By Julia Ingram
Santa Clara County has released the final environmental impact report (EIR) on Stanford’s 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) application, detailing the potential effects of the University’s 17-year expansion plan on the local community — including impacts to affordable housing, traffic and transportation. The report expressed confidence in the EIR and GUP proposal’s mitigation efforts to address the effects of an anticipated 1.2 percent increase in campus population.
If approved by the County next June, the 2018 GUP would authorize Stanford’s construction of 3,150 new housing units for students, faculty and staff and 2.275 million square feet of academic buildings. The environmental impact report is intended to inform the County’s Board of Supervisors decision on whether to approve the 2018 GUP application as they consider the potential impact of the expansion on the local community.
The final EIR includes revisions to the draft EIR and the recirculated portions of the draft EIR to provide housing alternatives Stanford’s plan. It also provides written responses to all comments received on the draft EIR and its recirculated portions during the public comment periods for each document.
Comments that the County responded to in the EIR include those from the Mayors of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Portola Valley, representatives from public school boards in these neighborhoods, Stanford’s Graduate Student Council and the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2007, along with a drove of individuals and activist groups. The County responded to the vast majority of these comments, which voiced concerns over the potential impact of the plans established in the GUP and the mitigation efforts set forth in the draft EIR and its recirculated portions.
The recirculated portions of the draft EIR presented two alternatives to the housing plans set out in the GUP. The first, Alternative A, would add 2,549 housing units and student beds on Stanford’s campus on top of the 3,150 Stanford anticipates. The second, Alternative B, would add 1,275 units and beds.
However, the final EIR, confirming the conclusions of the recirculated draft EIR, affirmed that both alternatives would have larger environmental consequences than the GUP’s proposed 3,150 additional units.
The report concludes that the population growth anticipated under Alternative A would create “significant” air quality impacts as well as an increase in daily vehicle trips through campus, augmenting traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Alternative B would do so to a lesser extent, it said.
Some commenters also expressed concern that non-academic service staff have been displaced from the Bay Area to the Central Valley, and that the Draft EIR does not reflect their demand for increased affordable housing units on and off campus.
These sentiments have been echoed on campus by housing equity activists and union groups that have expressed concerns about the displacement of lower-income local residents as a result of population growth and traffic increases.
The final report acknowledged these concerns as “important policy matters for the County Board of Supervisors to consider when it decides whether, and under what conditions, to approve the GUP.”
Commentators also questioned Stanford’s maximum buildout potential. According to the report, the proposed growth under the GUP is in line with the “Moderate Growth Scenario” put forth in a long-term sustainability report prepared by the University and approved by the County’s Board of Supervisors in 2009. The Moderate Growth Scenario allows for an average of 200,000 square feet of new academic space and student housing per year.
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by the County Board of Supervisors to analyze the affordability of the increased demand for housing generated by the plans set forth in the GUP. On Sept. 25, the Supervisors voted to increase the fee Stanford is required to pay the County to fund affordable housing in the area from $36.22 to $68.50 per square foot of nonresidential development, effective Jul. 1, 2020.
Transportation and traffic
The final EIR noted that Stanford is not generating more “peak period” trips — vehicle traffic between the hours of 8 and 9 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m. — than generated under the standing GUP from 2000, despite overall campus population growth. Moreover, it confirms that the average number of vehicles entering and exiting campus each day has not increased over the last 15 years and remains consistent between the summer and academic year.
However, the report recommended that the University adopt the No Net New Commute Trips program to address concerns over potential congestion increases. Under this program, Stanford must design and implement transportation demand management (TDM) programs to ensure the number of vehicles traveling on and off campus will not exceed the number of such vehicles in 2001. TDM programs include the Marguerite shuttle, on-campus car rental programs such as Zipcar, and the Clean Air Cash program, which provides a $25 monthly reward to those who do not commit alone or purchase a parking permit.
The final report extends the No Net New Commute Trips measure to include a fair-share payment by Stanford to the County to go toward addressing any potential impact of peak hour traffic occurring in the “reverse-commute” direction, or traveling away from campus in the morning and returning in the evening. The draft EIR had not accounted for the potential of increased reverse-commute traffic. The report estimates the number of significant reverse commute direction intersection impacts is would be most minimal for the five for the proposed expansion under the GUP and largest for Alternative A, which proposes the most additional housing units. It adds that the fair-share payment requirement could reduce these effects further.
A number of commenters expressed concern with Stanford’s ability to meet the No Net New Commute Trips standard. In response, the report acknowledged that Stanford’s single-occupancy vehicle rate has dropped from 69 percent in 2003 to 43 percent today — an indication of the TDM program’s success in promoting alternative transportation methods among campus commuters, it said.
The final EIR also confirms that the total greenhouse gas emissions under the GUP, should Stanford follow all stated mitigation measures, would be at or below the 2018 baseline, meeting state reduction goals for 2030 and 2050.
Timeline for approval
The County’s timeline for the GUP’s negotiation and approval process stretches into June 2019.
Santa Clara anticipates finalizing development agreement negotiations by the end of February 2019, after which the County will hold two planning commissions’ hearings and final hearings before the County’s Board of Supervisors, who hold final jurisdiction on the application’s approval.
Until then, the County will hold meetings between staff and elected officials representing relevant public agencies and provide online updates on the status of the agreement.