News

Stanford sues Santa Clara County over housing law

University claims it's been unfairly targeted by 'inclusionary housing' ordinance

Stanford University on Wednesday filed two lawsuits against Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, charging county officials of unfairly and illegally targeting the university with a recently adopted law that aims to promote more affordable housing on campus.

The university is contesting the new "inclusionary housing" law, which the board approved on Sept. 25 and which requires the university to designate 16 percent of all new housing units as below-market-rate housing. The two lawsuits, filed in state and federal courts, allege that the county's law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. and California constitutions, which prohibit government entities from treating one individual differently from others in similar circumstances.

The university also indicated that it plans to sue the county over a separate law that the board had also passed on Sept. 25, one that significantly raised the "housing impact fees" that Stanford has to pay for every square foot of new development. Under the law, the fee is slated to go up from $36.22 to $68.50 per square foot.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Stanford takes issues with both policies, though the new suit only pertains to the "inclusionary housing" law (Stanford has a later deadline for challenging the ordinance on impact fees). It argues that the county is illegally forcing Stanford to bear the burden of solving what the county itself had determined to be a regional problem: A severe shortage of affordable housing.

By targeting Stanford with its new affordable-housing requirement, the county is violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from denying "any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," the university alleges in a complaint.

"The County ordinance impermissibly singles out Stanford University," Geoffrey L. Robinson, of the firm Perkins Coie LLP, wrote on behalf of Stanford in the federal lawsuit. "Through its ordinance, the County has intentionally imposed affordable housing requirements exclusively on housing development constructed by Stanford."

The lawsuit, as well as a similar one that the university filed in state Superior Court comes at a time when Stanford and the county are negotiating a new "general use permit" (GUP) to govern the university's future growth. Stanford has applied for a permit to build 2.275 million square feet of academic spaces and 3,150 new units (a combination of student beds and faculty housing) by 2035. The county is set to rule on Stanford's GUP by mid-2019.

The legal challenge was widely expected. During recent hearings on the new housing ordinances, Stanford consistently objected to the two new laws and had proposed its own plan for promoting affordable housing, which includes converting existing market-rate homes to below-market-rate housing, building some new housing and contributing funds for future affordable-housing projects. On a recent episode of the Weekly's news show "Behind the Headlines," Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian alluded to Stanford's expected legal challenge over the new housing laws.

Against the backdrop of litigation, Stanford and the county are now kicking off negotiations on a development agreement that may include some — or all — of the policies in Stanford's proposal, as well as other conditions that the county may request as part of the expansion project. But while Stanford was hoping that the development agreement would obviate the need for the new laws, county supervisors opted in September to pass both housing ordinances, with the understanding that they can revise or repeal them once the county and Stanford complete their negotiations.

In a statement, Stanford announced that irrespective of the lawsuits, the university intends to "continue working constructively and collaboratively with Santa Clara County to negotiate a long-term agreement as part of a new General Use Permit that would include significant additional amounts of affordable housing."

"While contesting its unequal treatment under the ordinance, Stanford is not taking a broad position opposing inclusionary housing ordinances," the Stanford statement reads. "Stanford also is not seeking to stop the construction of affordable housing; on the contrary, the university supports and is a major participant in the development of affordable housing, both for members of the university community and for local residents."

As evidence, it points to its contributions to affordable housing since 2000, when its last general use permit was approved. The university has paid more than $26 million in affordable-housing fees and has constructed 816 units that it says meet county standards for affordability for low-income and very low-income households.

The county also cited the ongoing construction of Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which will bring another 1,300 units to the campus.

"The issue in the litigation is not about Stanford's commitment to more affordable housing, but rather that it is unlawful for Stanford to be singled out for unequal treatment in a county ordinance," Stanford's statement reads. "Santa Clara County's studies determine that all new housing, anywhere in the county, generates demand for affordable housing. However, the county's new ordinance applies to a single entity, unreasonably targeting Stanford and violating constitutional equal protection principles."

Watch the Dec. 7 episode of "Behind the Headlines" where Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian gives an update on Stanford University's expansion proposal or listen to the conversation on our new podcast.

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Comments

34 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2018 at 5:39 pm

They must have read Tuesday's article on Palo Alto Online titled "Legal threats, late revisions pay off for developer". If bullying worked for them, why not for Stanford?


31 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2018 at 6:21 pm

Jean Mccown is Stanford's director of community relations. Her philosophy with the school district and the county seems to be to speak loudly and carry a big stick. That tends to work only until you find out that the other guy has a bigger stick. She's clearly not the master of the long game.


14 people like this
Posted by Erm...?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2018 at 7:09 pm

What is Stanford hoping to achieve by suing the Santa Clara County....? /s


29 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 21, 2018 at 7:53 am

Stanford wants to be above the law and free to cause irreparable harm to their neighbors without oversight. Their goal is to enlarge their $24.8 billion endowment by any means necessary.


21 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 21, 2018 at 10:13 am

Seems that this lawsuit is about making sure law is applied even handedly --- and the judicial system will determine if Stanford's claim has merit.

@Palyparent --- there's no call to insult Jean McCown personally.


31 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 21, 2018 at 10:51 am

I wish PA and/or Santa Clara Co enforced regulations & fees on development in Palo Alto nearly as strictly as they try to with the university. Underparked commercial projects & relaxation of rules for "granny units," some of which are actually used for Airbnbs, are a much bigger problem that what Stanford does on its own property.


