Menlo Park wants Stanford to pay property taxes and build tunnel, gondola

Stanford University has proposed to build 2.275 million square feet of new academic space, 2,600 student beds and 550 housing units for faculty and staff between now and 2035. Some say that's not enough housing; others say the university should do more to mitigate the impacts of its growth on neighboring communities. (Photo by Veronica Weber | March 13, 2015.)

Left with few other options to register opposition, Menlo Park has gone big with its demands of Stanford University in a letter addressed to Santa Clara County, the agency tasked with deciding whether to approve the university's proposed expansion between now and 2035.

The letter, reviewed by a City Council subcommittee of Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith and signed by Ohtaki, asks the university to build major infrastructure to mitigate the traffic it causes. Stanford should build a tunnel from Campus Drive West to I-280 between Page Mill Road and Alpine Road to ease congestion from Stanford-related traffic, the letter states. It should also build satellite parking lots near Sand Hill, Alpine and Page Mill roads that could connect commuters to campus via the Marguerite shuttle system, or perhaps, the letter says, build a car-free alternative, like an aerial tramway or gondola.

"We need more options to move people between I-280 and Stanford University," Keith said in a statement. "These proposals could help reduce congestion in this area."

Ohtaki said that the tunnel and gondola were suggested by residents as ways to connect Sand Hill Road and Stanford traffic to I-280 more easily.

The letter says the university should also start to pay market-rate property taxes on any additional housing it builds or leases within city limits, participate in and help pay into the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, and promise to not add to the stormwater that must be drained and processed by local infrastructure.

The city has said that Stanford should also have to pay an in-lieu fee of $68.50 per square foot of nonresidential space it builds as part of a fund dedicated to building more housing for the workers that nonresidential space would draw to the area. Menlo Park should be eligible to receive some of those funds, the city has argued.

Increasing friction

Menlo Park is a neighbor to Stanford, but the university falls under the jurisdiction of Santa Clara County. As such, the city can only submit formal comments about the environmental impact analyses conducted on the university's proposed expansion of 2.275 million square feet of net new academic support space, 2,600 student beds, and 550 faculty/staff housing units.

The county recently underwent a 45-day public feedback period, during which it collected a second round of input responding to its analysis of the environmental impacts of two alternatives to the original plans Stanford submitted: adding 2,549 housing units beyond the 3,150 initially proposed, or adding 1,275 beyond the housing units proposed.

This analysis was done at the request of some residents who insisted that Stanford's growth would further worsen the skewed ratio of far more jobs than housing units in the region, thereby exacerbating the abundance of traffic and shortage of affordable housing. The analysis found that adding more residents to campus than initially proposed would further worsen local traffic.

Menlo Park's letter to Santa Clara County argues that these findings point to a fundamental flaw of the environmental review process and asserts that housing for Stanford's new students and workers would be needed, regardless of whether it were built on Stanford lands or elsewhere. Simply studying the impacts of adding more housing to the immediate area ignores the broader housing demand that would be prompted by Stanford's growth, and neglects to evaluate the burdens other cities in the region - like Menlo Park - would take on to add housing and infrastructure to accommodate those new people, the letter says.

The city's letter further argues that Stanford's growth could continue to pressure the city and other Menlo Park entities, like school districts, to provide services that the university wouldn't help pay for. Stanford is exempt from paying property taxes on land it uses for academic purposes, including housing for its students, faculty and staff. This particularly causes problems for some of the local schools that rely on property taxes and donations to operate.

Stanford's near-constant growth has become a point of tension and growing distrust in Menlo Park. Last fall, the City Council approved the university's "Middle Plaza" development proposal, an 8-acre redevelopment of a huge swath of Menlo Park's downtown core, along El Camino Real between Big 5 Sporting Goods and Stanford Park Hotel.

Shortly thereafter, in November, the council reversed a decision to annex about 16 acres of Stanford property along the south side of Sand Hill Road between Sharon Park Drive and Alpine Road, and reversed its approval of a proposed 40,000-square-foot office building at 2131 Sand Hill Road. The decision was made in part because some council members were surprised to hear about another Stanford development planned on Quarry Road.

