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Town Hall addresses County’s recommendations for General Use Permit, local concerns

NOHEMI DAVILA / The Stanford Daily

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian introduced the County’s Department of Planning and Development’s recommendations for conditions for approval of Stanford’s 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) application at Thursday evening’s Town Hall meeting.

If approved, the GUP would authorize the construction of 3,150 additional housing units and 2.275 million square feet of academic buildings over the next 17 years.

Also addressed at the meeting were concerns of Palo Alto residents on the effects of this expansion on their community, including those regarding housing development on- and off- campus, traffic, environmental impact and sustainability, affordable housing for students and workers and the impact on Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD).

For this, Simitian emphasized “full mitigation” as the best approach and a realistic goal.

“The vast majority of people want to see Stanford continue to be a world-class university, they want to see it continue to be a successful university, they want to see the continued benefit of the University that accrues to Palo Alto and the surrounding area,” he said. “They want all that to happen without the adverse consequences of additional development — [this] can be summed up by ‘full mitigation.’”

Simitian acknowledged that prior studies had underestimated the impact of Stanford’s development plans, ensuring that the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), released Dec. 14, 2018, “has been done have been done in a rigorous way.”  

“The University itself has questioned our housing mitigation methodology,” Simitian said. “It’s one thing to be legally sufficient, it’s another thing to say, ‘no, we did our job as fully and as well we could.’”

Land expansion and traffic

A requirement preventing the rezoning of the foothills behind the University is set to expire in 2025. The county staff is recommending that this requirement for the Academic Growth Boundary be extended for a 99-year period. Simitian says that this proposal is in consideration in a sustainability study on development.

“If you could triple the density of the campus,why would you ever think of pushing outwards to the foothills?” Simitian said.

According to their proposal summary, county staff also recommends that Stanford prioritize reaching a goal of “no net new commute” traffic.

Simitian said that Stanford would use data on the three hour periods of traffic that occur both in the morning and afternoon to meet that goal before needing to take other measures to reduce worsening traffic.

Stanford workers and students

“One of the communities most impacted by these processes is East Palo Alto (EPA) which is in San Mateo County,” Marisol Zarate ’19 began. “Is the forum considering processes to involve East Palo Alto in a formal way, perhaps through a town hall or community meetings?”

Stanford’s  8,000 acres extend into six different cities in Santa Clara County. Simitian said that these six cities have meetings and have included participation from both EPA and Redwood city.

Jose Escañuela, Stanford University employee and president of the campus workers’ union SEIU Local 2007, demonstrated concern over what would be done to ensure that more workers receive affordable housing, especially given the high cost of living in the area. He shared a story about a worker who is currently living out of her car because she cannot afford rent.

In response, Simitian explained that the county developed a Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which specified that 16 percent of Stanford’s housing development in their unincorporated land that is residential zoned must be affordable units. If Stanford fails to meet this, the fee would go to Santa Clara to fund new affordable housing construction.

“My hope is we never see that money because it does get built,” Simitian said.

Stanford filed a lawsuit against the County on Dec. 20, 2018, alleging that the ordinance unfairly targets the University and thus violates the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and California Constitutions.

The student group The Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) protested the lawsuit and held teach-ins for their cause in February, criticizing Stanford for paying to sue Santa Clara County rather than to build more affordable housing units.

“It’s a fee that doesn’t have to be paid as long as somebody creates the housing,” Simitian said. “Even though there was a clear objection from the University I feel there was a clear thing that we landed on.”

School district

Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has been demanding contributions from Stanford. The district and parents have expressed that Stanford should fund a new high school because of all the students that will move in from increased development.

Simitian explained that there are certain things Santa Clara can and cannot do, but what they can do is identify a need for a school for the future and designate it.

He expressed hope for communication between PAUSD and Stanford.

“It’s a unique set of circumstances when it’s a self-governing private university but in unincorporated lands,” Simitian said. “Ordinarily this type of development would require annexation to a city. I say this in the most loving of ways, neither Palo Alto nor Stanford University have expressed interests being annexed into Palo Alto — that means that as the development continues in the unincorporated area, it presents a unique planning challenge and it presents some interesting governing challenges.”

Contact Nohemi Davila at nohemi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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