City requests more analysis on Stanford expansion

City wants additional information about the impact of university's proposed expansion on local parks, roads and emergency services

Stanford University's plan to build more than 2 million square feet of academic facilities and 3,150 housing units by 2035 has Palo Alto officials raising fresh concerns about the impact of the new construction on the city's public services, traffic conditions and recreational facilities.

These concerns, as well as others, are outlined in a comment letter that the City Council approved last week in response to Stanford's recent application for a new General Use Permit. If approved by Santa Clara County, the permit will allow Stanford to gradually expand over the next 18 years while setting a series of conditions to mitigate the impacts of this growth.

While some of the concerns and suggestions outlined in the city's letter to the county -- most notably the ones pertaining to parking and traffic -- have been the subject of much discussion in recent weeks, others are just now starting to surface. These include a request that Stanford consider paying for acquisition of new parkland, analyze the impact of construction on air emissions; evaluate the university's use of groundwater; and provide "detailed information" about the number of new students, staff and residents that would accommodated on and off campus by the proposed development between now and 2035.

The city's letter to the county's Planning Office reflects in many ways the council's anxieties about Stanford's long-term impact on a region already reeling from traffic congestion and a housing shortage. While Stanford is committing to continue its policy of not adding any net new car trips during peak commute hours (a policy that made its debut in the 2000 General Use Permit), the city is hoping for more data and analysis about the university's plan to achieve this.

"Members of the Palo Alto community appreciate the University's focus on reducing commute trips to/from campus by single occupant vehicle (SOV) during peak commute hours but are increasingly skeptical that the University's trip reduction programs are living up to their promise," the letter states. "We would ask the County to take a hard look at how the 'no net trips' goal is structured, starting with the baseline, and including the methodology, reporting, peer reviews, and penalties for not achieving the promised result."

In addition, the city is asking the county to demand that Stanford include in its Environmental Impact Report for the permit a host of detailed analyses relating to traffic. These include transportation-related

construction impacts, the expansion's effect on transit performance and impacts to emergency-response times.

Some council members are also concerned that limiting the "no net new" trips policy to peak commute hours fails to capture the significance of Stanford's traffic impacts. During the council's Feb. 27 discussion with Stanford officials about the new permit, Councilwoman Karen Holman said she had observed westbound traffic on Page Mill Road back up well before the typical evening commute hours.

The city requests that Stanford "identify peak travel periods for the campus based on vehicle volumes collected across an entire day."

"Due to the University's unique land use mix, the city is interested in understanding how travel patterns may differ from typical morning and afternoon peak periods," the letter to the county states.

Recreation is another area of concern. Stanford's analysis concluded that its proposed expansion would not lead to substantial deterioration in local parks. The university estimates that the growth levels proposed in its permit would add a minuscule increase in usage of Palo Alto parks. This includes about 41 new daily visitors to Foothills Park, 32 visitors to the Baylands Nature Preserve and 27 to the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve. Given the large amount of space in these nature preserves (Foothills Park is 1,400 acres; Baylands is 1,940 acres and Pearson-Arastradero is 622 acres), Stanford noted that the average "visitors per acre" is zero. Stanford's analysis also shows that the four small parks in the College Terrace neighborhood would collectively see a growth of 37 daily visitors.

Palo Alto, for its part, is challenging the idea that the large size of the city's open space preserves makes Stanford's impact negligible.

"The City of Palo Alto disagrees with these statements because -- although the open space preserves are large -- the areas where people actively recreate are a very small percentage of the entire preserve area," the letter states. "The impact of concentrating more people into these areas should be studied and identified impacts should be addressed with appropriate mitigation."

The letter also notes that visitation to parks by Stanford campus residents is not limited to the four College Terrace parks (Cameron, Mayfield, Weisshaar and Werry). Thus, appropriate mitigation should include a larger area, the city argues.

"Please consider whether provision of funding for acquisition of new parkland (in addition to funding to address impacts on existing parks) would address identified impacts," the letter states.

While the council reached a consensus on most of the points in the new letter, which it approved unanimously on March 6, there were a few disagreements. Holman's proposal that Stanford analyze the demand for housing that its growth would generate outside the university's boundaries prevailed by a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmen Greg Tanaka and Adrian Fine dissenting. The university's expansion, Holman said, would create jobs and more housing demand.

"It would be an impact on Palo Alto or Menlo Park or some other community if it has a housing-demand impact," Holman said.

