Stanford seeks to expand academic facilities by 2 million square feet by 2035

University also looks to add 3,150 units of housing by 2035

Faced with a heavy demand for housing, evolving academic disciplines and anticipated growth in its undergraduate population, Stanford University is preparing to expand its campus by more than 2 million square feet over the next 17 years, according to an application the university submitted Monday with Santa Clara County.

With its application for a new General Use Permit (GUP), the university is looking to secure the county's permission for an expansion that would roughly mirror the pace of growth that the university has experienced since 2000, when it last went through the rigorous permitting process.

Much like the 2000 General Use Permit -- which enabled Stanford to expand its facilities in unincorporated Santa Clara County by 2 million square feet -- the new one would not pertain any particular academic building or housing facility. Rather, the 2018 GUP would give Stanford the license to expand its campus facilities by up to 2.28 million square feet between 2018 and 2035, while also giving the university the flexibility to select the exact location, density and function of the new buildings.

The expected growth is based in large part on recent growth trends. Catherine Palter, Stanford's associate vice president for land use and environmental planning, said 2.28 million square feet represents growth of about 1.2 percent per year, which roughly reflects the university's pace since the 2000 permit. In addition, the application asks for permission to construct 3,150 new on-campus housing units for faculty and beds for students by 2035.

The idea is to build housing in conjunction with academic facilities, based on a "housing linkage" analysis in the 2000 GUP, which showed that about 2,753 housing units are required when between 2 million and 2.28 million square foot of new academic space is built.

The application for the 2018 GUP was prompted by the fact that Stanford has developed 1.5 million square feet of academic space in the past 16 years, which is near the limit of the 2 million square feet allowed by the 2000 permit.

On housing, the university recently sought to exceed the threshold set in the 2000 document with its proposed Escondido Village, a complex that will include 2,000 beds for graduate students as well as a host of support services such as a gym, a cafe and a transit hub. The Escondido Village project exceeds the county-approved allotment by 1,450 beds.

"The authorizations in the GUP are just about exhausted, and we need to think about the next increment of what we want to do,” Jean McCown, Stanford's director of community relations, told the Weekly.

The 2000 agreement gave Stanford flexibility to apply for more housing units, however, if demand exceeds the university projections. The county Board of Supervisors agreed to allow Stanford to go beyond the GUP threshold and approved the Escondido project in March.

The 2018 GUP is expected to have a similar provision, Palter told the Weekly.

While Stanford has yet to draw up exact proposals for new facilities, the university has indicated that the vast majority of the new academic development (1.8 million square feet) would be clustered near the center of its campus. No new buildings would be constructed outside the academic-growth boundary outlined in the 2000 GUP. The San Juan district near the Foothills would not see any growth, according to Stanford's map.

(View a map of where the academic and residential space would be built.)

Housing, on the other hand, would be focused in some of the more peripheral areas of the campus, with the most dramatic increase taking place in East Campus (near Stanford Avenue), where 1,600 student beds would be added. In addition, the area around Lake Lagunita would get about 800 housing beds, while the area closest to downtown Palo Alto, around Quarry Road, would get about 550 beds. Another 200 beds are eyed for central campus.

McCown said that Stanford's desire to expand its academic facilities is driven by the same factors that prompted its expansion plans in 2000: a need to accommodate emerging and expanding disciplines. When the university was applying for the 2000 permit, she said, no one knew exactly how the 2 million square feet would be used.

Today, expansions in fields like stem-cell research and neuroscience have led Stanford to take a fresh look at the types of research facilities that would be needed to accommodate these disciplines, McCown said.

But while the university is expecting to evolve over the next 17 years, one key policy will remain unchanged from the 2000 permit: Stanford's commitment to keep commuter traffic at current levels, known as the "no net new commutes." The policy, which was adopted as part of the 2000 permit, prompted Stanford to pursue an aggressive transportation-demand-management program that has succeeded in reducing the rate of solo car commuters to campus from 78 percent to 50 percent.

Palter said that while Stanford recognizes the challenge of adding 2.28 million square feet of development without, consequently, adding traffic, the university believes it can accomplish this feat. McCown noted that this could mean expanding its shuttle system so that it serves the immediate area outside campus, thus reducing car commuters from nearby communities.

It would also likely involve more transit subsidies, vanpool programs and bicycle amenities improvements, which have proved successful since 2000. And it would almost certainly involve programs that have not yet been devised but that will be tailored to the evolving needs of students, faculty and staff.

"Every few years we need to bring in something new using our data about where people live and what's going to be the most effective way to get on campus," Palter said. "We've done enough analysis to realize that we're comfortable keeping this goal."

Furthermore, Stanford has not requested permission to build any new parking facilities on its campus. That's because the university isn't fully using the allotment for parking granted to it under the 2000 GUP.

Palter also noted that the university has studied the possibility of a "modest expansion" of undergraduate enrollment, which would increase by about 100 students per year through 2035. According to a brochure Stanford released in conjunction with its GUP application, the expansion is prompted by a "recognition of the fact that applications to Stanford have increased dramatically in recent years while spaces available have not, resulting in one of the lowest rates of admission in the nation."

"Providing a reasonable increase in the number of talented students for whom a Stanford education is accessible has therefore become an increasing priority," the brochure states.

Stanford's submission of the application Monday is an early step in what promises to be a lengthy review process that will include community forums, reviews by Santa Clara County planning staff and the publication of a draft environmental impact report evaluating the potential impacts of the proposed new development.

The first public outreach meeting is scheduled for Jan. 25. Santa Clara County will likely hold a scoping meeting for the permit's environmental-impact report in February, McCown said.

For more information and to view the application, go to


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Couple brings Chinese zongzi to Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 5,932 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 9 comments | 1,737 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,464 views

"Better" Dads and "Re-invigorated" Moms: Happier Couples
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,155 views

Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush
By Stuart Soffer | 2 comments | 526 views


Register today!

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.

Learn More