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Housing in PA - should we ask Stanford to supply even more?

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Sep 27, 2007

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's e-mail is

Comments (11)

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Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 28, 2007 at 1:14 am

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Well said Diana! A very good point that the city is not asking any large businesses to provide housing--just Stanford. And where do they propose Stanford build the housing?

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Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 28, 2007 at 8:08 am

One problem of asking Stanford to build more housing is that they too are built out. Where would they put the additional housing? Tear down the historic stable and put housing there, put housing in the Arboretum. Or, most controversial of all build housing in the hills which would be totally unacceptable to the neighboring cities.

Has GOOGLE been asked to provide their employees with housing?

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 28, 2007 at 9:55 am

A very revealing column, Diana. I’m embarrassed for our city.

Instead of blackmailing Stanford Hospital, the city ought to manage its finances better so that we could afford to pay for transit and performing arts centers. I suggest our city council and senior staff spend some time in Mountain View learning how it was able to do so much and still end up with a budget surplus.

As to the commissioner who suggested turning Hoover Tower into a hotel, I’m hoping that was a joke. Otherwise, that person has no place on any commission.

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Posted by steve levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:12 am

I think it is legitimate for the city to discuss public benefits related to large proposed developments with all applicants, public or private. I don't pretend to know what the "right" amount or type of public benefits are but I think words like "extract" or "blackmail" forget that PA regularly discusses public benefits with much smaller proposals--think 800 High or Alma Plaza.

If public benefits (and mitigation) are appropriate topics when housing is being discussed, then why not with large employment proposals.

I support the Stanford proposed medical center expansion and am willing to absorb the extra traffic and inconvenience but i still want PA to engage with Stanford in discussing mitigation efforts.

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 28, 2007 at 10:32 am

Maybe we could get Stanford to front some of the cost for schools for the new kids -- it will eventually require entirely new facilities, not just the percentage cost of teachers etc.

When we wanted to expand our house by 600 square feet, we were required to pay a significant school fee to the City ($800 I think) just for reviewing our plans, and we never have been able to get it back even after we abandoned our expansion plans. If that can happen to homeowners of a 950 square foot house, why should the businesses and developers who are bringing in all these new residents not have to pay an equivalent impact fee as well? The fee would be separate from teh property taxes that would come in from sale/purchase of the property.

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Posted by Former Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2007 at 11:25 am

Natasha, remember Stanford gave the school district millions of dollars (I think it was $10 Million) to buy back Terman Middle School from the City and refurbish it. At that time an agreement was reached between the PAUSD and Stanford that the School District would not ask Stanford for anymore money for at least 10 years.

Reminder, Stanford has given a lot to the PAUSD over the years for example the land on which both Gunn and Paly were built for a token of $1.00 per year. Not to mention the land on which both Escondido and Lucille M. Nixon were built. How much more do you want Stanford to give to our School District - they have been more than generous?

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 29, 2007 at 10:34 pm

I'm with Steve; development mitigation must be discussed, but the tone that these things take (right from the top) is counterproductive. Palo Alto has a long way to go in finding ways to negotiate fiercely, without looking petty. It's an art that we have to learn.

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Posted by David Bubenik
a resident of University South
on Oct 2, 2007 at 1:07 pm

Stanford gets what it wants, so this project will happen pretty much as planned. On a positive note, it could supplement the community “benefit” from Stanford’s recent developments in College Terrace – the soccer field at El Camino Real and Page Mill. The kids now running hard in the auto fumes at our busiest intersection may need treatment for respiratory problems after they grow up.

The real issue is traffic. The city might demand that Stanford downsize its industrial park to balance the traffic upsurge due to the med center. But I’m not holding my breath.

Like this comment
Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 2, 2007 at 1:35 pm

Downsize it's industrial park? You aren't even mentioning the additional traffic (and it will be substantial) that is destined for College Terrace thanks to the development that was approved in exchange for the soccer fields.

Like this comment
Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 2, 2007 at 1:35 pm

correction: downsize its industrial park.

Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2007 at 7:23 am

Emergency preparedness: Stanford should be strongly motivated to provide housing for all Medical Center employees who need to be living close by their hospitals when the next big one hits.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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