On Thursday, the Santa Clara County Planning Commission extended the review period for Stanford University’s 2018 General Use Permit (GUP) application. This extension comes after multiple requests by city officials from Palo Alto and Menlo Park as well as by local union SEIU 2007, Stanford student coalition SCoPE, and school district leaders for more time to evaluate the university’s development plans. Representatives of the University opposed such an extension.
Granting the extension, Santa Clara County Director of Planning and Development Kirk Girard said Thursday night at a public meeting of the county’s Planning Commission at Palo Alto Arts Center, “We want to err on the side of public interest and public input in the project at this stage of the game.”
Up for community feedback specifically is a document —the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) — in which the potential damages of Stanford’s land use plans are assessed. The EIR was released as a draft on Oct. 6., and the public comment period, which was to end on Dec. 4, has been extended another 60 days to Feb. 2, 2018.
Stanford’s proposed development of more than 2 million square feet in Santa Clara County is drawing criticism from labor unions, area communities, and Stanford students. The sticking points come as no surprise: housing and traffic.
Stanford’s plan outlines that there will be an estimated increase of 7,500 students, researchers, faculty and staff, 1,074 “casual, temporary and contract daily workers,” as well as an estimated 2,100 dependents of faculty, staff, and students.
This will create a need for an additional 2,425 apartments and houses off campus, according to a review of the plan by Santa Clara County. The additional housing need is within projections of new housing to be built in the Bay Area in the next 20 years, as calculated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, but that would not account for any other contributors to increased need for housing in the Bay Area.
The University also cites the “No New Net Trips Standard,” created in 2000 as part of an earlier development plan, to address transportation. The standard is a commitment by Stanford to not increase the number of cars going in the primary direction of traffic at peak times coming to or from campus.
As part of the development process, Stanford, Santa Clara County, and neighboring jurisdictions have held meetings for public comment since October, each of which has been well attended. At these meetings, many residents expressed hesitation and concern regarding the proposed development. In response to these concerns, Stanford provided a statement, but declined comment for this story.
In the statement, the University claimed that it has successfully kept traffic at peak times constant, despite a growing campus population. However, some residents criticized the way the standard was only being calculated for the busiest travel times. These residents were concerned about the current proportion (43 percent) of Stanford commuters traveling via car, most of them alone.
Palo Alto resident Nelson Eng called traffic in Palo Alto “unbearable”, suggesting that traffic at all times, not just at peak hours, should be measured. He suggested that congestion around the university at all hours had increased.
“I don’t think there’s a way to overstate the housing crisis,” said Palo Alto resident Mary Hickey, at a Palo Alto public hearing on Oct. 19. “What I’d like to see is a commitment to graduate housing from Stanford.”
Further, while the University’s statement “recognizes the need to house more graduate students, especially in the face of an unprecedented regional housing crisis,” even with the new proposal, there are no plans to house more than 75 percent of graduate students.
In response to concerns about providing housing for casual and contracted workers, the University stated that “as a residential non-profit university, Stanford prioritizes the use of its land portfolio for housing faculty and students as well as for world-class academic facilities.”
The University pointed to a county fund, the Stanford Affordable Housing Fund, through which contributions are made to affordable housing in the county in lieu of building below market rate housing on campus. Contributions to this fund are part of an agreement between the city of Palo Alto and Stanford, and 286 new units of affordable housing have been built using the funds since 2000. The 2018 GUP application proposes to decrease Stanford’s contribution to this fund per square foot, to $20 rising with inflation.
Stanley Gu, speaking on behalf of SCoPE 2035, a coalition of Stanford students working with SEIU Local 2007 union members, gave $177 per square foot as a “conservative estimate of Stanford’s housing impact” based on calculations the coalition had made. Currently, the fee that Stanford pays to the affordable housing fund is the same paid by commercial developers in Palo Alto, which is $35 per square foot.
Dan Sakaguchi, another member of the coalition, expressed concerns about disproportionate impacts of Stanford’s plan on East Palo Alto and low-income jurisdictions.
“The study does not consider the effects of housing demand at different income levels,” Sakaguchi said, at a public comment meeting on Oct. 19. “These off-site households will include the lowest wage workers.”
The plan, which would leave some graduate students, as well as service workers, postdocs and contract workers un-housed on campus, would primarily impact low-income housing. The coalition suggested a breakdown of population growth by income, as used during Facebook’s campus expansion, and as is “standard in the state’s housing needs assessment methodology.”
Santa Clara County planner Girard acknowledged the absence of a clear distinction on how much housing or transportation impact created by Stanford would be too much.
“There is no bright line,” he said, at a Nov. 8 public meeting on Stanford’s campus.
Other residents argued that previous claims made by the University about lessening the impact to local communities had not been fulfilled.
“No, we don’t believe there’s going to be no impact,” said Rita Vrhel, a Palo Alto resident, disagreeing with previous claims made by the University that there would be no or low impact on housing and transportation.
Another Palo Alto resident suggested that Stanford was understating the staff needed as part of the expansion. He cited a study, which found, “For every student that goes to a university, there are 2.3 staff needed to support that student.”
In response to questions, University officials said that the figure for 1,074 workers does not include subcontractors such as janitorial staff on campus.
The continuing sprawl of the university since the last request for development, made in 2000, is also a concern, said County Supervisor Jim Simitian. “The problem is that there is never any end to this,” Simitian remarked, “17 or 18 years later, here we are again having a similar conversation.”
The San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA), an economic development advocacy group that includes Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Stanford Hospital, called Stanford an “extraordinary resource for the region” and wrote a letter in support of the plan.
You can submit comments on the GUP and its draft EIR by email to Santa Clara County Senior Planner David Rader at email@example.com before Feb. 2, 2018.
Emily Lemmerman, a junior studying sociology, is a reporter for Stanford Politics.