Board: Stanford growth could require new school | News | Palo Alto Online |


Board: Stanford growth could require new school

School trustees respond to university's proposed General Use Permit

Stanford University's proposal to build hundreds of new housing units for graduate students, faculty and staff over the next 17 years represents a level of growth that a majority of Palo Alto school board members said will likely require a new elementary school in the future.

Four of the five board members agreed at a meeting last Tuesday, Nov. 7, that the school district should consider how it would serve an influx of children who could move into proposed housing on the west side of Stanford's campus in particular. Vice President Ken Dauber recused himself given his wife works at Stanford.

Stanford is in the midst of a public review process for its updated General Use Permit, which proposes to build 2.275 million net new square feet of academic buildings, 3,150 housing units and 40,000 net new square feet of child care centers between 2018 and 2035. Of the planned housing, 1,700 are for undergraduates students, 900 units are for graduates (mostly singles or couples) and 550 for faculty and staff, according to the university.

Santa Clara County recently released a draft environmental impact report on the project and is seeking input from stakeholders and the public through Dec. 4.

On Tuesday, the board agreed on nine draft comments it will send to the county in a letter. The letter states that "the opening of another school on the Stanford campus is the only solution that preserves reasonable school enrollment size and avoids the very poor alternatives" of enlarged enrollment at Escondido and Nixon elementary schools or creating an "unacceptable travel burden" for students and parents.

At the board's Nov. 7 meeting, board member Todd Collins called Stanford West an "emerging neighborhood" that reflects a historical pattern. In the 1950s and 1960s when Stanford built new faculty housing, Escondido and Nixon were opened in those areas of campus.

"Stanford builds neighborhoods for faculty and staff," Collins said. "We build schools for the kids who live there."

Collins estimated that the Stanford project could generate about 403 elementary students for the school district -- the combination of current students who live on the west side of campus plus estimated ones from the development -- which is just under the current average size of a district elementary school.

To rely on the district's existing schools to accommodate theses students, sites that are located farther away from the west side of campus, would not only impact enrollment (and as a result, areas such as class size and program offerings), but inevitably create more traffic, board members said.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza also described it as a safety issue.

"The more we build housing where there is no school, the more small kids have to commute and that increases the likelihood they have to cross a larger road or they just have to go farther," she said on Nov. 7.

Students who currently live in Stanford West attend Escondido, and many are bused to the campus, according to the district. The school is currently operating at capacity.

Having a neighborhood school close by for Stanford faculty and staff is also a boon for the university, board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.

"One of the things you provide to your employees and students is the benefits of having good schools in your neighborhood," she told Jean McCown, associate vice president for Stanford's Office of Government and Community Relations. "I think it's something we should talk about."

The district estimates that it would cost $1 million annually to operate a new elementary school.

The board's draft letter also adjusts an "unrealistically low" student generation rate Stanford had used in its projections. The original rate, 0.5 children per household, came from an enrollment forecast that has historically been unreliable in the district. The letter instead suggests using a 0.65 rate, the average of the student yield from two recent Stanford housing projects (Olmsted Terrace, a single-family home development on Stanford Avenue and Mayfield Place, a multifamily housing development on El Camino Real).

The letter also asks the county to acknowledge that the impact of new developments doesn't happen incrementally, but rather in "narrow bursts" that create enrollment surges in the district.

"New projects attract younger families and this leads to bubbles that start in the early grades," the letter states, citing Stanford West, where 70 percent of the students who live there are in elementary school compared to 42 percent in the district overall.

The board also requests that Stanford consider the impact of its use permit on school commute, involve the district if the university considers adding more housing than originally planned and consider the reduced property tax revenue the district receives from Stanford housing, among other points.

The board will vote to approve the letter at its Dec. 5 meeting (the plans to ask the county for an extension on the deadline).


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 14, 2017 at 11:40 am

There is a nice bike/walking route extending from the Stanford campus all the way to Gunn High School and across Arastradero to San Antonio, most of it off road. A lot of Stanford kids use this and it lets them be very self sifficient. We have an unused campus next to Cubberley and with some shuffling, I think this side of town coukd accommodate the students, provided City Council stops trying to treat this area as if the infrastructure were an infinite bucket. In the interest of our growing as a town with Stanford, finding ways to limit the impact and footprint of large growing companies such as those taking over our retail areas now, will help. Amenities for families where we already have so many schools will also help. Palo Alto us not centered on University anymore for half of us, especially given the traffic, yet that's where the amenities are centered.

12 people like this
Posted by PAUSD - Missing in action on city growth planning
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm

PAUSD - Missing in action on city growth planning is a registered user.

Where was the school board when the environmental impact report for the City's Comp Plan projected a net increase (at the low end of its estimate) of *815* elementary students, 425 middle school students, and 532 high school students?

Using the same flawed student generation rates, the City's newly adopted growth plans FAR exceed the new enrollment of 403 students mentioned in this article and are acknowledged to exceed the maximum physical capacity of both our elementary and middle schools. At the high end of the City estimate, the total school enrollment growth from new housing will be 2,210 additional students.

13 people like this
Posted by Agree - PAUSD Missing
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2017 at 12:56 pm

@Missing - Completely agree. This district was asleep at the wheel. Emberling was initially on the Comp Plan COC (till she got voted off the school board) and did nothing to get the district engaged. Collins showed up as an individual at a council meeting and a PTC meeting to try to raise the alarm about school impact, but got no support (and ultimately had no impact). McGee literally didn't care (was leaving anyway); at least one board member is part of PAF. But overall, they failed to represent, much less protect, the interests of the students and the schools. Bad job, school board.

23 people like this
Posted by Richard Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I'm not going to get into the discussion re the merits or demerits of the PAUSD administration and board, or the city's sometimes shortsightedness, or Stanford's growth plans. I will say one thing about Stanford: if it weren't for this university, Palo Alto would be just another peninsula town of no great importance, not to mention the entire Silicon Valley.

Re the school, the solution to the problem, if there is indeed one, is simple, require that Stanford build the required school on its land and then turn it over to the PAUSD to staff and operate it. If for some reason the district does not collect property taxes from the Stanford families using the school, then require the university to kick in an equivalent amount toward the support of school operations. Keep in mind this is one of the world's most heavily endowed school. Also keep in mind the billions being spent by Stanford to bring this community what is undoubtedly one of the world's first class medical centers.

Like this comment
Posted by Stanford Dad
a resident of Nixon School
on Nov 15, 2017 at 12:47 am

@Richard Placone - that's a good plan, except for the "require them" part - there's no basis for making Stanford pay for anything, provide the land, etc. They can give land, money, or both - and in the past they have - but there's nothing in the County's playbook to make them provide a school. Any suggestions?

6 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2017 at 4:18 pm

It’s been a while since school funding has been a topic of discussion here in Palo Alto. Over the past twenty years, the District was able to push through two major bond issues and several parcel taxes which have given the District a lot of room to spend a lot of money on buildings and personnel.

One of the projects that probably has escaped peoples’ memories is the reopening of the Terman school some 12-15 years ago. At that time, the District Board and Stanford negotiated an arrangement (called the Stanford/Terman Agreement) such that Stanford would give the District $10M to reopen Terman Middle School and the District would never again ask Stanford for any more money.

This was a terrible arrangement from the git-go. The Board did not seem to have any cost models at their disposal—so the PAUSD Board didn’t seem to understand that costs would go up and up. The Board did not seem interested in the fact that Stanford was not paying property taxes for anything that they could call their “Educational Mission’—an exemption which has grown over the years to $7+B.

The cost of education of a student in the PAUSD seems to be pushing $20,000/student and increasing every year. The exact number of students PAUSD students living in the Graduate Student Housing is generally not published by the PAUSD (but probably could be obtained via a Public Information Request). So, at the moment—it’s a bit of speculation how much the taxpayers are paying for Stanford Graduate Student children’s education.

Now, most of the schools have been around for a while, so the cost of building new facilities has never been an issue. The last $380M Bond did not include funds for new schools, although the Board has walked away from the items on the Ballot that they promised to use the Bond money for at the time—so it’s possible that there is enough money in the uncommitted Bond fund for a new school, provided the PAUSD does not have to buy land.

