Cities seek more time to vet Stanford's proposed expansion | News | Palo Alto Online |


Cities seek more time to vet Stanford's proposed expansion

Palo Alto and Menlo Park request 60 more days; Stanford calls proposal 'unwarranted'

Update: Santa Clara County has extended the public comment period for Stanford University's general use permit application. Read more here.


As the comment period on Stanford University's proposed expansion winds down, city officials from Menlo Park and Palo Alto are calling for the Santa Clara County Planning Department to give them another 60 days to evaluate the potential impacts of the General Use Permit amendment that the university is seeking.

The two cities, along with the Palo Alto Unified School District and Service Employees International Union, Local 2007, have all requested more time to review the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Stanford's permit application, according to county Planning Director Kirk Girard.

The new permit, if approved, would allow the university to build 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 housing units and 40,000 square feet of additional building space between 2018 and 2035.

Though the official deadline for the comment period is Dec. 4, that's also the day that the Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to finalize its letter to the county about the impact report. The school district is scheduled to take action on its own comment on Dec. 5.

Girard said he has agreed to extend the period by a few days to allow the cities to submit their letters. He has not, however, decided whether to grant the 60-day extension, which would stretch the deadline to Feb. 4.

"We will grant the extension, the only question is the number of days," Girard said.

He said he expects to announce the decision on the 60-day extension on Thursday night, when the county Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the public's comments on Stanford's application at a special meeting at the Palo Alto Art Center.

Palo Alto made its request for the extension on Nov. 20 in an email from city Planning Director Hillary Gitelman to Girard. She noted that City Manager James Keene had recently had a conversation about the possible extension with several council members and county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who has been conducting his own outreach efforts to spread awareness about the General Use Permit and its implications.

"As always, interest is picking up as the County's initial deadline approaches, and the City needs to ensure that all concerns are heard effectively," Gitelman wrote.

Menlo Park also asked for the period to be extended until early February, in order to "allow the City adequate time to review the Draft EIR and to gather additional community input," according to a letter from Assistant Community Development Director Mark Muenzer.

Simitian told the Weekly that he strongly supports giving the public more time, noting that the Stanford application is unique in its size and complexity.

"I think it's smart to let all these issues come out now, so that they don't come up in the 12th hour," said Simitian, who had also served on the Board of Supervisors in 2000, when the board approved the university's current General Use Permit.

While Simitian said that the scope and complexity of the project warrants the extension, Stanford sees things differently. Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president and director for community relations, agreed that public input is very important to the process but noted that draft EIR was released in early October and has been the subject of more than 20 community and public meetings.

"Staff for the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park have already prepared draft comment letters for their Council's review," McCown said. "We're mystified as to why the request is being made to go beyond what the law provides for, which is a maximum of 60 days."

Stanford Associate Vice President Cathy Palter submitted a letter to Girard urging him to deny the request, calling it "unwarranted" and inconsistent with the requirements of state law. The California Environmental Quality Act grants 60 days for EIR reviews, though it permits extensions in unusual circumstances.

While Simitian and most Palo Alto council members believe the application qualifies as an unusual project, Palter argued that there had been "no procedural problem necessitating a lengthy extension of the comment period on the draft EIR."

"To the contrary, the County has taken every step to ensure that members of the public have been fully apprised of the availability of the draft EIR," Palter wrote.

In arguing against the extension, Stanford may have received some help from Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff, who called Girard last week to discuss the topic.

Scharff said he called Girard because he had questions about how the extra 60 days would impact the planning process. But Girard recalled that Scharff said that he does not believe the 60-day extension is necessary.

"He said he hadn't heard that much demand from his constituents for an extended period," Girard said.

Girard noted that Scharff was offering his personal view, not the council's. Girard also said that he is considering Keene's written request for an extension -- rather that Scharff's comments -- as the city's official position.

Even so, Scharff's call to Girard rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way. This past Monday night, Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Karen Holman both alluded to the impropriety of one council member taking a position that appears to run against that of the entire council.

DuBois told the Weekly that county officials had sent an email to Palo Alto, indicating some confusion about the city's position.

"There was a lot of consternation at the county about the mixed messages they were getting," DuBois told the Weekly.

Holman also said that she believes it's "really important for all council members to support the city manager when he is acting on behalf of the city and asking for the public comment period to be expanded to allow greater participation for the public on a project as big as the Stanford General Use Permit EIR."

