In a stinging rebuke, a coalition of cities in San Mateo County issued a public statement Friday criticizing Stanford for rejecting their requests for funding to address the impacts of its dramatic campus expansion on traffic and housing.
The letter from the Coalition for Stanford GUP Accountability — a group of elected representative and staff members from San Mateo County, Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City and Woodside — was released just days before the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to review Stanford's application for a new general use permit. If approved, the GUP would allow Stanford to build 3.5 million square feet of new development by 2035, including 2.275 million square feet of academic space and 2,600 student beds. County staff are also recommending that Stanford be required to build at least 2,172 housing units for staff (Stanford's application calls for 550 such units).
While Santa Clara County has the sole authority to approve or deny Stanford's request, city and county officials in San Mateo County have been persistently arguing that the approval should also take into account Stanford's impacts on the jurisdictions to its north. They point at the environmental analysis for Stanford's expansion, which concluded that about 27% of the new households associated with Stanford's growth would be located in San Mateo County, requiring about 655 new housing units. As such, they requested that Stanford contribute $196 million for an affordable-housing fund.
The cities had also requested $4.62 million for roadway and intersection improvements, $15 million for bike and pedestrian connections between Stanford and surrounding communities; $5 million for stormwater management and flood prevention; and $6.78 million in "in-lieu property taxes" to compensate communities where Stanford, which enjoys property-tax exemptions, owns properties.
In its Friday statement, the San Mateo County coalition reaffirms its concerns about the traffic and housing impacts of Stanford's proposed expansion, which is expected to add 9,600 people to the campus population. Despite these impacts, Stanford "flatly refuses" to negotiate with the cities when it comes to mitigations, the letter states. The message also states that Stanford has informed the coalition that it would only negotiate if the coalition lobbies Santa Clara County to enter into a "development agreement" with Stanford.
Such an agreement would upend the traditional relationship between the regulator (the county) and the project applicant (Stanford) and allow the two sides to negotiate a deal with additional benefits and exemptions. Earlier this month, the university suggested that it would not accept the county's approval of its application unless it comes with a development agreement.
Robert Reidy, Stanford's vice president for land, buildings and real estate, argued in an Oct. 7 letter to the Board of Supervisors that because Stanford is offering significant public benefits upfront, a development agreement is needed to assure the university that it would be able to proceed with its expansion.
"The university needs to be able to predict the costs associated with future regulations, and its ability to comply with those regulations, in order to commit land and financial resources toward housing, transportation, schools and other benefits," Reidy wrote.
Santa Clara County staff and the majority of the Board of Supervisors have thus far maintained that a development agreement is unnecessary. After agreeing last fall to consider a development agreement, the board appointed a subcommittee to explore a possible deal. The committee, composed of board President Joe Simitian and Supervisor Cindy Chavez, abruptly halted the negotiations in April, after Stanford entered into a side deal with the Palo Alto Unified School District — an agreement that was contingent on a development agreement with the county.
The San Mateo County coalition letter states that the cities have urged Stanford to address San Mateo County impacts as part of the standard development approval, but there has been no response from the university.
"Here's what every resident in San Mateo County needs to know: Stanford – with its $26.5 billion endowment — expects to reap all the rewards while leaving local taxpayers grappling with the resulting traffic gridlock, spiraling housing prices, impacted schools and environmental consequences," the coalition's statement reads.
The letter from the San Mateo County cities also emphasizes Stanford's tax-exempt status. Nearly 70% of Stanford's property in San Mateo County (an estimated $1.2 billion in holdings) is tax-free, according to the coalition. Even without Stanford's expansion, San Mateo County public agencies stand to lose $200 million in property taxes over the 18-year life of the proposed GUP.
Melissa Stevenson Diaz, city manager of Redwood City, told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that property taxes are the top revenue source in her city. She said Stanford officials had informed her that the university intends to buy a newly built apartment building in Redwood City. Because of its property-tax exemption, Redwood City stands to lose about $100,000 in tax revenues from that building in the first year alone.
The letter from the coalition of cities calls it "a bit ironic that one of the top universities in the world cannot support our local schools that educate the children of Stanford employees."
"The roads, bridges and pathways Stanford employees use daily receive no funds for repairs or upgrades from Stanford. Likewise, nothing for parks, 9-1-1 dispatch and first responders. Nothing," the letter states. "The time has come for Stanford to pay its fair share. As representatives of local communities that would be impacted by Stanford's development, we call on the university to work on a deal that would fully compensate our communities for the impacts of Stanford's growth."
The letter from the coalition follows repeated calls from San Mateo County elected officials and staff members that Stanford provide "full mitigation" for its expansion, which includes commitments to cities for housing and transportation funding. Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecelia Taylor and Councilwoman Betsy Nash both urged the county at the Oct. 8 Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting to require Stanford to mitigate its impacts. Nash said the city already suffers from "inadequate housing availability, housing affordability and traffic congestion."
Stanford's obligations to address its impacts on surrounding communities are expected to be a key theme at the Oct. 22 meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which will be held in Palo Alto. The 6 p.m. hearing at City Hall will be preceded by two rallies, one spearheaded by the student group Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035 (SCoPE 2035) and another one by Palo Alto Unified School District advocates.
The meeting will be the third of four scheduled public hearings on Stanford's proposed expansion. The final meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 in the Board of Supervisors' Chambers at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose.