The College Terrace Residents Association and Stanford have been locked in a dispute over how traffic will be managed during the four years it will take to construct 180 housing units along the upper part of California Avenue. Residents want no construction traffic to enter from or exit onto California Avenue, which borders their neighborhood.
Stanford — which signed a land-use deal with the City of Palo Alto in 2005, known as the Mayfield Development Agreement — has offered a compromise to route heavy trucks through the former Facebook site at 1450 Page Mill Road. The buildings there will be demolished. But that compromise would only be good for the first 12 months of the Mayfield project, Stanford representatives said. The university plans to develop the property thereafter.
While members of the residents association said their request was reasonable given the magnitude of construction that will affect their neighborhood, Stanford officials told the commission it would not make further compromises and that it was not obligated to do so.
The university also rejected the association's proposal to make the Facebook access route a permanent road to Page Mill to decrease traffic from the new residents.
A traffic study and discussions regarding cut-through traffic into College Terrace had already been reviewed in 2005, Stanford Research Park Director Tiffany Griego told commissioners.
Palo Alto has little leeway to change the project. The Mayfield agreement specifically limits the city's ability to make changes, and it cannot reopen an environmental review unless there have been substantial environmental changes or a change of circumstances. Senior Assistant City Attorney Cara Silver told commissioners there have not been significant changes to trigger the reopening of the process.
But commission Chairman Eduardo Martinez rejected the notion that Stanford could not do more to work with residents.
"Our hands are tied, but Stanford, your hands are not," Martinez said. "Your response that 'It's incompatible to do this or that' strikes me as very arrogant.
"Go back to our community and to your neighbors and make it work better for them," he said.
There was no vote on the issue during Wednesday's study session, which was a refresher for many members who were not around when the Mayfield deal was inked. The agreement allows Stanford to build up to 250 units of homes and apartments on tracts it owns in the Stanford Research Park. Seventy of the units will be below-market-rate apartments for low-income residents near California Avenue and El Camino.
In exchange for the development, Stanford built and paid for soccer fields it leases to Palo Alto. The city pays $1 a year for 51 years for the fields, which are located at the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road.
But neighborhood leaders said the agreement would benefit the rest of Palo Alto to their detriment. While they said they aren't opposed to the housing, they are concerned about the permanent effects of new traffic on their quality of life.
Mayfield residents will have only one exit route, onto California Avenue. The lack of a second route could pose a danger during a fire, they said.
Commissioners struggled to find ways to ease the anticipated situation.
Commissioner Greg Tanaka asked if the commission has leeway to recommend altering the project's street plan. Staff said that was possible, but only when the commission reviews the tentative map Stanford will submit prior to development.
But the city cannot compel Stanford to add a permanent access road to the development as a condition of approval simply because the university owns adjacent land that is accessible from Page Mill Road, Silver said.
The commissioners concluded there is little they can do.
"We're in a very constrained situation. We're largely locked in by the development agreement. I am very sympathetic in terms of construction impacts. Stanford has done some things, but it's not clear they can be compelled to do more than they are doing," Commissioner Arthur Keller said.
Some College Terrace residents said they support the Stanford project as is.
Adrian Fine said the residents associations' demands amount to "obstructionism."
"Stanford has been a pretty good neighbor," he said.
Added another resident: "Stanford has been an excellent steward of the land."
Stanford plans to redevelop other parts of the research park, which could create opportunities for adding an internal road network that avoids College Terrace, some residents have argued.
As part of the agreement, the university will add 300,000 square feet of office/research space elsewhere within the research park to replace the buildings it is razing to make way for housing.
Residents association members have asked the city and Stanford to consider a "spine road" that would connect El Camino to Hanover Street. The road would solve part of the problem by running a road through the center of the research park's lower block, they said.
John Mark Agosta, another College Terrace resident, said the research park was originally developed into blocks that are 1,000 feet in depth with no internal circulation.
"That is perhaps a flaw that could be remedied by a better design," he said.
Stanford does not have complete control over the route of its construction traffic for the Mayfield project, however, commissioners and city staff noted. The university must submit a construction-traffic plan, subject to the city Utilities Department's approval.