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After another county meeting, Stanford GUP progress remains stalled

By and

As a stalemate drags on surrounding approval of Stanford’s 2018 General Use Permit (GUP), the University has doubled down on two points of contention with Santa Clara County. In a meeting with the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the University denied that the county has the legal right to require the construction of over 2,000 housing units for GUP approval, and tied future GUP negotiations to the approval of a development agreement.

Hanging in the balance of Stanford’s GUP application is 2.25 million square feet of new academic development, 2,600 student beds, thousands of new housing units and much of the University’s expansion plans for the next 16 years. Santa Clara County’s professional staff approved Stanford’s GUP on the condition that it fully mitigate the impacts of its expansion. Specifically, the new residents and traffic that expansion brings to the area must be offset by new housing units, rideshare programs and other benefits. 

The GUP outlines the terms of Stanford’s land use and expansion through 2035. Stanford submitted the new application in fall 2018 to replace the expiring agreement, which was approved in 2000. 

The costs of providing full mitigation are uncertain, but County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian M.A. ’00 brushed aside Stanford’s proposal for $4.7 billion, calling it inadequate. Simitians’ main objection to the plan was the number of housing units Stanford planned to build. Simitian objected to Stanford’s counting of housing projects initiated before the GUP process, such as Escondido Village, toward its total number of new units provided. 

Constructing new housing is the most expensive part of full mitigation, and is a major reason Stanford is now seeking a development agreement, according to Catherine Palter, Stanford’s associate vice president of land use and environmental planning. 

Other facets of a development agreement include additional investment from Stanford into the Palo Alto Unified School District and childcare services, both of which are intended to offset the impacts of the University’s planned expansion.

“Any new development is exempt from property taxes,” said Redwood City Council member Janet Borgens at Tuesday’s meeting. “At the same time, [the county’s] need for education, its need for community services, its needs for public safety are all increasing because of new workers and students. Local governments will have less money than ever. Stanford properties are exempt by law, and until that law is changed we need to hold non-property-tax-payers and developers accountable for their development.”

Redwood City Vice Mayor Diane Howard also attended the meeting to speak to the issues that could arise with the approval of the GUP. 

“There is a crisis in our community due to the lack of childcare spaces available to families and the rising cost of childcare,” she said. “By adding 5,500 new jobs, Stanford will dramatically increase demand for childcare. Those demands will not be met solely on their campus and will exacerbate the crisis that already exists.” 

“We are committed to a process whereby the County and Stanford work together to deliver much-needed housing for the region,” wrote Robert Reidy, Stanford’s vice president for land, buildings, and real estate, in a letter to the county. “To do that, we respectfully request that we meet regularly to discuss a collaborative development agreement which can be the vehicle to deliver this housing.”

A development agreement codifies what Stanford would build, preventing the addition of any new requirements from the county while the GUP is in place. Palter said Stanford is seeking a development agreement because it is planning to front-load many of the community mitigation benefits the county recommended. 

“Such an Agreement will enable us to satisfy the County’s requests and provide the kinds of significant benefits our neighbors seek,” Palter wrote in a letter to the Board. “In return, Stanford receives the predictability that a Development Agreement affords.”

The lack of such an agreement continued to be a major point of contention throughout the Oct. 8 meeting. At the board’s previous meeting, on Sept. 24, Stanford had threatened to withdraw its GUP permit if the University wasn’t granted a development agreement. 

Stanford currently has five separate development agreements in place with neighboring cities, but the current GUP does not encompass such an agreement. 

“Stanford did not seek a development agreement in 2000 because we were not asked at that time to provide benefits outside our academic mission anywhere near the magnitude that we are being asked to provide today,” Palter told the board during the Oct. 8 meeting.

The county’s professional staff approved the GUP but recommended a series of mitigation measures Stanford should commit to before the Board of Supervisors gave final approval. The development agreement clearly outlines what expansion and mitigation measures Stanford will perform, ensuring no changes are made to planning permits. 

The flexibility that the GUP provides allows the university to develop new facilities that can meet academic and scientific innovations as they arise over the next few decades. 

Stephan Graham, dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, addressed the board in support of the GUP. Graham referenced the research that Stanford conducts on climate issues directly impacting citizens of the county, such as wildfire prevention, sea level rise and water shortages.  

“We seek to bring truly impactful sustainability benefits to the county, the state, the country and the world,” Graham said. “To do this, we will need to build new laboratories, teaching facilities, and spaces to convene the community partnerships.”

Frank M. Longo, chair of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, also attended the meeting in support of the GUP. Longo spoke to the importance of the“reliable development plan” that the permit affords Stanford faculty. He implored the board to consider the cutting-edge healthcare that these doctors and researchers provide to surrounding communities. 

“If I can’t recruit or retain [faculty], other universities around the country will be happy to solve my problem,” he said. “Those faculty will be okay — they’ll end up at other universities. The people who won’t be okay are the ones living in this county. I’m here representing them. Please don’t let these patients and families down.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to begin its decision-making process after the final public hearing on Nov. 5. However, without an official development agreement in place, Stanford’s Office of Government and Community Relations is hesitant to confirm that this will be an adequate time frame. 

Correction: The name of the Dean of the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford has been corrected to be Stephan Graham, not Chester Graham.

Contact Grace Carroll at gac23 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Nicholas Midler at midler ‘at’ stanford.edu.