Which brings us back to the Stanford/Terman Agreement. It needs to be dusted off and aggressively renegotiated with Stanford, so that Stanford can be expected to pay what it takes to build a new school for Stanford’s children—should a school need to be built for them.

1 person likes this
Posted by PAUSD schools on Stanford land
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2017 at 4:55 pm

I'm unsure of the details, but aren't at least four of the PAUSD's current schools on Stanford-owned land (including both high schools)?

3 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2017 at 5:16 pm

The PAUSD sued Stanford around 1955 for the land that Palo Alto High School sits. The resolution of the suit saw the School District paying for the 25 acres, taking ownership. Both parties agreed that if the land were not to be used for education, it would revert to Stanford ownership.

Have never chased down the ownership of the land where Gunn is located, but it's possible it belongs to Stanford. Escondido is definitely on Stanford land. Nixon seems to be also.

Like this comment
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2017 at 11:27 pm

Pretty sure that Escondido, Nixon and Gunn are all on Stanford Land - see Web Link . I hadn't heard about the lawsuit - where can one read about it?

2 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2017 at 12:23 pm

> where can one read about it?

Doubt that you will read about it anywhere other than in PAUSD records. I submitted a Public Information Request some years ago requesting information about the ownership of Paly land. The District provided a copy of the lawsuit resolution in response to my request.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm

@Wayne Martin, thanks for the helpful history. One item might not be quite right - the Stanford/Terman agreement, if memory serves, only capped payments for the life of the General Use Permit (GUP), not forever. Now that a new one is being requested, the cap is off and the district can ask for more.

Also, I believe that all four school sites (Gunn, Paly, Nixon, Escondido) are owned by the district, not Stanford, with some contingency for continued use as a school. I have no idea if there were sweetheart terms or not, but the district bought the land, built the schools, and pays to operate them. So some kind of payment from Stanford for students who live (tax free) on their land is vital!

2 people like this
Posted by What about UC
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 16, 2017 at 1:01 pm

So this is only slightly related, but I read recently that the UC admission statistics confirmed that they continue to admit out of state and international students at rates much higher than in-state students.

UC Davis admit rate for out-of-state residents is 72% compared to 36% for in-state.

UC Santa Cruz is 83% vs. 45%
UCLA is 23% vs. 15%
etc. etc.

So are we supposed to move out of state to have double the chance of our kid's being admitted to our state universities?

It's not like most Califoria high schoolers have even a remote shot of getting into Stanford unless they won an Olympic gold medal or invented some cure for cancer.

Stanford has certainly helped the community, but is not admitting many as undergrads.

1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm


Thanks for helping out. Unfortunately, all of my records were lost in a personal tragedy a couple years ago, so I can no longer open up my files on the PAUSD and refresh my memory at times like these.

As to the school ownership .. I never researched all of the schools that are on/near Stanford lands. The history of the Palo Alto schools has been intertwined with Stanford for a long time. In the early days, Palo Alto was little more than a bedroom/service community for Stanford. The schools were originally under the control of the City; however, after the 1909 Charter, the School District become its own entity, with taxing authority.

The history below of Palo Alto High School suggests that the District-owned the land where the high school stands:

Web Link

Someone should make an effort to do a comprehensive review of the District's records and put together a reputable history of the creation and ownership of the schools--as this issue pops up year-after-year.

As to a cap in the Stanford/Terman agreement, I no longer have my copy. I don't remember a clear linkage to the Stanford GUP, but it's possible. If a school is needed, the Stanford/Terman Agreement will doubtless be something the District Board will need to review and renegotiate if that's required.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Pluto's appears to close after more than two decades in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 14 comments | 7,210 views

What Local Teens are Saying
By Sherry Listgarten | 19 comments | 2,929 views

Plastic vegie bag ban: Pragmatic? -- or simply politically correct?
By Diana Diamond | 35 comments | 2,162 views

Edible Education – Free Course - UC Berkeley Online
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,489 views

Letting Christmas Linger
By Cheryl Bac | 5 comments | 656 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 26 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $7 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.