Stanford University has disputed the accounts of two Santa Clara County supervisors that the university's top executives offered lesser benefits to the Palo Alto school district in order to restart suspended negotiations with the county on a development agreement that would govern its campus expansion.
In a Q&A released Friday, the university said that in all discussions with the county "Stanford has been steadfast in its commitment to the full scope of benefits for the school district" that were included in a tentative agreement Stanford and the district reached in early April. That agreement, which promised $138 million over 40 years to mitigate the university's planned growth, was conditional on a development agreement being separately negotiated by the county and Stanford. The inclusion of that conditional provision prompted the county to quickly suspend development-agreement negotiations, saying that it would provide the university unfair leverage during talks.
Supervisors Joe Simitian and Cindy Chavez, who represented the county on the development-agreement negotiations team, said they spoke on the phone with Stanford President Marc-Tessier-Lavigne and Vice President Bob Reidy on May 8 to discuss restarting negotiations. The phone call followed an in-person meeting on Friday, May 3, during which they stated that the county would be willing to reopen talks if the negotiations are open to the public and guarantee the same benefits to the Palo Alto school district (PAUSD) that were negotiated with district officials, Simitian has said.
Both supervisors told the Weekly that Tessier-Lavigne and Reidy agreed on May 8 to offer the district the same deal — except for up to $15 million to build an "innovative" space to be shared by the district and university.
"The purpose of their call to us was to respond to Supervisor Chavez and Simitian saying, 'We can start talking again on the development agreement as long as you make your agreement with the Palo Alto Unified School District unconditional,'" said Scott Strickland, Chavez's chief of staff. "They came back and said, 'We can do that except for this.' There definitely was an 'except for this.'"
Stanford, however, said in its Q&A that it intends to include $16.5 million for the innovation space and facility and Safe Routes to School improvements, along with an estimated $121.9 million in ongoing per-pupil funding for new students living in tax-exempt university housing.
"Stanford and the County discussed different options for how to structure the agreement, but Stanford was very clear throughout those deliberations that it was still willing to provide all of the benefits in the agreement," the Q&A reads. "Following those discussions, Stanford has reaffirmed that the benefits should be part of a comprehensive development agreement."
Stanford did not say that it would agree to conducting development agreement negotiations publicly, as the county had asked for, and noted that the university is "not aware of any development agreement that has been negotiated through a public forum during creation of an initial draft agreement, prior to commencement of public hearings.
"Nevertheless, Stanford is open to exploring a variety of potential options for reaching agreement with county decision-makers," the Q&A states.
The university also suggested bringing in an independent third party to facilitate development agreement talks with the county.
"A facilitated process, which was successfully used during the university's talks with PAUSD, helps to ensure clear, concise and unambiguous communication and agreements," Stanford said.
The Palo Alto Unified school board agreed last week, at Stanford's request, to suspend any action on the tentative agreement. Stanford had also asked the Santa Clara County Planning Commission to delay upcoming public hearings on the university's general-use-permit application, citing concerns about the feasibility of meeting conditions of approval, a draft of which was released in March.
The county is still moving forward with the hearings, however, which start next Thursday, May 30, at the Palo Alto City Council Chambers at 6 p.m. The next two meetings are on June 13 and 27, both starting at 1:30 p.m. at the County Government Center in the Issac Newton Senter Auditorium located at 70 W. Hedding St. in San Jose.
The county has said it will release full conditions of approval on Stanford's application on or before this Thursday, May 23. The conditions will be accompanied by a staff report with recommendations on the application, including findings necessary to approve the project.