After months of stalled talks and disagreement over how Stanford University's planned expansion will impact the Palo Alto school district, the two entities have returned to the table.
In a meeting Tuesday, district and university representatives agreed to start confidential discussions, guided by attorneys and a third-party facilitator, about possible benefits Stanford could offer to mitigate the impact of new students generated by Stanford's proposed general use permit, which proposes to build 2.275 million square feet of new academic space by 2035. The district has been pressing Stanford to contribute funds and land to offset the number of students that will be generated by new property-tax exempt housing.
"Non-negotiable" for the school district re-entering talks, Superintendent Don Austin said at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, was that a board resolution asking Stanford for land for a new school and annual payments be the "pillar of discussions." Stanford has agreed to discuss these requests first, he said.
Both the district and Stanford "agreed that we had not made progress of any real substance prior to today," Austin said, noting that the university has to date not offered any mitigation proposals to Palo Alto Unified. "We're going to put that behind us and try to come back and see if we can really get some traction."
In a statement, Stanford said it had hoped that negotiations with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors over a potential development agreement "would lead to an agreement on additional support for local schools as part of a package of broader local community benefits Stanford would provide under a new General Use Permit."
"At this point, with county hearings on the General Use Permit scheduled to begin soon, Stanford considers it imperative to work directly with PAUSD to explore options that address the school district's concerns," the statement reads.
Austin said the district and Stanford agreed to set an "aggressive timeline" — if they cannot reach a resolution in one month, they will "step away and leave it to the county to solve."
If they do reach an agreement, Stanford would submit a proposal to the county as part of the development agreement process and the district would endorse the proposal, Austin said.
The school district will be represented in talks by Austin, Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks, Chief Business Officer Jim Novak and an attorney.
Tuesday's announcement comes two days before a scheduled town hall on the general use permit and "Stanford Share the Costs" rally organized by the Palo Alto Council of PTAs. The parent organization launched in recent months an advocacy campaign urging Stanford to contribute more to the district, including holding meetings, creating a fact sheet and online petition, writing letters to Stanford and meeting with each of the county's supervisors.
Austin said PTAC's "engagement has certainly helped to move the process along."
The town hall on Thursday, March 14, will start at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. A panel of Palo Alto Weekly journalists will interview county Supervisor Joe Simitian and then take questions from the audience.