Emergency response is another concern. The Palo Alto Fire Department has been providing services to Stanford since 1976 (the city and Stanford are in the midst of prolonged negotiations over a new fire contract). The letter states that the department has been "challenged" to meet the response-time performance standards laid out in the 1976 contract and in Stanford's 2000 permit.

"The primary reason for response time performance challenges have been due to increased calls for service, the frequency of simultaneous calls for service, the location of the fires, speed limits, and the frequency of detours and lane closures due to construction activities," the letter states. "The DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report) should assess how the 2018 GUP will affect response times and provide appropriate mitigations."

Related content:

Stanford's proposed expansion raises traffic, housing concerns

Stanford prepares for next chapter of campus expansion


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42 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:05 am

Did anyone else notice this?

Todd Collins of the Palo Alto School Board appeared at the City Council on March 6th to discuss this issue with the City Council. Admirably, he stayed until 11:30pm to give public comment about this proposed Stanford expansion.

He stated in his presentation that the proposed expansion will require the School District to open a new physical school. He indicated that this massive expansion will have a severe impact on the School District, the quality of education and costs.

He had a lot more to say, but he was cut off by the Council President his 'time' was up.

1. Todd deserves the respect of the City Council as a sitting member of the School Board and the importance of his comments. And it was wholly inappropriate that he was not allowed to 'finish' his comments.

2. Todd is raising a huge warning about this proposed development that has a tremendous city wide impact on Palo Alto schools. Remember, it's not a one-time charge to Palo Alto to allow this development - it's a lifetime charge of increases in school infrastructure, staffing, pensions, and upkeep.

3. City Council should invite Todd back and be allowed to complete his concerns, regardless of whether he's speaking personally or on behalf of the School Board;

4. Palo Altans need to take a serious look at this. Stanford, like any developer, makes the long term profit off of this expansion of its housing, but the long term burden goes to all of the city.

23 people like this
Posted by Neva
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2017 at 11:44 am

I don't get that Stanford will not build new roads, and more parking lots?
Highways 280 and 101 are full in the morning and afternoon. Churchill/Alma full with Stanford Traffic going
into Stanford.
Embarcadero going toward Stanford is full in the morning and evening.
How much can Palo Alto Residents take?

22 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 12:38 pm

No one forced you to live near a large world-renowned University.

21 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

It was just "The Farm" when I moved in.

30 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Stanford University is the most significant reason why there is a Silicon Valley. Indirectly it has turned what would be $150,000 or $300,000 properties in other areas into enormous windfalls for the people who stayed here.

These wealthy landowners have also benefitted from Proposition 13, and thus are paying disproportionately low property taxes.

Rather than slowing down the process by raising a laundry list of minor issues, Palo Alto should be bending over backward to help Stanford people develop new cures for disease and new technology.

Palo Alto can help to educate a generation of brilliant minds specifically selected for their part to play in the future. In turn, yes, as a group these people should be more engaged in the community around them, for their own benefit as well as ours.

Stanford is here to stay, and they already only admit about 5% of applicants, down from about 10% in the late 1980's.

Save some of these issues with the expansion for later. They will be addressed. Palo Alto needs to get the show on the road, supporting progress and the very best element of its own community.

12 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2017 at 3:17 pm

@Grumpy old guy,

The rules are the same for everyone - you get a specific amount of time to talk and then you are done. This isn't new. Admirable as the speaker may be, he ought to know the time constraints on his public comment. Painting this as he specifically was cut off is of course spin to try to make the mayor look bad.

How about this doozy of a quote from the article:

"Councilwoman Karen Holman said she had observed westbound traffic on Page Mill Road back up well before the typical evening commute hours."

No detail with respect to what day/time she observed this. You know, occasionally I observe traffic backed up for miles on 101 when there is a major accident too. Thank you councilwoman Holman for your general, one-off observation with no further detail. It really sheds light on...absolutely nothing.

Where is Stanford expanding to is what I am curious about? Near Foothill Expressway up near 280?

20 people like this
Posted by Support tanaka
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 14, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Stanford is planning to build housing-- something Palo Alto has failed to do. This housing will cut down on the "dreaded" car trips, that Palo Alto complains about so much. So what happens? We get the usual negative comments and naysayers, trying to nit pick the project ( as happens on every project that comes up in Palo Alto). As for recreation issues, Palo,alto has their own private park, for their residents only.
Anonymous-- good call out on Karen Holman-- let's throw in a non specific observation, lacking in any factual data as another red herring. But Holman has opposed every and any development in Palo Alto. Meanwhile we are nowhere near getting that bike bridge over 101 that Holman championed years ago.

26 people like this
Posted by Moving Out
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2017 at 3:57 pm

As soon as my health improves, we are moving. I have a genetic lung condition that is making it very hard for me to breath and keep my lungs clear. All of the pollution from cars, Cal Train and Union Pacific Freight, as well as heavy air traffic, and fireplace smoke have poisoned my lungs.

When we moved here 15 years ago, very few Stanford students had cars. Now it seems that most do. Stanford was semi-rural.

Cal Train cars were mostly empty, and much shorter, so they ran FAR less frequently. Most of the traffic was on Middlefield, Alma was the shortcut to everywhere.

Airplanes and jets either flew over the ocean or over the SFBay, not over residential area-- that was actually forbidden by law.

We had a huge property tax bill- so big, in fact that we could not afford the payments if the property tax was worked into them. So we paid them separately, twice a year. We were still, after 50% down, paying a $4000/month payment.

BUT we left behind a high-crime neighborhood, full of various Asian and Mexican gangs. Your house and garage had to be locked at all times, even when home. Your cars had to be locked in the garage at night, or they would be stripped!

If your kids wanted to play with other kids in the front yard, at least one adult had to supervise, because there were a couple of kidnappings in the area.

You had to wait til just before Christmas-- or burglars would break your windows to steal them. Loiterers sometimes hung out in cars, watching for people to bring home a lot of packages.

There were two infanticides and two child murders in the 6 years we lived there.

It was a beautiful new development, had good neighborhoods on three sides, but one side was just evil. Most of the gangs lived there, but then they started recruiting....

They held the managers of four fast food restaurants hostage ( Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Wendy's and another whose name escapes me) and handed out free food to friends and other gang members!

A teacher at the only private school was arrested for child abuse!

We struggled hard to get out of there, including spending money on a small private school to get our child up to what was considered grade level in Palo Alto.

At that time,!Palo Alto was the safest city on the Peninsula, and had the best public schools, because, honestly, with a large new mortgage and payments to match, we didn't have enough money left over for private school payments. Unless a family has a parent who is a multi, multi- millionaire, no one else does, either.

So, when we put our house on the market, or I die, whichever comes first, because this lung disease is terminal, YIMBY you can have my 3-bedroom, 21/2 bath house on 5000 sf, one block from Alma.

IF you can afford 25% of $3.25 million, because that was the lowest official appraisal.

14 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 4:11 pm

$3 million should be more than enough to buy a literal mansion in a quiet suburb that's not surrounded by trains, airports, or large universities.

16 people like this
Posted by Moving Out
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:12 pm

YIMBY--my husband still works in Tech and we still owe slightly over $350,000 on the house. We can't go far from Silicon Valley, we may move to a home in the hills, above the smog. You have to go all the way to Sonoma county or down to San Benito County to outrun the smog-- that is too far and too much time on the road, as well as very hard on a car.

Then there are the tax issues: we have to pay the IRS 25% of all profits over $500, 000. Then we have to pay the State of California a flat 10% of all profit.

Puts a serious dent in your next down payment. Our joint income is less than it once was because I can no longer work. That will make it very hard to qualify for anything at all-- and with my medical bills and the bloated costs of the meds, we need a house payment under $1850/month. Nearly impossible unless you leave the state.

11 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Your husband works in tech, and you live in the heart of tech in one of the hottest economic regions on Earth with a house that now costs $3 million, and you act like you've been caught off guard that the area you decided to move into is experiencing rapid growth? I'm sorry that you're sitting on millions in assets and might have to move slightly farther away? Lots of people would kill to live so close to work in Palo Alto and have to commute from Livermore instead.

22 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2017 at 5:35 pm

@Moving Out, I truly sympathize and empathize with your health condition as we had a death in our family from lung issues as well.

All Palo Altans should not forget that the cost of entry to live in Palo Alto has always been higher than our neighboring cities. We have family friends who decided against living in Palo Alto in the 1970s because it was too expensive then.

Those that took the plunge then are being rewarded handsomely financially by the burgeoning tech economy in the region and because we have a world-class university in our backyard.

For those who long for the days of yore where cattle grazed the streets of Palo Alto, your home would not be worth anywhere near what it is worth and you would be far worse off if you too experience a health crisis like @Moving Out. Palo Alto has always been extremely, relatively expensive and there's a reason for it. The reason is not this imaginary quality of life people keep dreaming up that people who are building are "destroying".

People move to Palo Alto for schools and/or job opportunities. This has always been the case. I cannot think who could afford to move to Palo Alto with just quality of life in mind. It simply isn't true.

And by the way, for those old enough to know, Palo Alto south of Page Mill Road was a drug infested area littered with drug dealers in the '80s. It was NOT a safe area. Maybe it was relative to other parts of the state, but still, this idea that we've had an idyllic quite charming town forever isn't true.

23 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2017 at 9:15 pm

I think it is important to understand that Stanford is a tax exempt corporation hiding behind the veneer of a University. Everything they do is driven by profit, period. How their bottom line impacts anyone off campus, not their problem.

6 people like this
Posted by JJ
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2017 at 6:08 am

If people are so worried about traffic, I suggest they stop holding up Caltrain improvements and demanding "improvements" designed to be so expensive that they will never happen, but hold up improvements while that's being decided, like the infamous PAMPA tunnel. We need 4 tracks along the entire line. And electrification now. With improvements Caltrain will be 15 minutes faster end-to-end, and the corridor could carry 10 trains per hour. Caltrain is completely used to capacity at the moment, but adding capacity to it is WAY cheaper than adding capacity to the freeways. Not to mention that unlike with the roads, adding capacity to Caltrain doesn't put additional load on the local surface road network.

12 people like this
Posted by CM
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2017 at 11:39 am

Ben is completely right. Stanford is the area's largest research/development/real estate conglomerate. They hide behind the little tiny tax exempt school called Stanford while over populating and over developing this area and driving massive growth in Palo Alto's back yard that destroys the quality of life for those who live here. They are masters of double speak, and their lawyers can out maneuver any government contract. Look at the last general use permit where they promised a measly hiking trail -that they later wiggled out of providing- for over 5 million square feet of development (the last of which are the giant residential towers that will soon loom over the skyline to house thousands who will drive and overpopulate the area even more). This over development by Stanford is just more of the unbridled greed and destruction that is now part of the bay area. We have weak government officials who do not protect the residents of their cities and counties nor do they protect the environment so we can have a decent quality of life. Instead of establishing hard limits to growth and a setting a limit to the total population that an area can support, they end up giving in to any developer that comes along. Stanford is a large metastasizing mass in the growth cancer that is destroying this area and we are not cutting it off and trying to destroy the mass.

9 people like this
Posted by Burt
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm

There is a ton of building going on all over the Peninsula, yet Caltrain's electrification project has been put on hold. Stanford and other builders should throw it's weight behind upgrading this antiquated system that will collapse without investment. As it is, a huge number of passengers use the Palo Alto station, and Stanford has great transportation options from the station for its constituents. It's already SRO on Caltrain during the commute, let's fix this!

9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Anonymous says ""Councilwoman Karen Holman said she had observed westbound traffic on Page Mill Road back up well before the typical evening commute hours."

No detail with respect to what day/time she observed this. You know, occasionally I observe traffic backed up for miles on 101 when there is a major accident too. Thank you councilwoman Holman for your general, one-off observation with no further detail. It really sheds light on...absolutely nothing."

Anyone who is being honest and/or observant knows that the backed up traffic is not due to a rare "major accident" since it's a daily occurrence EVERY weekday The city knows this but refuses to schedule its traffic studies at peak times and has been criticized for that for years.

The only relatively light travel times are from 10-11AM when the kids and commuters have reached their destinations and after lunch from around 1PM-2:30 when Embaradero and Oregon are totally solid.

I live between Oregon and Embarcadero and trust me I know the traffic patterns because I have to plan my routes and departure times accordingly.

I resent the spin that Stanford places on their growth. For years they've been doing phone surveys asking which argument would convince you our growth would have no impact on traffic! Totally dishonest.

I resent our Transportation Manager and certain city council members who sanction conducting deceptive traffic surveys during the lightest times of day and then refuse to answer questions about conducting them during rush hours.

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Sorry. I made an editing error.

This "The only relatively light travel times are from 10-11AM when the kids and commuters have reached their destinations and after lunch from around 1PM-2:30 when Embaradero and Oregon are totally solid." should read "... 1PM-2;30PM AFTER WHICH Embarcaderro and Oregon become totally solid until around 6:30=7PM."

