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Over the past year, Stanford and Santa Clara County clashed over numerous issues. Here are three key points of contention.

Stances on development agreement, negotiation rules drove wedges between university and county during process of reviewing application

Stanford University and the county of Santa Clara took fundamentally opposing viewpoints on a few key development issues, eventually leading to the university's withdrawal on Nov. 1 of its general use permit application.

1. Was a development agreement necessary?

Stanford University has claimed throughout the review process of its general use permit that a development agreement -- a negotiated document spelling out how much growth Santa Clara County would allow and how much Stanford would contribute to cover the growth's impacts -- would be critical for the university to proceed with its expansion plan.

Jean McCown, Stanford's associate vice president for government and community relations, said the county's "flat-out, continued refusal to engage with us on a development agreement" was the main factor in Stanford's decision not to move ahead.

The two sides were not always so polarized as they ended up over a development agreement. In October 2018, the county Board of Supervisors agreed to negotiate such an agreement that potentially could be considered as part of the approval process -- or not.

Joe Simitian, president of the county Board of Supervisors, said at the time that the agreement would ultimately be considered alongside other mechanisms, which would include ordinances, legislative actions and quasi-judicial actions.

"The full array should be before us so that we can understand which tool is the most appropriate tool for which particular challenge in the exercise," Simitian said.

But while Stanford sought to get started immediately on negotiations, Simitian underscored that the board would not be making any decisions on a development agreement until after the environmental review of the project was completed in December. By April, however, the negotiations still hadn't begun; Simitian said it was owing to the fact that county staff had not yet finalized conditions of approval, which would be key to negotiations.

Even before talks collapsed in April, the two sides had starkly different ideas about what a development agreement would look like. Stanford repeatedly referred to a "comprehensive development agreement" governing the entire project. McCown said Stanford was being asked to deliver far more community benefits as part of the current proposal than was the case with its existing general use permit, approved in 2000. To provide these benefits, Stanford needs "protection and predictability" for its new development over the long-term horizon, she said.

The county, however, was planning to use its regulatory powers to require many mitigations, such as housing and traffic regulations, and saw a development agreement as a tool that could be used for benefits that go beyond the scope of these powers.

"I was open to the notion that a development agreement was an appropriate tool for some narrow and limited set of benefits," Simitian told the Weekly after the university withdrew its application.

2. Did Stanford University violate its ground rules for negotiations with the county?

When county staff and Supervisors Simitian and Cindy Chavez announced on April 16 that they were indefinitely suspending their negotiations with Stanford on a possible development agreement, they pointed to Stanford's side deal with the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) as the reason.

The ground rules that Stanford and the county agreed on in January 2019 for their negotiations over a development agreement specifically prohibited the two parties from reaching a deal with another "interested party" and presenting that deal as a proposal during the negotiations period.

Stanford leaders rejected the notion that they broke the rules and pointed to Simitian's own comments at a March 14 community meeting, where he urged Stanford to collaborate with the school district on a package of benefits.

"Supervisor Simitian and the county had actively encouraged us to engage with PAUSD as part of these negotiations, and we believe this discussion is not in violation of the ground rules," McCown said in an email.

After halting negotiations, county officials informed Stanford that they would consider re-opening them if two conditions were met: the talks, unlike before, would occur in open and public meetings and Stanford would offer benefits to the Palo Alto Unified School District equal to or greater than those contained in the April 15 agreement (but without being contingent on a development agreement).

According to a report from Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos and Planning Director Jacqueline Onciano, Stanford leaders did not agree to these conditions. Gallegos and Onciano reiterated in a Nov. 5 report that Stanford had violated the ground rules "because it reached a deal with PAUSD that was connected to and contingent upon the execution of a development agreement between the county and Stanford."

3. Does the community support Stanford's expansion?

Both Stanford and Santa Clara County officials claim to have support for their respective positions from the broader community. On Nov. 1, Stanford released a survey by Benenson Strategy Group indicating that most voters in Santa Clara County support what the university is doing.

The results, however, also show that most people haven't really been paying attention. Only 38% reported having heard anything about the university's plans to expand.