"I hope that all City Council members will support the city manager's efforts and not give the county mixed messages from our own community," Holman said.

Scharff said he called the county only after learning that the city staff had requested the 60-day extension. His main goal of the call, he said, was to make sure that county planners will accept the city's comments even if it comes a few days after Dec. 4.

Scharff also said his message was that he believed the council and staff would be able to approve its comment letter without needing 60 days. The extension, he said he told Girard, would be primarily to give community members more time to offer feedback.

Scharff told the Weekly on Tuesday that he has no objections to the comment period being extended.

"I support the extension," Scharff said. "I think it's a large project and I think there's no harm in having the extension.

Others on the council share that position. In arguing for the comment-period extension, Holman noted that Stanford still has about 600,000 square feet of development that it's allowed to pursue under the existing General Use Permit.

"I don't know why there would be any urgent need to get through this process," Holman said. "It makes sense for very practical, reasonable and humane reasons, that Feb. 4 is not an unreasonable extension to ask the county to grant to the residents of adjacent communities, Palo Alto and Menlo Park."

Related content:

Planned growth to strain traffic around Stanford


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47 people like this
Posted by Stanford growth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2017 at 9:39 am

Wow, pro-growth Mayor Scharff showing his true colors and working against his colleagues and the City Manager. And to think he ran on a pro-resident platform funded by loans from himself. Those loans have not been paid back and can repaid by campaign contributions from developers like Stanford after he leaves office.

55 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2017 at 10:00 am

Scharff is always first and foremost for himself rather than for his City or in his role as Mayor speaking for City or Council positions. What he did here is outrageous and has undermined our City Manager Jim Keene. Of course we want a 60 day extension - that is only to our benefit. Scharff may want to run for another political office after he is termed out of city council next year. Remember this if you ever get to vote for him again - vote no. He is a lousy leader.

47 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 10:11 am

Mayor Scharff has indeed shown his true colors this year as mayor. He doesn't demonstrate respect for his colleagues. He doesn't follow council protocol and often appears to find his disrespect for colleagues to be amusing.

I understand that our council is very divided about issues but there is no excuse for disrespecting his colleagues. When he disrespects his colleagues he disrespects the entire electorate.

He has not earned our respect and we should all think twice about placing trust in him should he runs for higher office in the future.

Very sad state of affairs.

37 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2017 at 10:33 am

Interesting -Stanford can "accept" comments after the deadline, but the city will not be able to challenge Stanford's GUP and EIR in Court if the comments are submitted past the deadline.
I am not suggesting that PA should litigate, but Scharff should not rob the City of that legal right.

34 people like this
Posted by RonSnow
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm

I am in favor of the extension. The traffic impact on all roads outside of the small academic zone is severe and easily appears that traffic would have double digit increases on key roads like Alpine, Sand Hill, Santa Cruz, El Camino, Embarcadero, University, Willows, Middlefield, Marsh, Alameda de las Pulgas, Valapariso, Page Mill, Junipero... Plus all of the neighborhood streets connecting these, as cut thru traffic and increased parking demand would appear to greatly increase.

This is complicated and without more time to look at recent traffic studies in concert with Stanford's analysis we don't have time to inform our neighbors and communities outside of Stanford lands.

Our ability to recommend mitigation to counter the increased traffic is unduly limited by not having the needed time to weight the new traffic analysis and other inputs - again not enough time to inform the community and gather their concerns and input to form a competent response to the Use permit.

26 people like this
Posted by Who Exactly Are Scharff's "Constituents?"
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 12:45 pm

From the article:

"[Mayor Scharff] said he hadn't heard that much demand from his constituents for an extended period"

I guess that means the big money developers who backed his campaign. Well, they're not likely to be the ones complaining about massive over-development in our town. So of course he hadn't heard much demand.

23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Accuracy of the traffic studies has always been questionable since they're often conducted during the lightest possible times and/or designed to make us as miserable as possible so the city can achieve its traffic reduction goals.

Just look at the recent changes to Willow, Ross, Middlefield, etc etc. and the fact that PA's even considering making University -- one to the 3 connectors to 101 -- pedestrian only,

We can't sustain any more traffic, esp. with all the new road barriers / "furniture" PA's put in place, along with the bulbouts, narrowed roads that are not only hazardous but also back up ALL traffic behind stopped buses, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Just say NO to the expansion and/or just keep extending the study indefinitely.