That's a LOT of solid gridlock time. We don't need more.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2017 at 1:02 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by just don't get it
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 15, 2017 at 1:55 pm

With all this discussion on traffic and the ingress/egress issues at Stanford please don't forget the million square feet they are proposing for the "auto row" just over the border in Menlo Park!! They, too, will be coming and going from Willow Road/University Ave/Embarcadero Rd. or San Antonio from 101 and from Sand Hill/Alpine Rd/ Page Mill Rd. from 280. All of these are gridlock coming in from the freeway until about 10:00 AM and the back up to get away begins by 3:00 daily. I know this because I drive them in the reverse direction routinely.

12 people like this
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2017 at 5:07 pm

All this lovely Stanford bashing seems to miss an important issue. They are adding 3150 housing units on campus for students (not student families with kids but shared living units for undergraduate and graduate students (most of whom are already in school, living off campus and commuting). It looks to me that much of the building Stanford proposes will remove commute traffic from the Palo Alto Streets. The housing they propose in Menlo Park has one and two bedroom apartments and might impact Menlo Park schools. But for Stanford aged students that housing will be much like the housing on Sand Hill next to the university where the vast majority commute by bike and free Stanford bus. So I am in favor of them building more housing to concentrate more students living on campus.

10 people like this
Posted by Not YIMBY
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 15, 2017 at 11:08 pm

It doesn't seem you live here.
It also seems like you're happy to name call and reject others opinions-- this is decidedly non-neighborly behavior. I'm happy you don't seem to live here.

If Stanford wants to increase its density, it should pay for that infrastructure, maintenance of that infrastructure. This includes the increase water demand, the electricity, roads, trains, all of it. And guess what, but there isn't enough capacity in our transportation system to deal with more people.
There are not enough trains (and we can't add more without billions of dollars of investment)
There is not enough road-access.
There are no subways.

Having 3500 more people at Stanford (a growth of 5% of the population of the whole the *CITY*) will NOT solve any commute pressure because our transportation systems are already at capacity, unless these students and staff magically do not commute... something for which there is ZERO guarantee. If they vacate housing in the rest of Palo Alto... will those units remain vacant?
Hahahahahahahhahahaha.. no.

Stanford should not benefit at the cost of everyone around it.
I don't give a flying fart about what benefit it provides anyone else.
Stanford doesn't let non-Stanfordites live at those new residences. It has covenants that prevent a large number of houses from being used by others.
It solves NOT ONE problem for anyone in the area.

If they're not giving, I'm not giving.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2017 at 12:59 am


The feeling is mutual. =)

"I don't give a flying fart about what benefit it provides anyone else." Of course you don't, and there was never any doubt of that. That's the running theme with the Boomer generation here in the valley. What's really important is what benefit Stanford provides to you, personally, and right now, and other people can just go take a hike. I greatly anticipate the day soon when this kind of mindset becomes the minority.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2017 at 1:04 am

Darwin has already sorted out the people who don't act in self-interest.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2017 at 1:15 am

And it's a good thing that we're not creatures of pure self-interest. It would have been hard to build civilization without empathy.

19 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2017 at 11:36 am

For those of you who are debating and speculating on levels of traffic generated by Stanford, how well they're monitored, and how they've changed over the years - I suggest checking out the website for the current Stanford GUP hosted by the County:
Web Link

If you check out the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program link, you'll find last year's traffic monitoring report plus all the achived years of data. If you follow this kind of stuff, you know that this level of monitoring of development is WAY more intensive than just about any other development or institution in this area.

Also @Moving Out - I'm sorry to hear about your health situation and wish you all the best. However, I do want to point out that your original post really contains some exaggerations. For instance: "When we moved here 15 years ago, very few Stanford students had cars. Now it seems that most do. Stanford was semi-rural."

I was a Stanford undergrad in the mid-1990s (well before you moved to this area) and it was NOT semi-rural even then. Stanford has been a major destination for many, many years. And regarding the number of students with cars, Stanford's monitoring report shows that trips coming into and out of the campus during peak periods has fallen substantially over the past 15 years. During that time, Stanford has dramatically expanded the Marguerite shuttle (which is open to the public too), Caltrain service has improved with the introduction of the Baby Bullets, and bicycle facilities have improved a lot. It's actually likely that Stanford students are using cars less now than 15 years ago given the options.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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