The survey also indicated that 75% of the respondents supported a "development agreement" with Santa Clara County that would "require Stanford to commit to providing specific benefits to the community, including housing, school funding and transportation improvements, over the next 20 years." The question did not, however, inform the respondent that Stanford's proposed housing and traffic benefits were less than what the county would have required without such an agreement.

The survey also noted that 84% of voters agreed with the statement, "By investing $4.7 billion in workforce housing, local schools and transportation, Stanford University is doing its part to support our community." That statement, however, belies the fact that a significant share of the $4.7 billion (more than $1 billion) would go toward constructing student beds and much of the rest would pay for fixing the problems caused by Stanford's very project.

From the county's standpoint, public pressure placed on Stanford to fully mitigate the expansion's anticipated impacts on housing, traffic and more shored up the county's stance.

The procession of mayors requesting that the county require full mitigation made it politically easy for the Board of Supervisors to stay the course with their housing and traffic requirements, Stanford's protests notwithstanding.

And the requests that various student groups presented to the county (including calls for additional child care services, subsidies for graduate students and transportation services for Stanford staff) aligned neatly with new conditions of approval that Simitian and Chavez released after the Oct. 22 board meeting.

Simitian told the Weekly that what the public wanted dovetailed with his preference for full mitigation.

"When dealing with challenging land use matters, I have to ask: What does the law require? What are my constituents hoping for? And what's my own best judgment -- what values do I bring to the consideration? In this case, all three were aligned," he said.

Related article:

Inside Stanford's bid to expand -- and how it came undone

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Comments

17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 3:52 pm

>> McCown said Stanford was being asked to deliver far more community benefits as part of the current proposal than was the case with its existing general use permit, approved in 2000.

This is one thing I just don't understand. Why is Stanford surprised that things are more difficult now than they were in the year 2000? I mean, don't these folks ever have to drive to Walnut Creek on a Friday afternoon? Do they ever drive down Oregon after 3:00PM . Do they ... you name it? The entire Bay Area has a massive traffic problem at practically all hours during weekdays between 6 AM and 8 PM. Rents are high. Home prices are high. Commutes are long. The world has changed. If "they", including Stanford, Cisco, Google, Facebook, whoever, want to increase employment, then "they" need to figure out how people are going to be housed and how they are going to get to work.


5 people like this
Posted by Apple news
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2019 at 8:35 pm

Apple announced a 1B (?) donation (to government and their hand-picked community/housing organizations, I think...) for housing for lower paid workers. Where?? When? How?
I wish there were more direct, simpler methods of building more housing (and a range of types) without excessive government mandates and bureaucracy. We seem to have more bureaucracy mushrooming to “administer” all this free, subsidized, other scheme housing paid for by us taxpayers. While sympathetic, it’s too subject to politicians’ pet interests and at OUR expense.
Increasing the supply would help naturally.
San Jose has potential across quite a large geographic area for MUCH more infill. I would offer immediate incentives for a range of housing styles aimed to appeal to growing millenial and tech class here.
Then, upgrade highways and transit routes ASAP in the region.


3 people like this
Posted by Our own form of bipartisanship
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2019 at 10:19 pm

Our own form of bipartisanship is a registered user.

"That statement, however, belies the fact that a significant share of the $4.7 billion (more than $1 billion) would go toward constructing student beds and much of the rest would pay for fixing the problems caused by Stanford's very project."

So, if more than $1 billion went to new student beds, that left over $3 BILLION in community benefits? And, yet discussions didn't happen because after Supervisor Simitian encouraged Stanford to engage in discussions with PAUSD at a March public meeting - after PAUSD reps complained non-stop at meeting that Stanford wasn't speaking to them - this was a violation of the negotiation rules? Really? And, then the County changed the rules of the discussions?

We need to move away from our own form of "bipartisanship" that dominates all of politics and planning in our region today. There was some middle ground here. The fact that Stanford agreed to all 100+ conditions of the agreement, but argued (and backed that argument up with data) that there was no way they could realistic comply with required traffic mitigations tells me the County wasn't willing to move an inch. Which, if the law is on their side, they don't have to, and shouldn't.