3 people like this
Posted by research park
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 21, 2018 at 12:08 pm

research park is a registered user.

On the other hand Palo Alto has control over how much development is allowed within the Stanford Research Park since those lands are part of the city.


3 people like this
Posted by The other hand
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 21, 2018 at 5:27 pm

On the other hand, Stanford has control of the dish area. It is on Stanford property.


Like this comment
Posted by Research Park
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 21, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Research Park is a registered user.

The dish isn't much of a bargaining chip. Popular yes, and Stanford does have an absolute right to close it off to whoever they wish. However, I don't think that is much of a bargaining chip.


20 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Let’s not forget that Stanford is able to count dorm rooms as low income housing. When are they going to build low income housing on the campus for low income workers?


1 person likes this
Posted by Yes!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2018 at 12:31 am

Right on, Chip!

Palo Alto neighbors, would there be a strong case if the People of PA filed a grievance against developers? Or would it be a lawsuit that would be tossed out? :-/


10 people like this
Posted by Lawsuits
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2018 at 8:40 am

@Yes!
Collectively sue the City of Palo Alto for stripping away the zoning and building laws to accomodate developers and not acting in the interest of its residents.

It is becoming clear Palo Alto attorney, Molly Stump, reacts only to threats of lawsuits. Otherwise, forget you residents, she does not believe you have the ability to sue the city.

City Manager, Jim Keene, has had his employees pandering to developers or else its their jobs. Then, Ms Stump comes in to defend. Keene should have been fired long ago, at least he is gone now.


2 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 22, 2018 at 9:25 am

Would requiring housing for creating jobs create a disincentive to create jobs - or to create them somewhere else?


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 22, 2018 at 10:32 am

The Public Interest wrote:

"there's no call to insult Jean McCown personally."

and then...

"Palo Alto attorney, Molly Stump, reacts only to threats of lawsuits"
"City Manager, Jim Keene, has had his employees pandering to developers"

Double standard much? I think your Stanford bias is showing!


3 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 22, 2018 at 2:22 pm

@Anon

I didn't post and insult Molly Stump or Jim Keene --- that was Lawsuit's post --- not mine. Maybe you should get your facts straight.

There's no call for insulting people personally, including me; people can and do hold different opinions, whether people like it or not.



12 people like this
Posted by A Ghost From the Past
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Leland Stanford Sr. is watching (from wherever) and saying "Don't give in to Santa Clara County. We are bigger than them and our objectives far more important."


5 people like this
Posted by Roshongo
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 23, 2018 at 9:58 am

Remind me again how great the bay area is.. Yeah it has nice weather, that's it.


16 people like this
Posted by Obligation to Non-Stanford People
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 23, 2018 at 1:59 pm

from the Weekly article...
"...requires the university to designate 16 percent of all new housing units as below-market-rate housing."

a couple of questions:

(1) are these new dwellings on Stanford land?
(2) who is the intended 16%?

If the housing is on Stanford land and intended for use by Stanford students or employees, then they don't have to answer to the county.

It is not Stanford's responsibility to provide cost-effective housing for residents in Palo Alto or from anywhere else (unless these individuals are directly involved with Stanford).


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 23, 2018 at 4:52 pm

@Obligation
The County is the governing agency that controls Stanford’s development. Stanford does not have inherent legal rights to add millions of square feet of new offices. They have to propose their plans under a General Use Permit every 20 years or so. Under CEQA, Stanford must mitigate the impacts of their development or the County can make a statement of “over riding considerations” to waive the obligation to mitigate those impacts. In addition, the County can require additional public benefits as a condition for allowing the development. Alternatively, Stanford and the County can strike a deal for what Stanford must provide in exchange for the development. That deal is the Development Agreement that is being considered.
The University does not pay property taxes which would otherwise help pay their share of county and school district services.


21 people like this
Posted by Stanford Should Be Autonomous
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 23, 2018 at 4:59 pm

"The University does not pay property taxes which would otherwise help pay their share of county and school district services."

Then Stanford should go rogue and develop its own school district and additional public services.

They already have their own police department and with all the money Stanford takes in through its Office of Development, Stanford can well afford to be a city of its own.


7 people like this
Posted by Remembering McCown
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2018 at 11:10 am

>"there's no call to insult Jean McCown personally."

It isn't personal to know that she is a land use attorney and that she represents developers. Downtown residents recall her representing Doug Ross, developer of oversized 800 High St. and defeating the citizens Referendum to stop it.

Of course she had the help of Dina Mossar, Bern Beecham, Vic Ojakian, and Planner Steve Emslie.


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 30, 2018 at 7:26 am

Why should Stanford be required to provide housing for its workers when the Bay Area's other large employers (who, for the most part, are far wealthier than Stanford) are not?


3 people like this
Posted by Reasons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2018 at 9:13 am

@Joe -

1) They are a non-profit and so do not pay property taxes. Other large employers (Google, FB, HP, Intel, etc.) pay property taxes.

2) They are by miles the largest employer in the unincorporated portion of county, subject to county planning jurisdiction. If they were joined an incorporated city, that city could work it out. As it is, they choose to avoid that, so need to deal with the priorities of the county, where they tower far over any other employer.

3) Other fast-growing employers (FB, Google) are in fact actively working to develop thousands of housing units around their major office locations. See the activity in Menlo Park and Mountain View for examples.


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

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