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County files motion to dismiss Stanford suit on affordable housing; University stands by claims

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Santa Clara County files a motion to dismiss Stanford’s December 2018 lawsuit asserting that the County’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance unfairly targets the University, Stanford maintains that the ordinance violates equal protection laws.

The ordinance requires that 16 percent of all new housing Stanford constructs be made available at an affordable cost. Stanford asserts it should not be “singled out” in a countywide ordinance; the County argues in its motion, filed Thursday, that Stanford has failed to provide sufficient evidence to substantiate these claims. Stanford spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a Saturday email to The Daily that the University’s stance remains unchanged.

The county’s dismissal motion argues that Stanford is fundamentally different from the unincorporated County, and there exists no “similarly situated entity” within the County.

“For decades, the County has catered to Stanford by crafting specialized regulations and umbrella permits that have allowed Stanford to develop its lands at a rate far outpacing development anywhere else in the unincorporated County,” the motion reads.

The document further added that this “specialized regulatory framework that applies to Stanford,” as well as the University’s size, development trajectory, mix of academic and residential land uses, large student population, status as a major employer, impact on the housing market and its location bordering three cities, as reasons that Stanford has “no parallel in the unincorporated County.”

This, along with Stanford’s failure to provide facts that negate the County’s “well-documented rationale” for applying the ordinance to the Stanford Community Plan Area — the 4,000 acres of Stanford owned land it applies too — constituted County’s argument for dismissal. The rationale included the “particularly acute need” for affordable housing in and around the Stanford Community Plan Area, which “is the largest job-generating area in the county.” The rationale further emphasized the need to support low-income workers who often face long commutes to work and who must allocate a “disproportionate share” of their income for housing.

“Stanford recognizes the critical affordable housing challenges in our region, which is why the University is a major supporter and developer of affordable housing,” Miranda wrote. “Stanford is a leader in Santa Clara County in this respect, having built many hundreds of affordable units and proposed hundreds more as part of its next General Use Permit [(GUP)].”

The University has constructed 800 affordable housing units and provided the County with $26 million in affordable housing funds between 2000 and 2018. Through the Escondido Village Graduate Residences project, Stanford will bring another 1,300 affordable housing units to campus.

The County also deemed the premise of Stanford’s claim — that the ordinance only targets the University — “flatly wrong,” asserting that though Stanford owns the land the ordinance applies to, the legislation applies to any landowner, leaseholder, or developer who builds residential housing within the area.

“While it may impose a particular burden on Stanford in the immediate term, equal protection principles do not mandate that the County allocate legislative burden uniformly,” the motion reads.

Santa Clara County is not the only entity that has pushed Stanford to increase its efforts in construction of affordable housing. In February, the student organization SCoPE 2035 protested the University’s willingness to pay for a lawsuit rather than for more affordable housing units.

SCoPE 2035 held that the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is critical to mitigating the anticipated growth that would be brought about by the approval of the 2018 GUP application, and is especially needed to house campus workers, who commute long hours.

The County’s motion proposes that the case be dismissed on August 8, 2019 at 9:00 a.m.

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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