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Stanford’s expansion plans receive pushback from students, Palo Alto residents
(NINA ZUBRILINA/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford’s expansion plans receive pushback from students, Palo Alto residents

This article is the final part in a series examining Stanford’s continued expansion and the impact it has on the landscape of campus and its surrounding community.

As the vote for Stanford’s General Use Permit (GUP) edges closer, the University has come under scrutiny from student groups and Palo Alto residents alike over its plans for land expansion into the surrounding community.

The GUP is a proposal to Santa Clara County regarding Stanford’s land use and expansion plans for the next 18 years. The proposal’s final draft will be subject to a county vote in November, but discussions are already underway as students and workers push Stanford to increase emphasis on affordable housing.

Santa Clara County recently voted on the size of the impact fee that will be levied on the University for its expansion over the next two decades. However, students and Palo Alto residents alike are concerned it may not be enough to offset the community effects of Stanford’s proposed land expansion under the GUP.

Affordable housing fee

Last Tuesday, Santa Clara County held a vote to decide the Affordable Housing Fee that would be levied on Stanford over the next 20 years. While the University proposed that it pay a fee of $56 million ($20 per square foot) for this duration, activist organization Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) demanded that the University be held accountable for its land and community impact by paying a higher fee of $362 million ($143 per square foot) instead. Currently, Stanford’s Affordable Housing Fee stands at $35 per square foot.

The County ultimately settled on a fee of $189 million, which will be subject to a more formal ordinance in the coming months. SCoPE members saw this decision as a “landmark precedent,” as it is the highest such fee ever paid by the University.

In order to push Stanford to pay the requested higher fee, SCoPE 2035 held several on-campus phone banking events to call the County’s Board of Supervisors. One of the supervisors, Cindy Chavez, told The Daily that the Board received over 75 calls and emails from Stanford students.

“This number is based on the negative impact incoming faculty, staff and students would have on the housing crisis. So, this higher fee won’t even do anything except get Stanford to mitigate its own impact,” said Nani Friedman ’20, a student organizer at SCoPE 2035.

Friedman further argued that this fee is used to pay nonprofit affordable housing developers in the area, who depend on the funds for such operations as there are no public housing or for-profit developers doing similar work.

Impact on workers and residents

Meanwhile, the “negative impact” that Friedman mentioned is a cause of concern for both Stanford workers and Palo Alto residents.

Under the GUP, Stanford is proposing to build 3,150 additional housing units on campus by 2035. But the University population is also expected to increase by 9,600 in that same duration, causing a potential dearth of affordable housing for new Stanford employees.

“We are concerned about how Stanford is using its own land for housing — [who] it’s giving priority to and how it’s justifying this [action],” said Chiamaka Ogwuegbu ’18, a student organizer at SCoPE 2035. “Benefits of housing development need to filter down to the lower income workers, who should be prioritized at the same level as faculty and students.”

On the other hand, some Palo Alto residents are concerned that this expansion is too rapid and seemingly indefinite. According to The Mercury News, Stanford has not provided Santa Clara County with a “maximum planned buildout potential” and has not specified how and when they plan to stop growing since 2000, which was the last time the University petitioned to expand.

“How big can they get? Will they someday stop? Or will they just come back every 15 years to build more millions of square feet?” Tina Peak, a Palo Alto resident, told The Mercury News.

In an email to The Daily, University Spokesperson E.J. Miranda responded to these concerns about pace and limits to growth.

“New on-campus housing units and beds will be accommodated within the existing Academic Growth Boundary (established in the 2000 GUP),” he said. “Through the University’s distinctive agreement with Santa Clara County, new academic facilities can only proceed at the pace that new housing is built.”

With regards to affordable housing, he said that Stanford has close to 1,000 rental units in and around campus, including 180 below market rate (BMR) units for low-income workers in the Stanford West Apartments, Welch Road Apartments and the ongoing Middle Plaza project in Menlo Park, among others.

SCoPE 2035’s demands

Friedman said that SCoPE 2035 is planning on announcing its policy platform soon, which will include demands from the GUP regarding labor rights, transportation subsidies for contract workers, affordable housing and the environmental impact of the expansion.

In negotiating with University administration, the group’s members say they have received a mixed response. Friedman said administrators were often defensive and “[see] their perspective as contrary to [SCoPE 2035’s].”

“It really serves Stanford’s interest to make this process as inaccessible and non-transparent as possible because the easier, quicker and more inexpensive it is, the simpler it is for them to develop in any way that they want,” she said.

Refuting these claims, Miranda emphasized the open and collaborative nature of the application process, which has “included Stanford-sponsored open houses, community town halls and dozens of meetings with stakeholders from Stanford and the surrounding community.” He added that the University welcomes SCoPE 2035’s participation in the process.

Ogwuegbu also emphasized his belief in a democratic decision-making process for the GUP.

“Stanford doesn’t have an inherent right to grow at whatever pace they wish — they need consensus amongst their students, faculty and staff before doing so,” he remarked. “And even as they proceed, they have to mitigate their impact in the area.”

On June 12, Santa Clara County will re-release the GUP’s Alternatives Chapter of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), including two Additional Housing Alternatives.

Both Alternatives will address the need for an increase in on-campus housing beyond that which was considered under the original Draft EIR.

The County will instate a 45-day public review and comment period before the GUP’s official approval process commences.  

 

Contact Surbhi Sachdeva at surbhi3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

A previous version of this article misspelled Chiamaka Ogwuegbu’s last name. The Daily regrets this error. 

About Surbhi Sachdeva

Surbhi Sachdeva, a writer for the University/Local Beat, is a sophomore from New Delhi, India. She’s potentially majoring in International Relations, along with an extremely undecided minor (or two). She enjoys debating, writing, finding jewellery in the oddest of places, and Rick & Morty; but only finds true solace in procrastination. For the past 5 years, Surbhi has been actively challenging the claim that the human mind can remember and identify 10,000 scents by smelling nearly everything that she encounters. Contact her at surbhi3 'at' stanford.edu