News


Stanford asks county to halt GUP hearings

Letter to planning commission criticizes county's approval conditions as 'incomplete and premature'

Stanford University officials have asked the Santa Clara County Planning Commission to delay hearings on their major campus-expansion application, citing concerns the county's proposed conditions of approval are "unworkable and infeasible."

Stanford Associate Vice President Catherine Palter delivered on Thursday a sharp letter to the planning commission criticizing the county for failing to give Stanford a "meaningful opportunity" to provide feedback on the approval conditions before they were publicly released in March. The conditions are subject to approval by the county Board of Supervisors as part of the application approval.

Stanford's application seeks to add 2.275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 housing units, 40,000 square feet of child care facilities and other support space by 2035. But a three-page summary of the conditions, proposed by county staff and made public in March, would require the university to build more housing, step up its monitoring of traffic and submit future development plans for review, among other stipulations.

"As currently presented, the conditions summary is headed in an unworkable direction," Palter wrote, calling any deliberations on the approval conditions "incomplete and premature."

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who is part of the development-agreement negotiation team with Supervisor Cindy Chavez, pushed back on that characterization.

The detailed 100-plus page conditions of approval will be released in two weeks and then be subject to public hearings, where the university can also provide its feedback, he said.

"It's hard to fathom how the university can decide the conditions of approval aren't achievable ... when you haven't seen them yet," Simitian said Friday. "The university wants the chance to roll back the meaningful conditions of approval before they see the light of day. That's not in the public interest."

Among the biggest changes proposed by the county in the new conditions is a significant increase in housing for faculty and staff. Stanford had proposed to build 2,600 student beds and 550 units of housing for faculty and staff.

The county's conditions call for an additional 1,622 units of faculty and staff housing, for a minimum of 2,172 units, along with the 2,600 student beds that Stanford had applied for. At least 70 percent of these units would have to be built on campus under the proposed conditions.

Stanford's letter criticized the alternative housing plan proposed by the county for the general use permit as counterproductive and creating "more significant, adverse environmental impacts" than the university's application.

Palter said that a team of Stanford and county representatives was created to work on the approval conditions and collaborated through last May, when the county said the university would be able to review a draft of the conditions last August — "a date that slipped monthly until this April," the letter states.

Palter said university officials were told more recently that they would first see the final, detailed conditions of approval in a staff report for a May 30 planning commission hearing.

Palter asked the planning commission to instead hold a study session on the draft conditions of approval as well as on as a set of draft development-agreement terms before proceeding with hearings.

Stanford and the county started negotiations in the fall for a development agreement that would have governed the university's expansion, but talks were suspended indefinitely in April after Stanford and the Palo Alto school district announced a separate agreement under which Stanford would pay the district $138 million to account for the university's expansion and its projected impact on district enrollment. Their agreement was conditional on approval of the county's broader development agreement, prompting Simitian to call the deal "regrettable" and halt development-agreement negotiations.

Palter asked in her letter that county staff return to the table with Stanford to negotiate a development agreement "that provides substantial public benefits beyond those that can be achieved through conditions of approval, in exchange for providing certainty that Stanford will be able to complete its proposed project over the long term."

She called the collaborative process "the norm in other jurisdictions," though Simitian disputed that assertion. Developers typically submit applications that are reviewed by county or city staff, who prepare a report that's reviewed by governing bodies — without negotiations on the side.

"This is the norm. This is the way land use matters are handled up and down the state," Simitian said.

Palter in her letter highlighted several areas of concern in the county's conditions of approval, including phased approvals of building plans and future studies, which "would create tremendous uncertainty" for the university's future growth.

"If the permit leaves future academic expansion in a state of ambiguity, Stanford will be unable to front-load valuable benefits such as providing hundreds of units of affordable housing now, ahead of job growth," Palter wrote. "It is not viable for an applicant to fund costly up-front community benefits knowing that it might not be allowed to complete its project over the long term."

The conditions of approval's traffic requirements — including an expansion of the hours that traffic going to and from campus are monitored — would be "impossible to implement" and restrict the community's use of the campus, the letter states.

But Simitian said Friday that he and Chavez met with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Vice President Bob Reidy on Friday, May 3, to state that the county would be willing to reopen talks if they are open to the public and guarantee the same benefits to the Palo Alto school district that have already been negotiated. On Wednesday, Simitian said, Tessier-Lavigne and Reidy responded that they wished the negotiations to be in private and proposed lesser benefits to the district, which Simitian said would be unacceptable.

Late Friday afternoon, the school district released a May 10 letter from Reidy asking the district to pause their proposed agreement discussions "to be consistent" with Stanford's request that the county planning commission delay its hearings. Staff are recommending the board approve this request.

