Preparing for Stanford’s Growth, County Seeks to Strengthen Housing and Transportation Needs | New
When Stanford University proposed a plan to add more than 3 million square feet of development to its campus six years ago, Santa Clara County officials insisted the university manage that growth by building more housing and adopting strict transportation restrictions.
Those policies, along with a protracted dispute between the university and the county over a potential development deal, ultimately doomed Stanford’s efforts, prompting it to withdraw its application for a general use license in 2019. Now, however, county officials are preparing to resuscitate and codify some of the same policies as part of a new community plan that would govern future Stanford proposals for academic growth.
The changes, which Stanford is resisting, are part of an update to the Stanford Community Plan, a land use document the county first adopted in 2000 that sets out policies for growth in the roughly 4 000 acres of Stanford land in unincorporated Santa Clara County. . County planners and consultants are currently revising the document, and the County Planning Commission is preparing to take a first look at the new chapters at two meetings in August.
One of the main goals of the update is to ensure that any future growth plans presented by Stanford include enough housing to accommodate any expansion of university space. The existing plan, by contrast, allows the university to pay an “in-place” fee to the county to support the construction of new affordable housing. The proposed update would eliminate this option and require the university to build the accommodations.
In another major policy change, the county would require most new housing to be built on or near the Stanford campus. The goal is to lessen the impact of any potential growth on nearby communities, including Palo Alto and Menlo Park, where Stanford has purchased or built homes.
According to M-Group, the consultancy leading the update effort, Stanford has added 4,400 new student beds on campus since 2000, when its current growth plan was adopted. When it comes to facilities and staff, however, Stanford has only built 60 new housing units on its campus while adding 1,023 to other properties it owns in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, Mary- Ann Matheou, Associate Planner at M-Group. County Planning Commission during a discussion on June 14.
Matheou told the commission on June 14 that while 90% of Stanford faculty and staff live in Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco counties, only 7% of faculty and staff live on campus. The university offers grants to cover part of the housing costs for those who live away from campus. Next year, it plans to expand that policy to staff who live in Oakland and San Jose, Matheou told the commission.
“While initiatives like these are important to Stanford’s efforts to provide top-up funding and reduce housing costs, the challenge of meeting the university’s housing demand remains,” said Mathou.
Requiring Stanford to build on-campus housing “would reduce competition for off-campus housing, thereby reducing price pressures in surrounding areas and also provide affordable housing on and near campus,” it said. she declared.
A new policy the consultants are proposing as part of the update would require that at least 70% of all new housing — both market-priced and affordable — be built on campus. A maximum of 30% of the units would be built on lands contiguous to the community plan area.
Although the proposal has not yet undergone a full review, commissioners have generally supported the new direction. Bob Levy, vice chairman of the planning commission, said he wholeheartedly supports eliminating the university’s ability to use replacement fees to meet its affordable housing needs.
“You end up getting the money in today’s dollars or yesterday’s dollars and then you have to spend it in the future,” Levy said of replacement fees. “And you end up having to spend a lot more money than you raised.”
Board Chair Vicki Moore also suggested that the existing pricing program may be insufficient to meet housing demand.
“The actual cost of building usually ends up being higher than expected when the fees come in, so you’re not producing as many units as you might think.”
Proposed requirements for new housing are facing some pushback from Stanford, indicating the growing number of employees working remotely, in some cases outside of California. Others work under a “hybrid” model, which allows them to work on campus as often as they wish. The university seeks flexibility, said Jessica von Borck, director of land use at Stanford.
“Being limited to only providing housing based on our demand on our campus and adjoining land is quite limiting,” von Borck told the commission.
Other policies proposed by the M-Group target traffic congestion. Stanford is already subject to a “no new net commute” standard which it has successfully met through a wide range of transportation demand management initiatives, including shuttles and ride-sharing programs. This standard would remain in Stanford’s new community plan. However, rather than just focusing on the peak hour of morning and afternoon journeys, the standard would now be based on three-hour periods and also take return journeys into account.
The county is also moving away from an existing policy that requires Stanford to fund intersection improvements if the traffic impacts of its growth exceed the “no net new trips” threshold. The new policy would allow Stanford to look beyond intersections and fund bike and pedestrian improvements in an expanded area that includes East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven and Bayfront neighborhoods in Menlo Park.
At the same time, the county would remove a “fair share” policy in the existing plan that would require Stanford to help fund intersection improvements that reduce congestion. Due to Stanford’s success in managing its traffic levels, this policy was never implemented.
Geoff Bradley, project manager at M-Group, said the aim is to avoid a situation where agencies react to increasing levels of traffic in urban areas by continually increasing road capacity.
“At some point, the cure is worse than the disease when it comes to extending roads into built-up areas,” Bradley said. “The challenge then becomes to not have bigger and bigger roads and more and more high-volume intersections, but to move towards reducing vehicle trips, increasing reliance on public transit and make it more attractive for people not to need cars.”
Not everyone is convinced by the new transport policies. Vince Rocha, vice president of housing and community development at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, suggested that including reverse trips in calculations amounts to “double counting” and noted that traffic studies don’t use usually not this metric.
“Maybe reverse trips aren’t necessarily bad trips,” Rocha said. “They encourage the use of local amenities. I know the area around the university is full of jobs, restaurants, and other amenities that people might want to use.”
Von Borck also suggested that including round-trip commutes as a measure would conflict with the county’s goal of increasing on-campus housing. Households, she noted, generate vehicle trips at a higher rate than academic uses. She called the proposal “an outdated way of dealing with traffic impacts”.
Bradley acknowledged that the county treats Stanford differently from other applicants and attributed this to the university’s unique status in land use. Unlike other applicants, Stanford is not subject to conventional zoning standards. The county’s community plan, he noted, gives Stanford ample flexibility to accommodate new growth, provided it meets performance standards set by the county.
“Stanford can see the limit and they can use all of their creativity and intellectual capital to figure out how to live within that framework, which they’ve done very successfully with the no net ride standard,” Bradley said.