing and may not really ameliorate the additional problems Stanford is creating locally. I want Palo Alto City Council members and our SC County representative to advocate for us! Start with a major schools impact fee to Stanford. Start also with looking at traffic from the perspective of EXISTING residents/local taxpayers and local merchants.


4 people like this
Posted by 16 yr resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2018 at 10:25 pm

I don't understand why stanford wouldn't be required to build housing for their planned expansion.

Schools, fire, police, medical, utilities etc are all struggling with housing costs. Some of the self proclaimed "older" commenters have to be blind not to see this. Even businesses (outside the largest tech companies) are struggling. Older residents reap the rewards of their land value but refuse to accept new modes of transport that come with the areas success. If the CC continues to dramatically miss their own housing development goals we will turn the mess we are in into community disfunction that leads to a crash.



16 people like this
Posted by Stanford's reputation
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2018 at 11:31 pm

My own reaction to Stanford's explosive expansion, accumulation of billions of dollars, and borderline lying about their control of traffic (no net new trips? yeah, right,--'net'achieved by not counting huge numbers of cars),
and manipulation of government processes, millions of dollars advertising for patients in newspapers, radio, and TV apparently to fill their over-expansion.

My opinion of them has changed from thinking of it as an esteemed university, into a greedy, metasticizing, voracious, developer. I even have an involuntary image of our President when I think of Stanford now.


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:20 am

Annette is a registered user.

Webster defines quandary as a "perplexing situation or state: dilemma".

I don't think this is a quandary at all. It's a choice: does the County allow the university to expand beyond what it and Palo Alto can sustain, or not? To me, the answer is a simple "no" and the University should be required to scale back its plans. Significantly.

Both Stanford and Palo Alto have spent the last decade exhausting the area's capacity to adequately support and sustain development. Housing and traffic are the two most obvious indicators that we have reached (arguably exceeded) our saturation point. It's time for some moderation.




18 people like this
Posted by Stanford Just Needs to Do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2018 at 12:07 pm

I see three big problems - housing, traffic, and schools. All three can be mitigated with money, of which Stanford has plenty ($24 billion in the endowment and swiftly growing). Joe Simitian needs to do his job - don't kow-tow, don't back down, don't let Stanford walk all over the community (which they'd be delighted to do - they literally don't care). It sounds like we need $200M for housing, up to $30M a year for schools, and some unknown number for Stanford to *actually* cut down on traffic.

Are they big numbers? Sure, but Stanford is enormously wealthy and only has one host town to take care of. Stanford, don't be cheap, short-sighted, and dumb. Get out your check book and do the right thing!


7 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 12, 2018 at 12:32 pm

A lot of commenters here are extremely hypocritical. They are holding Stanford to much higher standards than anybody else.

They would like to kill the golden goose rather than deal with problems in a realistic way.

Stanford has offered to consider putting housing in Stanford Research Park. Why are there no calls to take them up on that?
HP is abandoning a large site; why not develop housing there?

I challenge the whiners here to make realistic, constructive suggestions and cut out the constant unfounded carping about Stanford.


9 people like this
Posted by Stanford Just Needs to Do the Right Thing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2018 at 12:50 pm

@Chris, I don't know what you are talking about. They already have started putting housing in the research park (University Terrace). They do it because they WANT TO, not because of any altruistic desire. It's virtually certain they will build more there over time. What problem do you think it solves?

My realistic, constructive solution is that they pay to mitigate the issues their proposed growth creates. When you are the biggest employer / landlord / property owner / hospital ower, etc. in the area, that's what you have to do.


12 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2018 at 2:53 pm

When the Stanford traffic counts exceed their agreed number they get away with it by quietly being allowed to pay a small fine to the county. pay a small fine to the county, so no one is the wiser.


12 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2018 at 3:23 pm

"holding Stanford to much higher standards than anybody else."

But no one else has presented a plan to expand by 2.275 million square feet within the next 15 or so years.


10 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2018 at 3:28 pm

The 2.275 million square feet does not include the Stanford plans for further commercial development within the hugely profitable Stanford Research Park during the next fifteen years.


8 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2018 at 5:23 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Do the Right Thing writes:
"They already have started putting housing in the research park (University Terrace). They do it because they WANT TO, not because of any altruistic desire.”

Yes, but this is the first time Stanford or anyone else has built housing in Research (né Industrial) Park although it has been allowed by zoning for decades.

Why start via University Terrace?

As per a 2005 development agreement between the city and Stanford, the demolition of ~350k sf of commercial space on 17 acres in Research Park (1.8 on El Camino, 17 along “Upper" Cal Ave), would give way to 250 housing units (50 to 70 BMRs and the balance, “market rate”). Who could/would live in the market rate units? Stanford wold not reveal until 2014.

The agreement also allowed Stanford to build 300k sf of replacement commercial space in Research Park of which ~100k sf has been used. If/when the balance is applied, the overall jobs vs housing comparison for the deal will most likely be a wash.

The other major aspect of the agreement was the community soccer fields: The lease of 6 acres on the former “Mayfield School” site to the city ($1/yr for 51 years) and the fields' construction. Prime commercial location, except that it is comprised by close proximity to underground plumes from a Superfund site across the road.

Give ‘em credit; savvy negotiators.


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