25 people like this
Posted by Tried of asspirations
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 29, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Everyone, Palo Alto and Menlo Park, write to the following to request for the 60 day extension.

This is a project that will have unavoidable and incredibly significant negative cumulative impacts for Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

Let's all write to ensure the County is not confused as to the city's position. You are the city.

23 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Scharff's effort to undermine the interests of the city are just plain shocking and disturbing. He violated his responsibilities to the city, the council and the community.
The big question that needs to be answered is why did he do this? Although he has had the backing of developers, this issue is about Stanford's interests, not local developers. Stanford has written a letter opposing requests from Menlo Park, Palo Alto and local citizens for a 60 day extension for comments on the Draft EIR. Scharff's comments support Stanford's position rather than the city he is sworn to represent. Why?

16 people like this
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 29, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Scharff should be recalled. This is outrageous.

Why? Why would he go against our cities interest?

Can we order an investigation? How can we hold him accountable for his actions?

If he tries to run for office again, we should all remember this article! Sheesh!

18 people like this
Posted by No more pretense
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 29, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Anyone who has watched council meetings on Channel 26 has seen Scharff violate meeting procedures, call on his buddies to the exclusion of others, be rude when he wants to, make motions improperly before others get to speak, and on and on.

Now that he is termed out he doesn't need to pretend to care about residents, he can openly push his real estate lawyer interests.

Maybe he wants something personally from Stanford. Time will tell.

21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Perhaps Mr. Sharff is trying to earn his keep as the new VP of ABAG and their commitment to aggressive growth regardless of the costs to our quality of life and safety.

21 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm

In response to Seriously,

You ask why Scharf would not act in the interest of his constituents and go agains the council? It's because he always acts in HIS best interests first and foremost. He has been funded by developers, sometimes trying to hide it, and has to repay them. Those are the same developers that will benefit from Stanford's overbuilding in the future. So it is no surprise that he would go against those that favor a longer period to think things over and to provide more input from the residents of Palo Alto and Menlo Park and other interested parties. Just being true to form.

18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2017 at 10:02 pm

It is not clear that Scharff's support from and for developers is the prime driver that caused him to lobby on behalf of Stanford's interests over those of the community. Throughout his terms in office, he has been exceptionally cozy with Stanford and supportive of their interests.
He has also been clear to many peopple that he intends to run for county supervisor once Joe Simitian is termed out in three years.
We should not underestimate the power and influence of Stanford locally and regionally. Scharff clearly appreciates it.
Nevertheless, this back door effort to undermine the city council, city staff and community sets a new low bar for audacity and underhandedness.

8 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Stanford is asking the county for permission to expand with millions of square feet of new development that will bring thousands of new employees commuting into Palo Alto. In their draft Environmental Impact Report to the county Stanford is claiming their impact on Palo Alto's traffic will be mitigated because the trains will carry a large number of these additional employees. Their report assuming trains will be more frequent and longer during peak commute times.

A) Existing platforms are not long enough to add the number of carriages they claim will carry their employees. There is no plan or funding to extend the platforms.

B) The number and length of the trains they claim will bring in their employees during peak commute hours will effectively close the three at grade crossings (Charleston, E. Meadow, Churchill) during those hours.

As mitigation measures for this huge employment expansion Stanford must be required to:

A) Contribute funds so the platforms can hold the longer trains they claim are necessary to accommodate their additional employees.

B) Contribute to grade separation at Charleston, E. Meadow, and Charleston.

Or be required to revise their DEIR assumption for the number of employees who will travel by train and demonstrate how their additional employees, who will not be accommodated on the train, will be travelling to and from Stanford. What will be the impact of that on Palo Alto's roads.

Unfortunately, Stanford has a sweet deal by which if they exceed the number of cars driving onto campus during peak commute hours above what the county has allowed in their last expansion agreement, Stanford simply pays a fine and those additional vehicles are effectively removed from the data. The amount of the fine is negotiated with the county after each traffic count. Palo Alto residents are stuck with their additional traffic while Stanford can claim they did not exceed their numbers. This should be changed in their new GUP so that we can know how much more traffic is being generated by Stanford.

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