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‘A nonstarter’: Stanford offers $4.7 billion in benefits to Santa Clara County, but County rep questions circumstances of proposal

In determining what helps Stanford stand out, the researchers found that approximately 53% of Stanford students major in a STEM field, yielding some of the highest average salaries among graduates. Stanford also offers generous financial aid of up to 112% of a household’s yearly income for lower income brackets. (HANNAH RONCA/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford offered a slew of benefits spanning transportation, housing and education to Santa Clara County on Monday in hopes of securing a development agreement to supplement a new long-term land use permit for the University. But Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian M.A. ’00 said the multi-billion dollar proposal fails to address concerns surrounding the University’s development.

“If something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is,” Simitian said. “None of the things that are offered [in Monday’s proposal] are actually guaranteed. They are all contingent on the University having its way on each and every one of the Conditions of Approval and Community Plan Amendments … Well, that’s not gonna happen.”

Page 18 of Monday’s 52-page proposal states that the “offer assumes that the County incorporates all of Stanford’s requested revisions to the Conditions of Approval and Community Plan Amendments.”

Stanford seeks a development agreement to ensure regulations on its development remain consistent after the new land use permit — also known as a General Use Permit (GUP) — is assigned. The GUP applies to all Stanford-owned lands in unincorporated Santa Clara County.

Hundreds of new on- and near-campus workforce housing units are offered as part of Stanford’s new proposal, which also includes “expansion of sustainable commute programs,” transportation infrastructure improvements and support for Palo Alto public schools.

Stanford’s 2018 GUP application included some of the community benefits in Monday’s letter, but Stanford is not willing to promise the additional benefits without a development agreement confirming that rules surrounding the University’s long-term development will not change. A development agreement is a legally binding contract between an applicant for a land use entitlement and the jurisdiction that will decide whether to approve the application. 

Stanford and Santa Clara County are not currently in negotiations for a development agreement. Those negotiations were suspended indefinitely after Stanford announced in April that it and the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) agreed for Stanford to provide an estimated $138 of community benefits to the school district over a span of 40 years, conditional on a development agreement between Stanford and the County. The County argued that Stanford’s negotiations with PAUSD were in violation of ground rules set for GUP negotiations.

There are “only two conditions” under which the County is willing to reopen discussions on a development agreement, Simitian said. The first is that Stanford offer a “non-contingent bilateral deal” with PAUSD that gives the school district everything Stanford has already put on the table, but not contingent on a development agreement. The second is that Stanford agrees to hold further conversations on the agreement in “an open and public setting.”

While the County has expressed concern that Stanford will seek more lenient regulations on its development in exchange for the extra community benefits outlined in a development agreement, the University maintains that this is not the case.

The benefits are to be spread across the potential 17-year duration of the land use permit, provided a development agreement is reached. According to Stanford News, “many” of the benefits are “front-loaded prior to the gradual development of new academic facilities.”

Housing

Stanford plans to build thousands of new housing units and student beds — plus 2.275 million square feet of academic facilities — over a span of about 20 years. The original GUP application included 2,600 student beds and 550 transit-oriented, on-campus housing units for faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars, whereas Stanford’s new proposal offers to “fully meet the demand for 2,172 workforce housing units created by new academic facilities.”

But the University is “including at least 650 units in the community when Escondido Village Graduate Residences units opens in September 2020” as part of the proposed units, according to page 3 of Monday’s letter. Simitian expressed concern that the University would add units already under construction as part of an updated package.

“I don’t even know how you can even make that proposal with a straight face,” he said.

Stanford is offering 1,307 new housing units over the course of the new GUP, including 575 Below Market Rate units, on campus and in the community. The University plans to free at least 865 community housing units when it opens 1,300 new graduate student housing units on campus and 215 units of workforce housing in Menlo Park within the first few years of the new GUP’s duration.

The University’s new proposal offers 550 on-campus workforce units — including 400 units of Below Market Rate housing — to be built in the first quartile of academic development, during which 175 units of Below Market Rate housing will also be funded in the community. Stanford would promise 350 more units of on-campus workforce housing and 232 more units on or off campus before completion of Stanford’s academic development, if the desired development agreement is reached.

Stanford would also pay $11 million upfront to cover affordable housing fees remaining from the current GUP. The University notes that Santa Clara County could put some of these funds toward “construction of a new teacher housing project in Palo Alto.”

Public schools

Stanford would spend up to $15 million on a new space for collaboration between PAUSD and the University, as well as an estimated $121.9 million in ongoing financial support to help the school district address “costs associated with students living in tax-exempt university housing,” and funding for capital improvements to existing school sites and Safe Routes to Schools.

If a development agreement is not reached, Stanford is only required to pay an estimated $4.2 million in fees addressing the impact of its development on the demands facing local schools.

Stanford’s proposed funding for transportation infrastructure and public school support dwarfs County requirements. Whereas the County requires $4.2 million in state-mandated fees for public schools and $1.2 million dollars in frontloaded transportation infrastructure funding, Stanford is offering $30.3 million in upfront funding for bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure projects in San Mateo County and Palo Alto. 

Transportation

To address the possibility of increased congestion in local communities, Stanford has offered $1.1 billion in expanded sustainable commute options reducing single-occupancy vehicle traffic and use on local roads. In light of letters to Santa Clara County from San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto, which requested transportation infrastructure improvements, Stanford has offered upfront funding of $15.25 million to San Mateo and $15.05 million to Palo Alto. These funds are also contingent on a potential development agreement.

In response to the County’s Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which outlines the anticipated effects of the University’s proposed development, Stanford has also offered $1,275,000 to reduce round trips taken from the University and back by people living in on-campus housing. The EIR has already identified funding Stanford may need to devote to intersection improvements if commute traffic is found to increase through annual monitoring of the roads throughout Stanford’s development.

Some of Stanford’s other efforts in transportation include expansion of its sustainable transportation management programs and improvement of local bikeways, Safe Routes to School for Palo Alto students and the free Marguerite shuttle service. Free CalTrain Go Passes and VTA Smart Passes for employees working more than 20 hours per week, as well as graduate students and postdocs are already offered. The University also intends to offer financial incentives for sustainable commuting to and from campus.

Stanford recently requested modifications to the County’s draft Conditions of Approval for the GUP in order “to align them with the County’s recently adopted affordable housing ordinances, the Final EIR and the goal of providing additional on-campus housing.”

“It’s frustrating,” Simitian said. “It’s disappointing. I just wish the University would put this much time and effort into solving these problems instead of avoiding them.”

The next planning commission hearing on the Stanford GUP application will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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