Is the law on their side? Or at least legal precedence? The County made some mandates in their conditions of approval that have never been requested - nowhere in CEQA history. There's a thoughtful discussion there if anyone were to look into it. But, in an era of bipartisanship, it's hard to get a thoughtful discussion going on these issues. It's unfortunate.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
20 hours ago

Posted by Our own form of bipartisanship, a resident of Crescent Park

>> There was some middle ground here. The fact that Stanford agreed to all 100+ conditions of the agreement, but argued (and backed that argument up with data) that there was no way they could realistic comply with required traffic mitigations tells me the County wasn't willing to move an inch. Which, if the law is on their side, they don't have to, and shouldn't.

>> Is the law on their side? Or at least legal precedence?

I think Stanford should be looking at this in a rather different way. Put the legal stuff aside for a minute a look at it from a systems point of view. Forget about the imperious Joe Simitian. Imagine you are a visitor from Mars: what do you see regarding Stanford's development plans?

With all the other massive developments in the works along the US-101 corridor, in Menlo Park, in EPA, in Mountain View, south to San Joe and east on 237, over time, -most- Stanford employees will have to live somewhere on the Peninsula, either near Caltrain, or, near I-280. They will have to because anything further away will just take too long to get here. Therefore, Stanford needs to be thinking where its existing employees are now, and, whether some of them can move closer to Stanford. And, if some number of employees will be added-- lets say big "O" O(10^5). Where will those new O(10^5) employees live? How will they get to work? Walking, bike, Caltrain. The 22 Bus? Or, ahem, driving? If driving, where will they park? And, ahem, if they have spouses that do not work at Stanford, then, where will those spouses be working and how will -they- get to work? Driving? And, if those employees have children, where will they go to school? How will the kids get to school?

By obsessing about what mitigations are or are not legally required for this or that, or whether or not Joe Simitian/SCCBOS is or is not overstepping his/its authority, the big picture is being overlooked.


3 people like this
Posted by Our own form of bipartisanship
a resident of Crescent Park
19 hours ago

Our own form of bipartisanship is a registered user.

@Anon. The rule of law must always be both our guiding light and the parameter in which all entities - especially regulatory ones - work. It's extremely disconcerting to me that you believe that by focusing on what is legal "the big picture is being overlooked."

Really disturbing. One can't ignore the law for the sake of the "big picture."

That is how Trump acts. He's going to ignore the law (and facts) to get the outcome that he wants.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
19 hours ago

Posted by Our own form of bipartisanship, a resident of Crescent Park

>> @Anon. The rule of law must always be both our guiding light and the parameter in which all entities - especially regulatory ones - work.

Wrong. The rule of law is a -constraint-. I fully support the rule of law, but, it is decidedly not a guide to what is ethical, what is practical, or what is wise. I don't suggest that the law should be broken. But, if Stanford acts as if whatever is legal is OK, then, everyone, including Stanford, is screwed. Because not all legal courses of action are wise.

>> It's extremely disconcerting to me that you believe that by focusing on what is legal "the big picture is being overlooked."

That is exactly what I suggest. Stanford appears to be proposing a development plan that is bad for Stanford, because, it won't work as intended. If Stanford proceeds, then, once again, everyone will act mystified by even more car traffic, even longer commutes, and open employee slots that qualified people can't accept at the offered salary because they would have 4 hour commutes to/from Modesto.

>> Really disturbing. One can't ignore the law for the sake of the "big picture."

One can't ignore the big picture just because the law permits it.

>> That is how Trump acts. He's going to ignore the law (and facts) to get the outcome that he wants.

Trump also is trying to defy chemistry and physics and wants to burn more coal. What if that turns out to be "legal"? Is it "wise"? The legal law, and, the laws of chemistry and physics, are all constraints on what we can do.


1 person likes this
Posted by Our own form of bipartisanship
a resident of Crescent Park
12 hours ago

Our own form of bipartisanship is a registered user.

@anon.

Stating the reverse of an argument doesn't negate the argument.

Doing something illegal - overstepping authority - is NOT the same as doing something lawful that may "overlook the big picture."

Illegal activity does NOT equal lawful activity.

Your argument is seriously flawed.

" whether or not Joe Simitian/SCCBOS is or is not overstepping his/its authority,"

The Board overstepping their authority or doing something illegal IS NOT OKAY. They are not above the law.


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