The county issued a press release Friday evening stating its intent to continue with the general use permit hearings as scheduled.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold three hearings on the general use permit: May 30 at 6 p.m. in the Palo Alto City Council Chambers (250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto) and June 13 and 27, both at 1:30 p.m. at the Isaac Newton Senter Auditorium, County Government Center (70 W. Hedding St., San Jose).

The Board of Supervisors is tentatively set to start its own study sessions and hearings in September.

Hear Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.

---

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.

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by conditions for all new development
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 3:31 pm

conditions for all new development is a registered user.

Clearly, the County staff should be overseeing ALL applications for development across the County. Based on the preliminary conditions of approval for Stanford's development released in April, we would not be having the housing crisis we are now, if the County had been in charge. 1600+ housing units? wow. What were the conditions on Apple in Cupertino for their "shapeship?" Was any housing built as part of that development? Any transportation benefits? Google's expansion? Seems like it's bad luck for Stanford to be under County jurisdiction instead of say, Cupertino's.


3 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2019 at 5:57 pm

"Stanford's letter criticized the alternative housing plan proposed by the county for the general use permit as counterproductive and creating "more significant, adverse environmental impacts" than the university's application."

Could it be that "2,275 million square feet of academic space, 3,150 housing units, 40,000 square feet of child care facilities and other support space" won't have a significant, adverse environmental impact, or is this statement somewhat hypocritical?


4 people like this
Posted by Mary O
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Mary O is a registered user.

@jh. The impacts from the Stanford GUP were analyzed in great detail and mitigation strategies, where needed, were recommended. As part of the CEQA process, two additional scenarios that provided for additional housing for employees to be built were analyzed. These alternatives were not put forth by Stanford but were included because of the number of public comments that stated that Stanford should build more housing on their campus for employees. The analysis showed that both of those scenarios would result in greater impacts - including some that couldn’t be mitigated - than what Stanford’s proposal did. All documents are available online.

I agree with the first comment that the County should be looking at all commercial development in the County and dictating the conditions of approval. Cities couldn’t make deals then with large companies that build within their limits yet impact adjacent areas.


11 people like this
Posted by News or advertising?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2019 at 8:20 pm

Must be nice for Joe Simitian to own his own paper, which basically prints whatever he tells them and doesn't bother to collect comment from the other side! Not even a "Stanford did not immediately return requests for comments." [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by News or advertising?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2019 at 10:36 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 11, 2019 at 12:01 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I was reading an article that stated that Palo Alto had to add housing to support Google and FB. There was no mention of the fact that both of those organizations are in different cities. Somehow we have become the name recognition point for housing for organizations that are in different cities. SU is a city within itself. They own the land - so when people buy a house there it is the house only - not the land. And they are in their own tax base, as are the cities where Google and FB are located - corporate location for tax purposes. At this point in time I don't think that Palo Alto would benefit from growth at SU in any material way. They have the land available for their own housing and need to use it. It is also leveraging space in Redwood City so they are moving out into other locations. The idea that the city of Palo Alto has to add housing to support the business objectives of large business entities in other cities needs a lot of caution. Also to cut back on advertising ourselves as being the answer to and example - calling attention to ourselves - is having the reverse effect. Do not get trapped into our own publicity.


4 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on May 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

Resident,

The jobs already in Palo Alto are way in excess of workers living in Palo Alto, regardless of the new jobs in other jurisdictions.

The mantra of Palo Alto opponents of SB50 is local control. They don’t want the county meddling in PA affairs, only Stanford’s.


8 people like this
Posted by County insider
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Joe Simitian has royally screwed up the Stanford GUP. He could have just run a reasonable process but instead has tried to figure out how to use this as a political launching pad for his 2022 bid for Anna Eshoo's seat. He has destroyed the ability of the schools to receive fair compensation -- unhappy that he won't get credit. He has now broken faith with PAUSD, the residents of the County, and Stanford. He is incompetent in the truest sense of the word. While in Palo Alto Joe is treated (inaccurately) like some kind of national treasure, in the rest of the county he is viewed quite differently [portion removed.]

I suggest that the Weekly venture to Hedding Street and talk to some non-Palo Altans about how Joe is seen. Or just venture below San Antonio. Good luck Palo Alto.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 11, 2019 at 12:42 pm

" two additional scenarios that provided for additional housing for employees to be built were analyzed. These alternatives were not put forth by Stanford but were included because of the number of public comments that stated that Stanford should build more housing on their campus for employees. The analysis showed that both of those scenarios would result in greater impacts - including some that couldn’t be mitigated - than what Stanford’s proposal did."

Face it. Stanford does not want hoi polloi dwelling on campus. That impact is too unthinkable to be mitigatable.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 14 comments | 5,046 views

Troubling safety issues in our fair city
By Diana Diamond | 16 comments | 1,510 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,244 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,233 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 1 comment | 950 views

 

Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info