By Diana Diamond
I feel sorry for Stanford UniversityUploaded: Jun 9, 2019
Note: This column appeared in the Friday, June 8, print edition of the Weekly
I am upset at how Stanford is being treated by local officials. In what way?
This renowned institution wants to develop 3.5 million acres of its land for new academic buildings, and faculty and student housing. These are big plans; this is the first expansion in 20 years. But ever since the project was announced, all there seems to be are complaints and outstretched hands. Both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, local cities up and down the Peninsula, and the Palo Alto School District all want to be compensated for the campus growth and the way they say it will impact the area.
So they want money, and lots of it for a long time. In a letter to Stanford from San Mateo County and a host of cities, the ask is for $millions-plus to provide an evergreen fund of $196 million for affordable housing, $84 million for road improvements, $15 million for bike and pedestrian routes, $5 million for storm improvements, plus provide childcare care for all employees and students as just part of their demands. Santa Clara County is asking for Stanford to build up to 5,699 new housing units for employees and student beds, 70 percent of which would have to go on campus; no building in the foothills for 99 years, and ensuring all that building results in no net new trips – which suggests spouses living in campus housing members should not leave campus by auto. I haven’t even gotten to Palo Alto’s demands. But you get the idea.
Extortion would be the ugly word I would use in describing these requests, but I will politely say it feels like our cities and counties are milking this farm for all its worth. (Note: I worked at Stanford from 1983 to 1994.)
Stanford, a non-profit university, is being asked to do significantly more than a lot of the for-profit corporations in the county – Facebook, Google, Apple – all of which are raking in billions in profits but providing few community benefits, such as housing. Facebook in Menlo Park is adding 25,000 new jobs and building 2,500 housing units. And the idea of telling a corporation that it have “no new (auto) trips” is never mentioned. San Jose just announced a mega campus of 2.1M square feet of office and 5M retail – not a word about any housing.
Alphabet headquartered in Mountain View, raked in $136.8 billion in revenue in 2018 alone. Stanford doesn’t earn those kinds of dollars. What irks me is if the area is beset by traffic and housing problems, the same standards should be applied to all employers – not just Stanford. And to me, Stanford’s undertakings are more valuable and noble and provide significantly more public good.
“But Stanford doesn’t pay any taxes. Therefore, the university owes us,” some residents say. Partially correct. Stanford and hundreds of other non-profit schools, churches and the like don’t pay taxes either – by state law which exempts nonprofits with a 501(c)3 status and has been in existence for years.
I contacted Jean McCown, associate vice president of government and community relations, and she said Stanford does not pay taxes on the core academic lands primarily in the center of campus, and for buildings dedicated to academic interests, e.g., student housing is tax exempt. But all those in faculty housing pay property taxes on their homes, just as we residents do. Forty-five percent of those taxes go to Palo Alto School District, and a lesser portion to the City of Palo Alto. Stanford pays $8.5 million a year for transient occupancy taxes (2016 figures); the Stanford Research Park collectively pays $69.8 million for property taxes; Stanford shopping center provide $31.5 million from sales taxes and $6.2M for property taxes, and Stanford’s annual spending in local communities (including employee salaries and wages, construction spending and goods and services) total $5.1 billion, which goes to the counties.
So what else is Stanford providing to local cities and the school district?
Stanford and the Palo Alto school district agreed the university would pay the district $138 million over 40 years for the students on campus who do not live in taxable housing, e.g., graduate students and employees. That number has been tabled, but is flexible and could increase if there are more students in the future than planned. McCown said the university is “still committed to that agreement” with the district.
Stanford has in the last 20 years provided 16,000 housing units (on campus and at sites such as Stanford West, Homestead Terrace, etc.) 70 below-market rate units for the public on California Avenue. It houses all 7,000 undergraduates on campus for their full four years; it has 9,000 graduate students – 50 percent are housed, and soon that number will increase to 75 percent.
Stanford gave the city the most expensive corner in the city – Page Mill Road at El Camino – to build a soccer field. Palo Alto has a 55-year lease for $1/year. Stanford also is leasing to the city another two sites for two utility substations – originally for $1/year but now somewhat higher. On campus there are many public events, as well as two free museums (Cantor and the Anderson Collection). And, of course, there’s the Dish, where residents hike daily to view the Bay and the sky. No entrance fee.
Stanford is a precious community asset, dedicated to educating students and providing research in all fields that affect all our lives. It’s a treasure we should cherish, and not a place where local officials, who want its money, place enormous demands it doesn’t ask of for-profits. Let’s just be fair to Stanford.