Menlo Park wants Stanford to pay property taxes, build tunnel and gondola | August 15, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - August 15, 2018

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

by Kate Bradshaw

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 through 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 Interstate 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, such as 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 comment 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 units 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 fails to evaluate the burdens other cities in the region — Menlo Park included — 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, such as 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 of the university by 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, 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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