At issue is a revision to the 2000 Stanford Community Plan. Stanford wants to expand its academic space by 2,275 million sq. ft. and 2,600 more student beds by 2035. Palo Alto is saying the university first has to meet its new demands.
The city over the years has tried to control Stanford’s growth in many ways that, because it says the university infringes on this community –– and that its growth somehow needs to be tightly regulated. That attitude is shared in part by the county. Most of Stanford’s land is Santa Clara County land – the city oversees the Stanford Shopping Center and part of the medical center; the county the rest. Palo Alto gets significant sales tax revenues each year from the shopping center.
The university, on the other hand, feels that the city is always demanding something from it – too much, too many times.
I would describe what’s happening as the city trying to milk the $$ cow on “the farm,” and the city always need more milk.
This antagonism upsets me, to say the least. Town-gown relations can be troublesome at times, but Stanford University seems to have had more than its share. As full disclosure, I am not an alum of Stanford, but I did spend a year on campus with a journalism fellowship, and then a decade working for Stanford back in the 1980s.
The dialogue on this issue began at last week’s City Council study session with the county. Right now, they’re at the discussion level – but the demands have been raised and are in full play.
Here is a sampling of the items that Mayor Pat Burt and other council members have said they want:
• Any new growth (building, faculty, staff and students) will first require more housing development from Stanford.
• The university will be required to build that housing on its campus or on contiguous
Stanford-owned lands in Palo Alto. The city is concerned about Stanford buying land in this city or neighboring communities and then rent the housing only to Stanford affiliates.
• The city wants new construction to be on the campus. The lands in the foothills (where the Dish is and walking trails are) must remain open space, according to a previous county ruling.
• Palo Alto wants full disclosure of properties Sanford owns within the city, their status, and a calculation of tax revenues lost to the city because the university, by law, pays no property taxes.
• The city wants Stanford to make in-lieu payments taxes on properties that are, by law, tax-exempt.
• in October, Burt sent a letter to the county saying the city is concerned about the “prospect of Stanford-owned housing within the city being exempt from property taxes despite additional impacts of those residents on our public schools and services.” (The university is an educational non-profit and Stanford has a long-standing agreement to pay for its use of municipal services – fire, police, etc.)
• Stanford is being asked to expand its Marguerite shuttle system into East Palo Alto to provide transportation for Stanford employees living there.
• Stanford is being asked to address the overflow of parking on its campus and ensure that there are no additional cars as a result of constructing more academic buildings are not allowed on campus, i.e., no new commutes as a result of expansion.
• The city wants a more permanent and active role in county-Stanford meetings on the university’s land use negotiations. It wants to sit at the table and vote -- a three-party decision -(Santa Clara County, Stanford and Palo Alto) on land use.
But wait, there’s more!
• Burt asked that Stanford consider a bike path along El Camino that would allow children of Stanford employees to bike to Fletcher Middle School and Gunn High School.
• Palo Alto and neighboring communities are asking Stanford to provide sufficient funds to compensate for the additional growth and use of city services.
• The city council is considering asking Stanford to contribute to the cost of building four grade separations at rail crossings so t trains and cars are on different levels – a multi-million costly project.
• Council member Tom DuBois said it’s important that Stanford not build housing just for its students but also for anyone to live in.
I think these proposals are overwhelming and that the city is using Stanford for its own financial purposes.
These expenditure requests all coming from a city with nearly a $1 Billion annual budget that just found another $40 million more to spend because its annual revenue is on the upswing.
The Stanford housing problem is significant – just 7 percent of university staff, faculty and students live on campus. That means thousands of others must live in surrounding communities. Stanford has recently built about 4,400 new dorms for students and 1,023 new faculty and staff housing the last decade.
Of course Stanford must provide more housing, and the city and county must work cooperatively together. Easier said than done, I agree, but latent angers somehow must be sublimated.
I care about Stanford. It provides exception education for undergraduates and graduates in a variety of fields. It houses a hospital and medical services that many of us use. It conducts significant research in a wide array of fields, including some of the very recent high-teach discoveries. It helped develop Silicon Valley. The institution is a benefit to our society – nationally and locally.
It's wonderful (and advantageous) to live near Stanford. I’ve gone to their football and basketball games, concerts, adult classes, strolled through its grounds, walked The Dish, etc. The university and its 8,000 acres are an amazing playground for all of us locally.. And its intellectual value is also immense, and should be recognized by Palo Alto.
Don’t milk it, please. It’s a treasure.