That proposed building on Quarry Road, which would have housed the "Center for Academic Medicine," was ultimately approved by Santa Clara County despite an appeal from Menlo Park to the Board of Supervisors.

The city made the appeal on the grounds that the environmental impacts to the city had not been sufficiently evaluated, and that the current and anticipated future traffic levels stated in the analysis were inaccurate. The city hadn't been told about the project, nor the fact that Stanford moved the proposed building closer to Sand Hill Road from the far side of campus than originally intended, until a county hearing on the project.

The deadline to submit comments on the recirculated parts of the draft environmental impact report was July 26. The county's final environmental impact report is expected to be released in September, according to Stanford.


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40 people like this
Posted by Hail Mary
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Aug 10, 2018 at 12:15 pm

An aerial Tramway/Gondola or Tunnel?

The sky would rain cows and monkeys before there is any chance such a system would be built.

This is pure and ridiculous political pandering by Keith and Ohtaki

32 people like this
Posted by Utter nonsense
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:13 pm

This is madness. Hail Mary is right. These two both want third terms and they want to look tough with Stanford. 6 years ago they enthusiastically gave to Stanford millions of dollars of land value when they voted to increase the size of buildings the university could build on El Camino Real. No benefits came back to the city for this gift they made. No fully paid bike tunnel! No contribution to the train station plaza. And because Stanford is a non profit, we may never see property tax.
But now these two candidates want to play tough love with Stanford! Both need to move along. 8 years is enough and based on the relentless approvals of office development both have made, 8 years were too many.
Incumbents think voters are stupid.

4 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:15 pm

I don’t understand because Stanford is in Palo Alto not mp. Therefore, Menlo Park doesn’t have jurisdiction. It is like if Portola Valley tried to meddle in Woodside affairs. Doesn’t make sense. Plus a gondola is a far fetched idea. How about Stanford apologizes to Portola Valley for hogging land west of 280 ie felt lake. That would be a realistic idea.

18 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:29 pm

How about some quid pro quo from Menlo Park on addressing traffic problems. There is an almost constant traffic jam along El Camino from San Francisquito Creek to Valpariso. Menlo Park needs to establish 3 thru lanes for that entire distance like most other cities in the area. And then there's the problem of no thru paths from 280 to 101 or even El Camino Real to 101. Palo Alto and Mountain View have several as does Redwood City. Menlo Park and uber tight Atherton have none. Perhaps before demanding more from others Menlo Park should see what the city can/should do to be part of the solution. Though Stanford doesn't pay much if any property tax to Menlo Park I would imagine a very significant sales tax income is derived from people from Stanford shopping in Menlo Park. Maybe Stanford sold establish hardware stores and Grocery stores at the shopping center to alleviate the burden of Stanford people going to Menlo Park to spend money for goods and services and use restaurants.

Like this comment
Posted by push back
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:30 pm

"And Ms. Keith, along with current Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton, successfully negotiated with Stanford to remove medical office space from its proposed development on El Camino Real and pay for a substantial portion of the cost for a bicycle pedestrian tunnel; she continues to work with Stanford to improve the project." — Almanac, Oct 29, 2014 Web Link

"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... The council had approved that project on a 3-2 vote, with council members Ray Mueller and Kirsten Keith opposed." — Almanac, Nov 21, 2017 Web Link

32 people like this
Posted by Pot Meet Kettle
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:30 pm

If only these two applied the same scrutiny to Facebook's expansion. It's almost as if the Council cares more about development impacts in West Menlo Park than in East Menlo Park and the Willows.

