For the last couple of years now, Stanford University has been seeking clearance from Santa Clara County to build on its main campus 2.3 million new square feet of academic space, 40,000 square feet for child care facilities, and 3,150 new housing units between now and 2035.
The proposal would expand Stanford's existing main campus by more than 20%.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian.
While Stanford is technically in unincorporated Santa Clara County, it sits right on the border with San Mateo County.
"Stanford University is the dividing line between the two counties," explained San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley in a written statement. While he appreciates having such an "outstanding university" nearby, he added that the university's proposed growth would impact the county in ways "that cannot be ignored."
"From the studies we have seen, the impacts on San Mateo County are dramatic, so we believe that a portion of any impact fees Stanford is required to pay should go towards mitigating the impacts on San Mateo County," he said.
Stanford's proposed growth is expected to create an estimated 5,500 new jobs and bring 9,610 new residents and workers to campus, but as planned it would only add 550 new housing units for staff and faculty. Much of the other housing proposed would be dormitory-style housing for students.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, as well as leaders in a number of the cities bordering Stanford, submitted a letter May 6 urging the university to address how its growth would impact Menlo Park, Redwood City, Woodside, Atherton, East Palo Alto and Portola Valley, as well as unincorporated county areas such as West Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks.
The letter is signed by Horsley; San Mateo County Manager Mike Callagy; Redwood City Vice Mayor Diane Howard and City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz; Woodside Mayor Daniel Yost and Town Manager Kevin Bryant; Atherton Councilman Mike Lempres and City Manager George Rodericks; East Palo Alto Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones and Interim City Manager Sean Charpentier; Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor and City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson; and Portola Valley Mayor Ann Wengert and Town Manager Jeremy Dennis.
Leaders in these jurisdictions are part of a committee formed by the county, which has met several times to review the impacts of a possible expansion as outlined in Stanford's general use permit application.
"We need to make sure Stanford University really understands and follows through on commitments to address equity and transparency in its growth plans," said Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor in a written statement. "With full mitigations by the university, it can begin to address its impacts to traffic, housing and local employment that our communities live with and that the university's expansion will intensify."
The letter was addressed to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, whose district covers Stanford and a number of the jurisdictions in northern Santa Clara County. However, Simitian told The Almanac the letter is significant because it communicates to the entire Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, not just him, about the significant impact that Stanford's growth would have within San Mateo County. Other supervisors who represent territories farther south may not be as familiar with the needs of southern San Mateo County, he added.
He said the letter is helpful because it presents specific potential mitigations that his county can consider, as well as a unified voice.
"It's easy with so many communities to have competing concerns, proposals, and considerations," he said. "To me the most important thing is that the county and a half-dozen south (San Mateo) county cities all weighed in with a clear consensus."
It's also well-timed, he added. Santa Clara County staff is expected to release their recommendations on the conditions of approval later this month, in advance of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission's scheduled hearing on the project on May 30.
The letter from the San Mateo County leaders demanded 11 different provisions be included in any development agreement that Santa Clara County reaches with Stanford.
The letter asks that Stanford be required to:
● Establish a $196 million "evergreen" fund for affordable housing units. The fund would have to be spent within a 6-mile radius of the university's campus incrementally through the course of the development agreement. An analysis of the proposed development found that it would trigger demand for about 655 housing units in San Mateo County, about a quarter of the total new housing demand the project would generate. The letter's authors estimated that half of those units could be rehabilitated or preserved at a cost of $150,000 apiece and the other half would have to be built, at a cost of $450,000 apiece.
● Give at least $4.62 million to improve road infrastructure. Some projects the money could help pay for are improvements to the Alpine Road/Highway 280 interchange, Middlefield Road, Valparaiso Avenue, Santa Cruz Avenue and University Avenue. The letter states that Stanford should also pay for at least 5.5% of the costs of these improvements, based on calculations in the environmental analyses, toward projects to improve the Middlefield Road-Marsh Road intersection, Bayfront Expressway, Willow Road and El Camino Real. In addition, the letter argues that Stanford's "no net new trips" commitment (to "no additional automobile trips during the peak commute time in the campus commute direction in the morning and evening") shouldn't just apply during commute hours but all the time.
● Give at least $15 million to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure. This money would go toward projects expected to be used by Stanford commuters: a bike and pedestrian overcrossing at University Avenue and U.S. 101, estimated to cost $15 million; a trail along the Dumbarton rail spur estimated at $5.5 million; and new bike facilities on Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks and Redwood City, estimated to cost a total of $11 million. Bike access improvements to Alameda de las Pulgas and San Mateo Drive, as well as improvements to the "Peninsula Bikeway" connecting Redwood City to Mountain View, could also be supported.
● Give $5 million to prevent flooding and manage stormwater. Stanford controls a major portion of the San Francisquito Creek, which is a significant flood risk in the area. The county and its allies are asking Stanford to help pay its fair share for the current upstream flood protection efforts and to increase its facilities for detaining water during flood events. Stanford should also pay toward improvements to the Atherton drainage channel, the letter says.
● Expand its free bus and shuttle service. To cut the amount of traffic generated by people traveling from Stanford's main campus to its new Redwood City campus, Stanford should run public access shuttle bus routes that go along University Avenue in East Palo Alto, Willow Road and Marsh Road in Menlo Park, and El Camino Real from Stanford to Redwood City, the letter says. Service hours should also be expanded.
● Pay $6.78 million annually in "in-lieu property taxes" to aid local public agencies that don't currently get tax revenue from the university. That figure was calculated using the current assessed values for Stanford's secured and unsecured property and represents the amount the university would have to pay if it were not tax-exempt as an academic institution. Local officials argue that this revenue is needed to provide the public services that Stanford's population relies on, like educational, open space and emergency services and benefits.
● Help fund child care for people who live, work or study at Stanford. The county has a significant deficit of child care spaces, county officials argue, and having more people at Stanford would increase demand.
● Fully mitigate the impacts of its growth in San Mateo County. The county wants to have equal access to funding and decision-making power about how to allocate mitigation funds alongside Santa Clara County.
● Provide educational opportunities to communities impacted by its growth. "Stanford has a rare opportunity to reverse historical patterns of segregation and disinvestment, replacing them with equitable development," the letter states. "A focus on racial equity and impact investment are opportunities for inclusive job creation and economic security for homegrown talent."
● Pause new projects until road improvements and additional traffic studies are done. To get to Stanford by car today, people already have to rely on suboptimal intersections, such as the Highway 280 interchanges at Alpine and Sand Hill roads and the Alameda de las Pulgas and Santa Cruz Avenue intersection, the letter explains. Stanford shouldn't build anything from the new general use permit until those intersections are improved, the letter argues. Stanford should also conduct transportation impact analyses, with consultation from San Mateo County, before it starts any new projects in the plan.
● Make contractors use specifically approved routes during construction, to minimize construction impacts on local roads.
In addition, the city of Palo Alto recently joined the committee. In a written statement, Palo Alto City Councilman Tom Dubois commented, "Palo Alto stands with our neighboring cities in San Mateo County in insisting that the anticipated negative impacts on transportation, affordable housing, community services and the environment be fully mitigated."
Simitian said he couldn't comment on the specific demands in the letter or how feasible he suspected they might be. Part of the challenge, he said, is that if Stanford can effectively comply with its "no net new trips" commitment, then there's little his county can do to require further mitigation contributions, such as those San Mateo County is requesting.
What will happen next with San Mateo County's demands isn't immediately clear. Last month, Santa Clara County indefinitely suspended its development agreement negotiations with Stanford, citing concerns about a deal the university had made with the Palo Alto Unified School District. The development agreement Santa Clara County was negotiating was expected to have conditions for Stanford to mitigate traffic impacts, preserve open space and provide other community benefits, but where San Mateo County's interests would fit into that was not clear.
In a written statement, Stanford spokesman Ernest Miranda said, "We are carefully studying the specific requests in San Mateo County’s letter. However, the appropriate tool for providing the extra mitigations and community benefits requested in the letter is through a development agreement, and this further demonstrates why Santa Clara County should engage with Stanford in comprehensive development agreement discussions. The regulatory certainty provided through a development agreement will enable the university to provide additional community benefits. Stanford is ready and willing to engage in development agreement discussions with Santa Clara County."
In the meantime, people should look to see what Santa Clara County staff recommends that Stanford be required to contribute in the "conditions of approval," expected to be released around May 23, Simitian said. As to whether those conditions will include the interests of San Mateo County, Simitian said, "I would assume so," but noted that the conditions haven't been released yet.