As Stanford pursues its massive campus expansion, it will dig up a lot of dirt that needs to be disposed of somewhere -- up to 300,000 cubic yards of it.
The university is proposing to dump the fill from new basements and underground parking on its former Christmas tree farm located southwest of Sand Hill Road and in the State Scenic Corridor west of Interstate 280 in unincorporated San Mateo County. The 143-acre site is across Sand Hill Road from the Horse Park, adjacent to the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and uphill from San Francisquito Creek and Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
The proposal for the vacant land, which has not been used as a Christmas tree farm for several years, faces critics, including neighbors, the Portola Valley Planning Commission and the Committee for Green Foothills.
The county Planning Department is working on the environmental review of Stanford's application for a grading permit to place up to 300,000 cubic yards of imported soil on the site over a period of 10 years. The application has been collecting comments from the public and government agencies for an environmental document called a "negative declaration" (when the county declares that a full environmental report is not required).
Planner Camille Leung declined to estimate when the grading permit will be ready for hearing before the county Planning Commission. "It won't be this year," she said.
Mark Bonino, Stanford's manager for special projects, sees the project as a good match to meet two Stanford needs: a place to put the fill from intensified building on campus; and restoration of the land used for years for growing Christmas trees, which left stumps and furrows. "The land is not in such great shape," he said.
The building surge on campus stems from the general use permit granted by Santa Clara County in 2000, which allows Stanford to add almost 5 million square feet of new building.
As a result, Mr. Bonino said, "Stanford is becoming more dense, with more subsurface construction."
Stanford's application proposes placing the fill in six zones, with about two to five feet added in each. In a limited area, the fill would be seven-feet deep. Six big, unhealthy trees would be removed, and many more trees planted. "At the end of the day, the site will be restored and revegetated," Mr. Bonino said.
Many neighbors are worried about 10 years of major grading, traffic and disturbance as the open land is re-sculpted and restored. The Portola Valley Planning Commission and the Committee for Green Foothills, among others, have submitted detailed critiques of the massive project.
"The proposed location has the advantage of helping minimize the length of truck trips and the resulting emission of air pollutants," wrote Portola Valley Town Planner George Mader. "At the same time, it is incumbent on the county and Stanford University to run a model project."
The Portola Valley letter questioned a 10-year permit for such a major project; it suggested separate permits for each stockpile area. It also asked for strict controls on truck traffic, which could generate 15,000 to 30,000 round trips by large trucks over 10 years, particularly since the Portola Valley loop is so popular with bicyclists.
Portola Valley also highlighted issues of erosion, protection of wetlands and streams, dust control, views, and invasive, non-native plants.
On behalf of the Committee for Green Foothills, Lennie Roberts questioned the purpose, need and scale of the project. She asked whether alternatives had been evaluated, such as sites in Santa Clara County or a smaller project that would avoid the most prominent hills. "We believe that further review of visual impacts is needed," she wrote.
The county's draft negative declaration addresses many of the concerns. It proposes 29 measures to mitigate the impacts of grading the site, ranging from control of erosion and protection of wetlands, to haul routes, revegetation, dust control, and protection of archeological deposits.