Claiming inaccuracies and omissions in Stanford's traffic projections for its current and future developments, the Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of two actions meant to slow the university's ambitious growth plans.
The council reversed its approval of a 40,000-square-foot new office building along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, and voted to more forcefully express opposition to a nearby Stanford development that was scheduled to face the Santa Clara County Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The crux of the council's opposition to both projects is that the university's traffic studies appear to diverge from what the real traffic conditions will be like on local roads once the university's non-campus development projects are built.
The studies use data from 2016 for the baseline traffic levels, and indicate Stanford-related traffic is less than what was allowed and expected under the university's 2000 general use permit.
But, Councilman Ray Mueller noted, those numbers describe unrealistic conditions for what local roads will be like in the imminent future: Stanford's projects to expand Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and rebuild Stanford Hospital aren't done yet, and both will add many hospital beds and likely many car trips.
The Stanford analysis also didn't factor in the added traffic of the university's mixed-use "Middle Plaza" development on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, which the council approved in September, he said.
Factor all of those developments into the calculations, Mueller said, and a very different picture emerges of the university's local traffic contributions than its "no net new trips" commitment made in its 2000 general use permit. That commitment applies to the university campus only.
Sand Hill Road office
Stanford had received approval from the City Council to annex about 16 acres of its property on the south side of Sand Hill Road, stretching from Sharon Park Drive to Alpine Road, and to build a new office building at 2131 Sand Hill Road.
But the last-minute revelation that another office building the university is planning, this one for its medical school faculty and researchers, will be located nearer Menlo Park than originally planned, convinced Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, who previously voted in favor of the Sand Hill Road project, to reconsider the matter.
Stanford proposes that the 155,000-square-foot medical school office building be located near the intersection of Quarry and Arboretum roads. The project would have parking for 800 vehicles, 600 more than are there now.
Carlton said she and the rest of the council didn't have the full picture of the university's plans and how the traffic will be impacted when she made her decision on the Sand Hill Road project. (The council had approved that project on a 3-2 vote, with council members Ray Mueller and Kirsten Keith opposed.)
The council has a 30-day window during which it can legally reverse a decision, according to City Attorney Bill McClure. In other words, if the council had not acted on Nov. 14 to revoke its approval, the approval would have been irrevocable.
The council agreed that the matter may be brought back for approval after it gets more information about the total traffic impacts of all current and imminent Stanford developments, not just what the current traffic conditions are.
Quarry Road office building
The new office building on Quarry Road is under the jurisdiction of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission. The Menlo Park council agreed that the draft of a letter to the commission should more forcefully express opposition to the project's traffic data.
Menlo Park staff noted that the number of parking places and expected car trips projected for the new Quarry Road office building fell below what was approved in 2000. The commission agreed to delay its discussion on the matter at the request of the city of Menlo Park, giving it time to weigh in on the project.
In a separate point, Keith said she'd like to see, as mitigation, the removal of the Palo Alto barriers that keep people on Alma Street in Palo Alto from crossing El Camino Real onto Sand Hill Road. The barrier funnels Palo Alto- and Stanford-related traffic into Menlo Park, she said.
That can't be a mitigation condition for the project's approval, City Attorney Bill McClure responded, because that's in the domain of the city of Palo Alto, not of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission.