Stanford withdraws application for campus expansion

University cites ongoing disagreements with Santa Clara County over development agreement, traffic requirements

Stanford University abruptly abandoned on Friday (Nov. 1) its contentious plan to expand its campus by 3.5 million square feet, citing ongoing disagreements with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors over the approval process.

The university’s announcement came just before the board was scheduled to hold its fourth and potentially final meeting on Stanford’s General Use Permit, a project that is often referred to as the "largest in the county’s history." If approved, the permit would have allowed Stanford to build more than 2.275 million square feet of academic space and space for 2,600 student beds between now and 2035.

The announcement came days after the university had reportedly agreed to build 2,172 units of staff housing, consistent with recommendations by county staff. Stanford’s application had initially proposed 550 units of workforce housing.

The biggest split between the county and the university came over a possible "development agreement," a negotiated contract that would have guaranteed Stanford development rights in exchange for a list of public benefits. The county on October 2018 authorized the use of a development agreement in approving Stanford’s expansion, but negotiations broke down in April and never resumed.

While Stanford has repeatedly stated that it would not accept approval of the General Use Permit without an accompanying development agreement, supervisors have been reluctant to restart negotiations, opting instead for a traditional regulatory process that analyzes the impacts of proposed developments and imposes requirements that mitigate these impacts.

In the case of Stanford’s GUP, the requirements from county planners included additional workforce housing and more stringent traffic regulations, including new requirements that the university not significantly increase average daily trips and reverse commutes to and from campus.

In its announcement, Stanford cited the county’s proposed traffic requirements and the ongoing dispute over a development agreement as the two factors that prompted the withdrawal of its application. The university argued that the traffic requirements sought by the county would not be feasible, given the additional housing mandated by the county.

Stanford has consistently argued that a development agreement is necessary so that it could have "predictability" for future growth in exchange for delivering community benefits such as housing, traffic improvements and funding for the Palo Alto Unified School District.

The university also announced that it is "committing to a new phase of engagement and dialogue with neighbors and surrounding communities."

"We have taken this step with regret, but with a clear-eyed understanding of the challenges before us in achieving a successful long-term permit at this time," Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement.

"Stanford remains proud to be a citizen of this region, deeply committed to contributing to its economy, health and quality of life."

Tessier-Lavigne also said that through the new engagement process, the university hopes to “gain deeper mutual understanding of the challenges facing our region, how Stanford can best enhance its contribution to addressing those challenges, and what the implications are for our longer-term campus development.”

This story will be updated.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


2 people like this
Posted by frugal
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2019 at 1:05 pm

frugal is a registered user.

Stanford asked for more than they wanted or expected so we wait now for them to reduce their request to what they really want and call it a compromise.

4 people like this
Posted by Good
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 4, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Good. While we all benefit from having a high quality university nearby, with its attending medical school and hospitals, Stanford has got to realize that it cannot just take over the entire Palo Alto/Portola Valley area. This incessant desire for expansion (and thus, profits) has got to be tempered by the enormous amount of traffic, urbanization of rural land, and light and noise pollution that would occur with it. Like Facebook, Stanford often behaves like a toddler: we want it because we want it, and we want it now! When that doesn't work, they then go to the whole development agreement process---which, for lack of a better phrase, sounds like an upper level bribe to avoid going through the regulatory process.


4 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Or they can just start buying up even more of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Menlo Park and Mt. View real estate (with no commensurate property tax) and get their housing done that way. Big loss for the cities/counties, but, at least they will feel better having stopped Stanford from expanding on campus.

When did it become the job of companies/institutions to provide housing and transportation options for their employees? I thought that's what cities/counties did by allowing builders to build housing and infrastructure. They then stop allowing new businesses in when they no longer have the room to expand. But that's not what is happening now. Cities want the tax revenue from companies (e.g. Menlo Park and Facebook) but then want to hold the companies hostage for building housing for their employees. Shows a total lack of competence on the part of the city councils.

Like this comment
Posted by frugal
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2019 at 5:40 pm

frugal is a registered user.

West Menlo: Can a city legally limit hiring of new (Stanford and other) employees until the housing imbalance is solved?

Like this comment
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 7, 2019 at 12:04 pm

@frugal: I believe that a city can prohibit a business from expanding (adding more space) through their ownership of the building codes and permit process. They can also enforce a business to be true to the occupancy for buildings already built (through code violations), so a business couldn't build a building for a hundred people, say, and then hire 200 people to work there.

But, once they give the go-ahead for a business to be built, I don't believe they can retroactively go back to the business and say they can't hire people in the business if the space they have allows it (without generating a lawsuit).

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Legends Pizza Co. replaces Palo Alto Pizza Co.
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 2,022 views

Premarital and Couples: 10 Tips for the Holidays
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,982 views

What is a "ton" of carbon dioxide anyway?
By Sherry Listgarten | 7 comments | 1,883 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 781 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $150,000.