(Expanded version of previously posted story.)
Claiming inaccuracies and omissions in Stanford's traffic projections for its current and future developments, the Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously Nov. 14 for two actions meant to halt approval of two Stanford developments until the city receives better traffic data.
The council reversed its recent approval of a 40,000-square-foot office building along Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, and voted to more forcefully express opposition to another Stanford development to be built at 453 Quarry Road, near Arboretum Road. That project came before the Santa Clara County Planning Commission on Nov. 16.
Despite Menlo Park's written protestations, the commission voted 6-0-1 on that date, with commissioner Aaron Resendez absent, to approve the Quarry Road project.
The crux of the council's opposition to the two projects is that Stanford's traffic studies appear to diverge from what real traffic conditions will be like on local roads once the university's non-campus development projects are built.
The studies use data from 2016 for the baseline traffic levels, and indicate Stanford-related traffic is less than what was allowed and expected under the university's 2000 general use permit.
But, Councilman Ray Mueller noted, those numbers describe unrealistic conditions for what local roads will be like in the imminent future: Stanford's projects to expand Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and rebuild Stanford Hospital aren't done yet, and are expected to add 248 new hospital beds, combined.
A 2008 study by Fehr & Peers predicted that the hospitals will add 701 net new trips during the morning peak hour and 693 net new trips during the evening peak hour.
The Stanford analysis also didn't factor in the added traffic of the university's mixed-use "Middle Plaza" development on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, which the council approved in September, Mr. Mueller said.
Add up those developments, Mr. Mueller said, and a different picture emerges of the university's local traffic contributions than its "no net new trips" commitment made in 2000. That commitment applies to the university campus only, but not off-campus buildings such as Stanford's 500 El Camino Real and 2131 Sand Hill Road projects . The city has negotiated with Stanford for other traffic-reduction plans for those developments.
Kirk Girard, Santa Clara County director of planning and development, told the Almanac that the county Planning Commission took the Menlo Park letter into account, and analyzed cumulative traffic impacts with the two new hospitals. The traffic projections, he said, were comfortably beneath projected traffic volumes estimated in 2000. "This project wasn't making things worse," he said.
Sand Hill Road office
The Menlo Park City Council recently approved Stanford's plan to build a new office building at 2131 Sand Hill Road. The city agreed to annex about 16 acres of university land currently in unincorporated San Mateo County on the south side of Sand Hill Road, stretching from Sharon Park Drive to Alpine Road.
But the last-minute revelation of Stanford's Quarry Road development, which will be located nearer to Menlo Park than originally planned, convinced Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, who previously voted in favor of the Sand Hill Road project, to reconsider the matter.
Ms. Carlton said she and the rest of the council didn't have the full picture of the university's plans and of how the traffic will be impacted when she made her decision on the Sand Hill Road project. (The council had approved that project on a 3-2 vote, with council members Ray Mueller and Kirsten Keith opposed.)
The council has a 30-day window during which it can legally reverse a decision, according to City Attorney Bill McClure. In other words, if the council had not acted on Nov. 14 to revoke its approval, the approval would have been irrevocable.
The council agreed that the matter may be brought back for approval after it gets more information about the total traffic impacts of all current and imminent Stanford developments, not just what the current traffic conditions are.
Quarry Road office
The 155,000-square-foot building would function as office space for medical school faculty and researchers and would be located near the intersection of Quarry and Arboretum roads. The project would have parking for 800 vehicles, 600 more than are there now, but within the amount of allowed vehicles permitted in 2000.
In the letter submitted to the Santa Clara County Planning Commission, which was revised by Mayor Keith and Councilman Mueller, Ms. Keith asked the commission to re-evaluate the expected traffic impacts of the project.
She also called for the removal of the Palo Alto barriers that keep people on Alma Street in Palo Alto from crossing El Camino Real onto Sand Hill Road, and vice versa. The barriers force vehicles headed eastbound on Sand Hill Road to turn north into Menlo Park and then U-turn at Cambridge Avenue or cut through the city's Allied Arts neighborhood.
Acknowledging that the barriers are the city of Palo Alto's doing and not in the county Planning Commission's jurisdiction, she noted that Stanford is a "major contributor" to that traffic pattern and that it should be mitigated "prior to additional development being considered."