15 people like this
Posted by Ironic
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 1:51 pm

It is quite ironic that these two Menlo Park councilmembers, both running for re-election are making a big stand against Stanford outside of Menlo Park's jurisdiction. When Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith rezoned Stanford's land within Menlo Park's jurisdiction, they had the opportunity to ensure that critical public benefits, including property taxes and substantial contributions to infrastructure, they didn't make that part of the plan. When they had multiple chances to ask for similar concessions for Menlo Park when granting huge increases in allowable development, they didn't try very hard to get much. The "substantial" contributions to an undercrossing were declared victory even though the cost of the undercrossing and the benefits of that to Stanford still have not been quantified. This is worse than a pot calling a kettle black. It is futilely making demands without power after not exercising that power in their own town.

9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 10, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

How ironic that the City of Menlo Park wants the Lead Agency, Santa Clara County, to be concerned about the impacts of a Santa Clara County project on Menlo Park since whenever Menlo Park is the Lead Agency they ignore the impacts of their projects on other agencies.

14 people like this
Posted by PRMP
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 10, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Who votes for these people running Menlo Park? Hard to believe, but the city council is worse than Palo Alto's.

Like this comment
Posted by DSP
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 10, 2018 at 2:56 pm

@Ironic, Keith and Ohtaki were not on council for the community input and scoping of the Downtown Specific Plan. Cline, Robinson, Boyle, Fergusson and Cohen were the authors of the DSP.

4 people like this
Posted by Hail Mary
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Aug 10, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Keith and Ohtaki approved the Downtown Specific Plan. DSP why try to deny that?

Like this comment
Posted by DSP
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 10, 2018 at 3:42 pm

@Hail_Mary, there is no denying that Keith and Ohtaki approved the DSP. It would have been unexpected to reject the years of community outreach and input that went into the DSP. After the train wreck that happened with the Derry Project years before, residents were fed up with the blight on El Camino and wanted progress. In 2014, we had an opportunity for voters to weigh in, and Measure M died in a landslide.

7 people like this
Posted by All aboard
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 10, 2018 at 4:58 pm

The gondola idea sounds ridiculous at first glance, but maybe there’s something to it. Portland has one.

Web Link

It might even make sense to send some council members on a Portland junket to check it out. It would certainly be more useful than those China trips.

9 people like this
Posted by All aboard
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 10, 2018 at 5:20 pm

If Carlton, Keith, Mueller, et al like the Portland gondola, they could get matching gondolier outfits and take tickets from passengers, like Disneyland used to do.

5 people like this
Posted by Correct the record
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2018 at 5:21 pm

@Stan, “very significant sales tax ...from Stanford Shopping Center in Menlo Park”
Sorry but the shopping center is in Palo Alto, in Santa Clara County. Menlo Park gets none of that.

@DSP Glad you agree Ohtaki and Keith approved the El Camino Plan.

3 people like this
Posted by Monorail
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 10, 2018 at 6:14 pm

According to the article Keith and Ohtaki wrote the letter. Ergo Carlton, Mueller, and Cline didn’t see it.

6 people like this
Posted by Thatsnew
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 10, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Everything causes traffic. Just sitting still while other cities change around us we will still see increased traffic. MP needs to take traffic as as fact of life and try to deal with it. As a small town tucked between others and with other agencies running some of the roads and systems we have limited control, but residents really seem to prefer a head in the sand approach. I think the city council members are all trying but they are swayed by loud or persuasive sounding voices from different directions.

I think a tunnel sounds okay, but I hope there's more thought put into it than that by those suggesting it. Not sure more parking and parknrides are going to improve things. If Stanford built another place to park wouldn't there just be more cars on 280 driving to this new lot?

12 people like this
Posted by Monkey
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 11, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Yes, the clowns attack the university because they don't have the balls to go after Facebook...

6 people like this
Posted by Russ Johnson
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 12, 2018 at 7:42 am

This is not the least bit constructive and simply reinforces the idea that MP has a particular problem with an excellent neighbor. There are so many more constructive things to than communicating to Santa Clara that we need billion dollar tunnels or extraordinary gondolas. Seems to me the leadership of our town has lost their way.

6 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 12, 2018 at 8:34 am

Menlo Park should also demand that Stanford researchers invent a way for people to clap their hands together and teleport directly between home and office.

9 people like this
Posted by My 2 bits
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 12, 2018 at 9:58 am

Gondola or tunnel?
That's really silly - and causes me to question the leadership who suggested it.
How about we keep the discussion real - true, Stanford growth is dramatic over the years and has contributed to significant traffic issues and (perhaps) not contributed to the tax revenues the way local governments might have liked. BUT Menlo Park has allowed dramatic expansion of Facebook and uncontrolled development along the traffic-impacted El Camino corridor without any balancing effort to improve routes through town. Menlo Park businesses should benefit from the local employment growth so where is a plan to help that along? Misguided 'improvements' such as that along Santa Cruz Avenue are not the answer.

1 person likes this
Posted by Greg
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Too late... Menlo park is the new dumping ground for Stanford's greed.. Just like tech companies killing these cities.. What did u expect.. We on the east bay just laugh as our home prices go up without our cities being neglected.. Just what did you expect? Too late now to reverse course... Everyone is guilty and a little dumb to let it get this far... Ouch...

5 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Aug 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Gondola and 3-mile tunnel? Great to see our politicians dreaming BIG for the community!

Here are some other ideas for the MP Council to consider:

1. Start a Pogo Stick sharing service like those scooters in the city. Citizens could hop freely and reap the benefits of toned calf muscles. Pogo Sticks are thin and wouldnt block sidewalks so much.

2. Human Dog Sled on demand - create rickshaws or other pulled vehicles to transport everyone. We could force Stanford students to pull the sleds as in-kind payment for all the traffic and noise they create in the computer and science labs. Fair is fair!

Note: this could also be a good way to cut down on DWI. Set up stops at Dutch Goose and all those rowdy college bars where The Kids spend their time.

Hopefully we will see more good ideas in Menlo Park, like the highly illegal and intrusive red light cameras.

4 people like this
Posted by Sum Won
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 12, 2018 at 5:28 pm

"We're gonna build a ____ and make ______ pay for it!" ...where have I heard this before?

2 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Aug 12, 2018 at 9:12 pm

@Correct the record
I don't think I was suggesting that MP receives any tax revenue from the Stanford Shopping Center. Quite to the contrary I was suggesting that Stanford provide a greater variety of stores to alleviate the bothersome burden that people from Stanford impose on Menlo Park and act to keep all of the sales tax and people OUT OF MENLO PARK. It would be quite a pleasure to not need to deal with the continual traffic jam that is Menlo Park.

10 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Stan wrote:
"And then there's the problem of no thru paths from 280 to 101 or even El Camino Real to 101. Palo Alto and Mountain View have several as does Redwood City. Menlo Park and uber tight Atherton have none."

1: Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City are substantially bigger than Menlo Park.

2: Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City are substantially bigger than Atherton.

3: Part of Sand Hill Road is in Menlo Park, part of Sand Hill Road is in Palo Alto, and part of Sand Hill Road is in unincorporated Santa Clara County.

I agree with the overall points about Menlo Park being a substandard partner in addressing regional traffic issues. But nobody...and I mean NOBODY...are worse neighbors than Palo Alto and Stanford when it comes to traffic. From their frenetic construction with little real accountability for the traffic they create to the "road diets" that have the sole role of pushing traffic to their neighbors, it's rich to hear anyone complain about Menlo Park when compared to its self-absorbed neighbors.

4 people like this
Posted by Reduce the Cars
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 15, 2018 at 2:08 pm

The satellite parking and the gondola get cars off SandHill. How about not allowing any single-passenger vehicles, except for MP and Palo Alto residents to use Sand Hill Rd during commute hours? People can carpool in from 280. It is perhaps an un-American freedom-sapping idea, but it's cheap and easy.

And kudos to the others that pointed out the hypocrisy of not taking on Facebook. That's where the real traffic nightmares in MP exist. Who are Keith's and Ohtaki's real constituents?

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

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